Team’s youth doesn’t discourage title optimism

Corona’s 2011-12 wrestling team, with eight returning wrestlers, is expected to be in contention at the state tournament but the new AIA tournament format may make it more difficult than in previous years. Group includes, from left, front row: Glenn Farina, Matt Churchill, Zack Turner, Kort Turner, Justin Butler kneeling; middle: Daniel Cartagena, Ethan Tursini, Colton Winstead, Jason Landrum, Zach Walton, Jay Tucker, Dustin Nelson; top: Drake Ridge, Steven Rodriguez, Josh Caliendo, Michael Clare. — Photo contributed by Jimmy Martinez

Corona’s wrestling team may be young, with possibly nine of the 14 weight classes being filled by freshman and sophomore wrestlers. Age and experience notwithstanding, though, head coach Jimmy Martinez expects his team to have a legitimate shot at a place in the state team championship tournament coming up in early February.

Even though the Aztecs are young, not everyone on the team is untested.

“We return three state place winners from last year’s team,” said Martinez. “Jason Landrum was fifth in the 145 pound weight class, Robert Butler fifth at 130 pounds and Glenn Farina sixth at 112 pounds. Ethan Tursini, a freshman last season, wrestled at 140 pounds at state forCorona.”

Landrum and Butler, both seniors, will be expected to anchor the team, along with fellow seniors Jay Tucker (195), Steven Rodriguez (285) and Drake Ridge, all solid Aztec wrestlers looking to place at state this year.

One junior wrestler currently slotted in the 220-pound weight class is Josh Caliendo, who will be attempting to fill the spot vacated when Simon Allen, the 215-pound state runner-up who posted at 45-1 record last year, graduated.

Additional returning wrestlers from last season’s team include junior Kort Turner and sophomores Zack Turner, Zach Walton and Colton Winstead.

Coronacurrently has three freshmen listed as starters: Matt Churchill (113), Riley Rayburn (120) and Daniel Cartegena (138).

“We enthusiastically welcomed incoming freshman Daniel Cartegena to the team,” said Martinez. “Daniel has already made a name for himself in Arizona wrestling as someone who will be taking aim at some of the best wrestlers in his weight class.”

Two possible incoming varsity wrestlers who could have an impact on the team’s overall outcome include sophomores Dustin Nelson and Michael Clare.

“Dustin should be a starter this year and could have a good season,” said Martinez. “Michael will also have a good chance to start after rehabilitating from a football injury.”

Coronais in Section II of Division I again this season with perennial powerhouse Sunnyside from Tucson, which has been the team to beat for the past 14 years.

“Some very strong Division I teams return this year,” said Martinez. “Sunnyside, even though longtime coach Bobby Deberry retired, will still be the team to beat in our section and in the state.”

Martinez is also expecting Chandler and Highland to be vying for one of the top three guarantee state team tournament spots in Section II, while Desert Vista and Mesa Mountain View, besides Sunnyside, will possibly present the stiffest competition for any team hoping to win the state team championship.

“Desert Vista has three defending state champions returning. In addition, two highly regarded wrestlers have transferred to Desert Vista which will make them even tougher to beat,” said Martinez. “Then Mountain View will have a defending state champion leading their talented squad and could also be a contender for the state team championship.”

The Aztecs are off to a good start this season easily defeating Mesa High 46-26 and Skyline 50-15 at a triple meet held Nov. 22 and were scheduled to wrestle Mountain Pointe Nov. 30 before competing at the Southwest Showdown at Grand Canyon University Dec. 2-3. Corona’s first home meet is scheduled Dec. 8 against Desert Mountain after competing in a triple-header Dec. 7 at Chandler with Desert Ridge.

Corona Girls Soccer

Corona’s perennial state tournament girls soccer program, ranked No. 7 in the preseason, has a solid core of returning players but could have a hard time going far in the state tournament due to the new AIA regulations that recently broke the 50-plus Division I teams into only three sections according to long-time head coach Matt Smith.

Coronais in Section II with 18 teams where only the top three in each section are guaranteed a spot in the state tournament.

“We have a very deep team with 21 returning players, nine of them starters,” said Smith. “We also have the toughest schedule in the state, especially with the AIA change to only three divisions. We will have our work cut out for us this season.”

Corona’s schedule includes playing defending 2010-11 state champion Hamilton twice, both state semifinalists Desert Vista and Mesquite twice and then state quarter finalist Mountain Pointe twice.

The Lady Aztecs have a winning tradition to maintain, though, starting with their 9-6-1 record during the program’s inaugural 1993-94 season. Since that first season, the Lady Aztecs have won close to 300 games and lost fewer than 100.

Corona’s main strength may be the competitive tradition that coach Smith has continued to build over the past 12 years, which often has led to team depth and a history of excellent goalkeeping.

