The Aztecs were ridden hard and hung up wet, so to speak, the week of Jan. 23, when they had to play three opponents who entered the game hoping to settle the score.
Playing Mesquite, Mountain Pointe and Hamilton in the span of four days put the Aztecs to the test, but they emerged unscathed and victorious.
“I think we have done what we needed to do these past few weeks to win games,” said coach Sam Duane Jr.
“Last week, with those three big games, was a tough week for us, but we survived.”
Corona actually ended up playing Mesquite back to back—the first game at home Jan. 20 and the second at Mesquite Jan. 24.
The Aztecs, currently ranked No. 1 in the power ranking, were ready to avenge their only loss of the season in their game Jan. 20 against Mesquite. The Aztecs scored their first three baskets to go up 7-0 in the first two minutes on a trey from Calaen Robinson, and baskets from Andrus Peat and Casey Benson.
The Aztecs continued to put on a high-octane show for the packed house which included lots of footage for the highlight reel, ranging from Benson scoring two treys in the final three seconds of the first half to Andrus Peat’s four blocks to Benson’s lob pass for a Robinson dunk to start the third quarter.
Avery Moss and Andrus Peat played their usual hard ball in the paint, scoring seven and eight points respectively, while Bryan Siefker played with his usual stealth defense and contributed eight points.
Corona went deep into the bench to get contributions from Jesse McCain, Braden Tennyson and Cassius Peat.
McCain came in when Moss picked up his second foul and immediately contributed by taking a charge, causing the Wildcats a turnover.
Tennyson swished a big three when the Aztecs needed a basket in the second quarter and then went on to score on two more baskets to put up eight points.
Cassius Peat entered the game and the Corona students start chanting “basketball freshman” over and over again while he contributed nine points to the cause.
Altogether, the Aztecs led by as much as 20 points at one point and ended defeating Mesquite 76-58.
On their second consecutive game against Mesquite, Jan. 24, the Aztecs once again got off to a good start, leading at the end of the first quarter 24-14. But Mesquite wouldn’t go quietly, getting within six points in the third quarter before ultimately going down in a tight match toward the end to the Aztecs 71-64. Robinson led with 17 points while both Benson and Moss contributed 16 each.
Corona also beat Mountain Pointe 61-46 in a non-league game at home Jan. 26 to end up with a 21-1 record heading into the Aztecs’ third game that week, the one that may have tested their mettle the most so far this season.
The game Jan. 27 against the Hamilton Huskies could probably be characterized as a low-scoring battle won in the trenches with players banging bodies trying to fight for position on every shot, particularly by Moss and Andrus Peat and ASU-bound 6-foot-11 235-pound Eric Jacobson of the Huskies.
“I think Andrus and Avery definitely give us a physical presence under the basket against Hamilton,” said Duane, “but we are going to need contributions from everyone on the team as the state tournament approaches.”
Hamilton came out playing with a vengeance, outscoring the Aztecs 17-11 in the first quarter. As a matter of fact, the Huskies led until a basket by Tennyson tied the score at 28 apiece heading into the half.
In addition to baskets scored by the starters, Corona received an extra boost off the bench when McCain scored two free throws halfway through the second quarter.
Corona’s team was either tied or behind Hamilton until 6:20 left to play in the fourth quarter when they took a two-point lead, 42-40, on a basket by Benson. The Aztecs played keep-away in the final 1:37, leading 46-45. Hamilton resorted to fouling, where there were four for four at the line, including two big free throws by Adam Gleeve, at the end to hold on for a 50-47 win.
“This team knows what it takes to win and how to win close games,” said coach Duane. “They have gained a lot of experience playing in big games for the past two to three years, which I think was a factor in our last win over Hamilton.”
Corona had only three games left in the regular season on senior night, Jan. 31, at home against Dobson; Feb. 2 at Marcos de Niza; and Feb. 3 at McClintock before the state tournament.
The Aztecs have proven they have the basketball physical skills. The state tournament will determine if they have they have the mental toughness to win the first state championship in boys basketball for Corona since 1994.
“It is all about the mental game now that the tournament is approaching,” said Duane. “Teams that are able to put the team first and are mentally ready are the teams that advance in the tournament.”
If the state tournament started tomorrow, Corona would be the No. 1 seed and square off in the first round against Pinnacle at home but the seeds will not be determined for until after Feb. 5.
Currently holding a 13-11 record, Corona’s girls basketball program, although it has a way to go to be compared to the heyday of earlier teams, most recently the 2001 team that won the 5A state championship or the 2002 runner-up team, the Lady Aztecs under head coach Andrew Strom have been steadily gaining ground over the last three years.
