All-City Sports Notebook: Aztec volleyball a team of ‘paper tigers’


Corona’s seniors-laden boys volleyball team had all the promise of winning a state championship. The squad, with many team members who had played together since middle school or before, was ranked No. 1 for weeks heading into the post season.

The Aztecs had the necessary players to bring home the trophy, such as go-to outside hitter, Alex Davis; one of the best liberos in the state, Charlie Hualde; and a very experienced setter, Jake Nuneviller. Throw into the mix some really tall blockers and hitters in Sean Hughes, Matthew Seal, Zac von Allworden and Nic Plott and Corona, on paper, should have won it all.

That’s just it. What’s on paper does not win state championships. You have to actually play the game. And volleyball is a game of momentum shifts. If you happen to be on the downside of the shift, it’s easy to lose what you should have won. On paper, that is.

That’s exactly what happened May 8 when Corona faced off against No. 10-seeded Gilbert Highland, with the Aztecs’ holding home-court advantage. The Hawks came out firing on all cylinders and put the Corona players back on their heels right from the start.

“We didn’t seem ready for them in the first two games, plus they run a quicker offense than we do and we struggled adjusting,” said coach Brynne Evans. “We just weren’t able to make the minor adjustments we needed to win those first two.”

Corona lost the first two 25-20, 25-23, but won the next two 27-17 and 25-22. It appeared they had the upper hand and the momentum heading into the fifth and final game to determine who moved on in the state championship brackets.

But that fifth and final game was a hard-fought battle where neither team could gain confidence, the upper hand or even a momentum shift.

There were 11 ties in the final game with neither team leading by more than two points.

“We were tied at 13-13 and then a quick two points happened and we lost 15-13,” said Evans.

It’s easy to try and dissect a loss after it’s over. This face-off against Highland was the first 5-game match the Aztecs had played all year. The fifth and final game in volleyball is played a bit differently in that it only goes to 15 instead of 25 points like the first four.

“Never having played a fifth game all season could have been a disadvantage,” said Evans. “I think we were all unsure of how we would handle the pressure of that fifth game.”

“Then our serve-receive passing broke down, which didn’t allow us to use our middles as much as we would have liked,” said Evans. “We also had trouble stopping their slide in the middle, even though we knew it was coming.”

Although the Aztecs did not fulfill their expectations in the post-season, they did have an overall great 2012 regular season, finishing with a 31-6 record, winning one tournament and taking second in another.

Juniors Plott and Blake Pendleton along with sophomore Matthew Lake will no doubt miss the previously mentioned seniors plus Gabe Encinas, Matt Lim, Kyle Niemtschk and Mitch Thomas next spring when coach Evans faces the possibility of a rebuilding season with only three returning players.

TACA Awards

Corona del Sol placed 19 student athletes among Tempe All City awards recipients at the spring banquet held May 14. Winners included, from left, front: Dana McKenzie, Lani Redmond, Maia Castiglione, Megan Benson, Tevin Mayfield; middle: Abby Spiel, Tien Tran, Josh Ethier, Nate Rodriguez, Charlie Hualde, Thaminda Edirisooriya; top: Kyle Jorgensen, George Wright, Colby Hamilton, Alex Davis, Jake Nuneviller, Alex Lawson. — Wrangler News photo by Alex Zener

Several athletes from Tempe high schools received Tempe All City Awards at the annual spring banquet May 14 at the Tempe Sheraton. Awards were given for all spring sports including tennis, baseball, softball, boys volleyball and track and field.

Tempe High School athletes receiving TACA awards included Desi Contreras for softball and Diana Garcia and Kayla Melgar for girls track.

Athletes from McClintock High School honored were Dynasty Lauvai for girls track and Eduardo Roa for boys track. Roa was second in the 3200 meter run at the state tournament.

Marcos de Niza had four athletes take home awards. Nick Fatica and Noel Rodriguez received an award for baseball and Stephanie Montanez and Mallory Schneid for softball.

Corona’s spring sports teams had a great season, with an impressive 18 TACA recipients. Megan Benson, Lauren Lucky and Dana McKenzie were given awards for girls track.

Benson was a three-time City Champion, three-time state placer in individual events including her third place finish in the 100 meter and 11th place in the 300 meter hurdles.

Lucky competed for Corona in the shot put and discus, where she took 10th and 17th respectively at the state meet this year.

McKenzie’s main event is the high jump, in which she was runner up at the state meet twice. This season she also competed in the hurdles, long jump and triple jump; she even ran some relay races.

Tevan Mayfield, Nate Rodriguez and George Wright were recipients of awards for boys track. Mayfield and Rodriguez are both in the Arizona state track and field record books and had a great sophomore year competing in track events for the Aztecs.