It appears that the Lady Aztecs, though, will be losing scoring depth because senior Mackenzie Bader unfortunately tore her ACL during a scrimmage Nov. 21 and will not be able to play this season.

What is also so devastating for Bader and the team is that she had already torn her other ACL midway through last season, and was just returning after several months of rehabilitation.

Bader had the potential to score a ton of goals forCoronathis season, according to Smith.

“It’s really so unfair for Mackenzie,” said Smith. “She worked so hard to get back from the last torn ACL. I know she is just devastated.”

“As far as the team goes, we can’t replace her,” said Smith.

Bader was listed, along with senior midfielder Nicolette Newcomb and junior midfielder Stephanie Petre, among players to watch this season.

“Nicolette and Stephanie are two extremely talented midfielders who will create a lot of our offense,” said Smith. “In addition, we have Cara Ridley and Dallas Johnson, both as leaders and the organizers of our defense.”

Smith is relying on team captains Bader, Newcomb, Ridley and Johnson to lead the team on the field and on the bench.

In addition, Coronahas not one but three goal keepers: Kate Halligan, Lexi Bounds and Taylour Rohme.

“We have a platoon of keepers, some of the best in the state, who we are counting on to limit our opponents scoring,” said Dallas Johnson.

“Defensively, our team is solid,” said Newcomb. “We have a hard-working and strong defense led by Dallas Johnson, Emily Mathews, Kelsey Cartwright and Olivia Montoya.”

“We also have a lot of strong offensively-minded players, such as Stephanie Petre, Cara Ridley, Zoe Martinez and Maddie Caldwell who can make a big difference in the game,” said Newcomb.

“We will miss Mackenzie beating defenders and scoring goals especially since she worked really hard to stay in shape and keep her touch on the ball while she was rehabbing, but as a team we will still be focusing on being competitive and manufacturing goals,” said Cara Ridley.

“We hope to knock the ball around and be dangerous in the attack and to also focus on being aggressive in the air since most of our team is relatively short this season.”

“We have a lot of great individual players, but we are going to need to channel this individual talent into a steady rhythm that will lead to total team success,” said Ridley.

“We are also looking to possess the ball rather than kick-and-run this year, which will require teamwork and communication as well as movement off the ball.”

Communicating and playing as a team may come easier to some than others, especially the two sets of twins who have played together for years: Dallas and Taylor Johnson and Brook and Cara Ridley.

“Cara is one of our more experienced players who communicates well on the field and helps to keep our team in sync,” said Dallas Johnson. “We are also excited to have another senior, Hallee Ahler, and her competitive nature back on the team after she was out a year rehabbing from knee surgery.”

Corona’s main competition in Section II may come fromHamilton, Desert Vista andHighlandbut Xavier and Pinnacle should also be in contention when the state tournament rolls around in early February, according to Smith.

The Lady Aztecs’ goal this year is the same as every year: win state.

“To accomplish our goal of winning state, our whole team, the midfield, back lines, front lines and goalies, will all be key to our success,” said Kelsey Cartwright.

“Anyone and everyone on our team is the key to our success because everyone helps out in their own way to contribute to our overall success.”

Corona’s whole team will get a chance to see how competitive and successful it can be right out of the gate; their first match was scheduled Dec. 1 against Desert Vista.

The Lady Aztecs were then due to play Desert Ridge again at home Dec. 3 before competing in the Diablos Soccer Classic Dec. 5-9 at Tempe Sports Complex.

Coronabasketball takes third at Fear the Hops

Corona’s boys basketball team didn’t quite live up to expectations at this year’s Fear the Hops basketball tournament sponsored by Mesa High School.

The Aztecs started strong, defeating eventual champions Gilbert, 68-48 in the first round of the tournament Nov. 21. Guard Casey Benson led with 20 points, followed by Calaen Robinson with 15, Andrus Peat 12 and Elijah Hempstead 8.

Corona again soundly defeated its next opponent, Highland, 63-47, Nov. 22, when Robinson put in 23 points, Benson 14, freshman Cassius Peat 8 and Jesse McCain 6.

The basketball didn’t quite bounce the Aztecs’ way on Nov. 23, when Mesquite beat Coronaby 11 points, 61-50. In addition to Robinson, Andrus Peat, Benson and Hempstead, Bryan Siefker scored points for Corona.

The Aztecs were able to bounce back Nov. 26, and annihilate Mesa60-34 to take third place in the tournament. Contributing points in the Mesa win included 10 points by Adam Gleave and 7 by Braden Tennyson. Gilbert, the same team Corona beat by 20 points, won the championship after defeating Mesquite in the final.

Corona started its regular season at home in a game scheduled Nov. 29 against Central. The game was dedicated to former assistant coach Troy Gray, who is battling cancer. The booster club donated a portion of a 50/50 raffle to Gray’s young family.