After defeating Hamilton 63-47 at the MLK Basketball Classic on Jan. 16 and Desert Vista 52-44 a week earlier, Corona’s boys basketball team is doing exactly what coach Sam Duane Jr. wants it to this time of the year—starting to click.
“We are playing well but we still have room for improvement,” said Duane. “We can still get better, but how we started playing recently is what we are talking about. We want to be clicking at the end. That’s what it’s all about.”
It helps that Corona has three guards who can handle the ball and two big men to muddy up the paint in the starting lineup.
The Aztecs’ main ball handlers, Casey Benson, Calaen Robinson and Bryan Siefker, combined for 42 of the Aztecs’ 63 points against the No. 10 Hamilton Huskies. Robinson scored a team high 23 points knocking down three 3-pointers while Benson had 14, including two 3-pointers, and Seifert scored 5 points.
Robinson is quick and can put the moves on opponents in order to drive to the basket, but it’s his smooth and fluid movement in the open court that really makes him stand out.
Benson, who often shares point guard duties with both Robinson and Siefker, is a great three-point shooter and ball handler. He makes good decisions with the basketball and is someone to have on the floor at the end of the game for his free throw shooting ability alone.
Siefker, on the other hand, quietly goes about his job of doing all the little things that help make this team so successful. He plays stifling defense on the ball, rips rebounds out of the air and is always looking up court for fast break opportunities. One of his best attributes, though, is his ability to cause opponents to turn over the ball, either by creating opportunities for a steal or by sacrificing his body by drawing a charge.
When you play against Corona, though, opponents also have to grind it out in the paint against two big senior football players.
Andrus Peat, at 6-foot-8 285 pounds, and Avery Moss, at 6-foot-5 235 pounds, take up a lot of space under the basket, ripping down rebounds and putting up points.
Peat is getting into better basketball shape every week and is a force to be reckoned with by any player who wants to score in the middle. He blocked at least three balls against Hamilton and grabbed five rebounds on his way to scoring 13 points.
Moss, who recently returned to basketball action after suffering a football injury, plays extremely hard with heart and touch. He used his quickness and size to grab rebounds, put up six points and played tough defense against Hamilton’s front-court players, including 6-foot-11 235-pound Eric Jacobsen, who has committed, along with Robinson, to play at ASU.
Corona’s X-factor may be its deep bench and senior leadership, though. Against Hamilton, the Aztecs finally had every player on the team at full force.
“Tonight is only the second game all year that we have had the whole team together and able to play,” said Duane. “We are making great strides but we can still get better now that everyone is able to practice and play.”
Elijah Hempstead came off the bench to play significant minutes against Hamilton and helped the team by playing solid defense and grabbing some big rebounds, as did Braden Tennyson, Jesse McCain and Cassius Peat. Adam Gleave calmly knocked down two free throws late in the game when Hamilton resorted to fouling.
The Aztecs also have a core group of seniors and returning varsity players to provide the leadership needed to be a playoff contender team.
“We have great leadership this season,” said Duane. “Every time Hamilton made a run, for instance, one of our seniors stepped up with a big play. We were able to answer Hamilton with a big play of our own which makes a huge different in our overall confidence and ability to be successful.”
The Desert Vista game Jan. 10 was a rematch that the Thunder thought they had a good chance of winning on their home court, especially when Desert Vista got off to a quick start, leading 17-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Corona then went on to outscore DV 12 to 7 in the second quarter to have a one point lead, 25-24, at the half. As has been typical for the Aztecs this season, they came out cranking up the defense and firing on all cylinders in the second half to outscore the Thunder 27 to 18 for the 52-44 win.
Corona had three players in double figures, with Moss leading the team with 14 points. Robinson and Benson each scored 13, Peat had 7 and Siefker 6.
The Aztecs had two home games scheduled, Jan. 17 against Marcos de Niza and Jan. 20 against Mesquite before playing at Mesquite Jan. 24. Mesquite is the only team Corona has lost to this season.
The Aztecs, listed as No. 4 in Power Rankings for Division I teams behind Red Mountain, Basha and Desert Vista, are scheduled to play three home games in a row: Jan. 26 against Mountain Pointe, Jan. 27 against Hamilton and Jan. 31 against Dobson.
Corona’s wrestling team had not lost a regular season match all season and was two for two in tournaments, taking first at the Southwest Showdown and Moon Valley Invitational when the team took the opportunity to go out of state to compete in a national tournament, the Clash, in Rochester, Minn., Dec. 30-31.
Although the Aztecs lost to four of the six teams they competed against, the experience was a worthwhile one.
“Our team had a great opportunity to see some of the best wrestling in the nation during the holiday break in Minnesota,” said coach Jimmy Martinez. “I believe we came away with some great effort and knowledge of what we need to do to make improvements in order to get to the state meet.”
Corona defeated an Arizona team, Ironwood Ridge, at the Clash 59-18, and the Minnesota Anoka team 35-31. Individual results in the six matches the Aztecs competed in included a 6-0 finish for Daniel Cartagena; a 5-1 finish for Ethan Tursini and Steven Rodriguez; 4-2 finishes for Matt Churchill, Glenn Farina and Jason Landrum; and 3-3 finishes for Zach Walton, Zack Turner and Justin Butler.
The Aztecs also recently took fifth place Jan. 13-14 at the 46th Annual Flowing Wells Invitational in Tucson against 38 teams that are not only some of the best in the state but also included teams from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
This tournament is often thought to be unique because teams compete against wrestlers from different divisions which is different from the state tournament where wrestlers only compete against teams in their same division.
Corona was fifth behind Ironwood Ridge, Cibola, Sunnyside and Mesa Mountain View but ahead of Horizon, Chandler, Desert Vista and Marcos de Niza.
Notable individual results included a second place finish for Cartagena in the 138-pound class and a second place for Ladrum at 152.
Marcos de Niza had two wrestlers finish in first place at Flowing Wells: Jesse Morales at 132 pounds and Adam Pavlenk at 195 pounds.
The Aztecs had only two matches left, Jan. 18 at home against Ironwood Ridge and Mesa Mountain View and Jan. 25 at Highland before the Sectional Tournament Feb. 3 and 5. The Division I state tournament is Feb. 9-11 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
Corona’s boys soccer team had high hopes for this season after making it into the semifinals of the Tempe Diablos Soccer Classic held Dec. 5-9 before losing to Hamilton 3-1. Unfortunately, the Aztecs have not had the same results during the regular season matches after the holiday break.
After defeating Dobson 3-0 on Jan. 4, the Aztecs had lost three matches in a row heading into the Martin Luther King holiday. Unfortunately, the Aztecs had to play Hamilton two times in a row, Jan. 6 and Jan. 10, losing both 0-2 before losing 0-1 at Desert Vista Jan. 12.
With only a 3-4 record as far as Power Rankings go, Corona was listed No. 36 as of Jan. 16. Corona has a slim chance of making it into the state tournament but only if they are able to win out the regular season.
The Aztecs were scheduled to play Dobson Jan. 17 at Marana High School and Jan. 19 at Mesquite before a home game against Mountain Pointe Jan. 21. The last two games of the season are scheduled at Mountain Pointe Jan. 24 and at home against Mesa Jan. 26.