“We have improved tremendously as a team this season,” said Strom. “Our schedule, which we have no control over, has been incredibly difficult, so we have had little margin for error.”
Corona started off winning 12 out of its first 14 games, bringing home the championship trophy from the Lady Badger Classic on Dec. 31 before the Lady Aztecs hit a buzz saw in their schedule, losing eight out their next 10 games to teams in Section II of Division I teams.
Even with the recent losses, Strom says he has seen great effort and improvement from his players this season.
“Taylor Kalmer and Alexa Hogberg have carried us in scoring,” said Strom. “Lauren Lucky has been our biggest contributor on the boards.”
Junior Hogberg is averaging more than 14 points a game and has made more three-point shots (45 at last count) than anyone else on the team. She is making 34 percent of her three-point attempts, but her teammate, freshman Kalmer, who averages close to 14 points a game, is making 37 percent of her treys with currently 34 treys.
Three other players contribute on offense by consistently averaging more than five points a game: Sophomore Kaelin Shaffer, 6.6 points per game with 15 total treys; Junior Lauren Lucky, 6.6 points per game; and Sammi Moore with close to five points a game with nine treys. Freshman Haley Langille, with limited minutes off the bench, is the only other player to make three-pointers for Corona by shooting 67 percent or making two out of the three shots she attempted.
Lucky is the leading rebounder averaging over seven rebounds a game (currently 146 rebounds) but she is followed by Shaffer and senior Liann Kline who are both averaging over four rebounds a game.
Hogberg is the assist leader, averaging more than four a game with a consistent two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, followed by Kalmer and Shaffer. Lucky leads the team in blocks with nine but is closely followed by sophomore Jordynn Logston who has seven blocks subbing in off the bench.
The team will honor three seniors, Kline, Hanna Rahman and Erin Miller at the last home game Feb. 3 against McClintock.
“I appreciate the time and effort from our three seniors,” said Strom. “They are all excellent people that will do well in the future.”
Kline who is credited for doing all the little things that help make the team play better saw action in all fourteen game so far averaging over 2 points, 4.1 rebounds, .5 assists, .4 steals and .2 blocks a game. Miller averaged 2.4 rebounds, 1 point and .3 assists in the 14 games she played so far while Rahman saw action in over seven games this season so far.
Expecting to return most if not all of his starters and nine players from this season’s relatively young team, including currently junior Justice Mosley and sophomore Vicki Sanford, who acquired experience coming off the bench, the Lady Aztecs should have a more experienced and mature team next year.
“The future of our team looks good,” said Strom. “We played a lot of the top teams well in games this season, but we still need to be able to play a complete game which will come with maturity and experience.
Corona Girls Soccer
Corona’s girls soccer team finished the season Jan. 24 with a game against Mountain Pointe at home, at the same time honoring 11 seniors who have helped the Lady Aztecs maintain the program’s high standards and tradition of winning.
Being honored and helping the Lady Aztecs win their last five games of the season were Jade Martins, Lauren Smeltzer, Nicolette Newcomb, Hallee Ahler, Megan Benson, Dallas Johnson, London Brewster, Cara Ridley, Brooke Ridley. Also honored were Mackenzie Bader and Taylor Johnson, who were injured and not able to play.
Most players who go through Corona’s girls soccer program share the same sentiments as Ridley.
“It has been a great experience for me to be able to play soccer at Corona,” she said. “I will always remember that we won together and we lost together, sharing a bond that none of use will ever forget.”
Corona finished the season with a 10-10-2 overall record but No. 19 power ranking with a 7-5 record. This is one of the few times the Lady Aztecs have not played in the state tournament. It doesn’t make a difference, but the new AIA state tournament qualifying regulations kept at least 4-6 teams out of the state tournament that most coaches though should have played.
Corona’s wrestling team finished the regular season with a 21-4 dual meet record with a win over Highland Jan. 25.
After Highland forfeited seven weight classes, the Aztecs won four out of the six remaining matches.
“I am very proud of our team,” said coach Jim Martinez. “The only losses we had for the year were to out-of-state teams.”
The team will be wresting in the Division I, Section II tournament Feb. 3-4 at Skyline High School at 845 S. Crismon Road in Mesa.
“The top five wrestlers in each weight class will automatically qualify for the state tournament,” said Martinez.
“We hope to have a large number of our wrestlers qualify for state to be held in Prescott Valley Feb. 10-11.”