Hurdle-running is Mayfield’s main event but he also runs relays. He took third in the 300 meter at state and was part of the 4×400 relay team that took sixth and the 4×100 that finished 14th at the state meet.

Rodriguez has really come on this season in relays but also in the 800 meter and 1600 meter runs. He was part of the 4×800 relay team that not only finished first at state but recorded the fourth fastest time inArizonastate history.

Wright’s main events are the long- and the triple-jumps, where he took 16th and 20th place respectively at the state meet, and he competed on relay teams. He was part of the 4×100 team that took 14th at state.

Paige Vallejos, Lani Redmond and Abby Spiel took home TACA awards for softball. Vallejos, one of this year’s team captions, played a variety of positions including catcher, first and third base. Lani, also a captain, played second base for the last two years.

Spiel, playing first base and ending the season among the leading hitters on Corona’s softball team, accepted an athletic scholarship to play with her sister Mary at ASU.

The Aztecs had three baseball players who were given TACA awards: Josh Ethier, Colby Hamilton and Kyle Jorgensen.

“Josh is a slick-fielding short stop who has a great future ahead of him in baseball,” said coach Dave Webb. “Offensively, he hit in the three-hole all year and ended at around .400 with 20 stolen bases.”

“Colby improved immensely and became one of the premier catchers in the state,” said Webb. “His stock is going to go through the roof in 2013 when he will be a senior.”

“Kyle is a pure athlete and a phenomenal hitter,” said Webb. “He is entertaining many D1 offers and leaves Corona as the all-time Home Run leader with 26 in his career.”

Charles Hualde received his TACA award for the libero position in boys volleyball and Jake Nuneviller for his setting skills. Alex Davis was chosen for his hitting and defensive skills at the outside hitter position. All three seniors had a huge impact on the Aztecs’ 31-6 season record.

Doubles partners Maia Castiglione and Tien Tran received TACA awards for their 15-4 record in doubles tennis. Both, as juniors, helped Corona’s girls tennis team attain their 14-2 regular season victories.

“Maia has played on varsity all three years, is a member of the National Honor Society, Corona Pom, CdS Advanced Dance Company and is active in the East Valley National Charity League,” said coach Carol Sandvig. “Tien is also a member of the National Honor Society, a two-year letter winner and is very involved in Special Olympics.”

Alex Lawson was rewarded with his third TACA award for his singles tennis record, including winning his second singles state championship earlier this month. He also was recognized with a singles and doubles player award in 2009-10.

“Alex is a phenomenal talent on the tennis court who puts in thousands of hours into his fitness training, on-court strategy and mental toughness,” said coach Rick Wanta. “He is amazing to watch right now but the scary thing is that his best tennis is still ahead of him at Norte Dame.”

Also given a TACA award for tennis was Thaminda Edirisooriya, who Wanta credits with being not only an outstanding role model for his younger players but an outstanding representative for Corona.

“Thaminda is polite, mature, dependable and just a very hard worker,” said Wanta. “He’s one of our class valedictorians, an incredible musician and probably one of the most humble young men I’ve ever met. Getting accepted to Stanford speaks volumes for his academic ability.”

12 UTeam Volleyball 

Members of the local Aspire Volleyball Club 12U team have won honors as 2012 Arizona Region champions. Players include, from left, bottom: Malory Hanenburg, Izzie Beeks, Anna Morse, Hannah Cochran, Brooke Nuneviller; top: Assistant Coach Ashton Lloyd, Lauren Weintraub, Jayelin Lombard, Lanie Wagner, Abby Meyer, Nura Mohammad, Coach Beth Nuneviller. — Photo courtesy Tonie Stephens

Several area girls are members of the Aspire Volleyball Club 12 and under team that recently won a 68-team tournament in Southern California to earn a bid to participate in the 2012 USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, June 28-July 7 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The team, coached by Beth Nuneviller, also was crowned 2012 Arizona Region Champion at the regular season-ending regional tournament May 5 at Kingdom Courts in north Phoenix.

Teammates include  Malory Hanenburg, Izzie Beeks, Anna Morse, Hannah Cochran and Brooke Nuneviller, Ashton Lloyd, Jayelin Lombard, Lanie Wagner, Abby Meyer and Nura Mohammad some of whom attend local schools.

Kiwanis Hoop Star Basketball Camp

Arizona High School Coach of the Year Sammy Duane Jr. will be once again be holding his Kiwanis Hoop Start Basketball Camps this summer with numerous sessions and age groups for first through 12th graders at Corona’s gym.

Each camp will include instruction on shooting, technique, dribbling, ball handling, defense and rebounding as well as individual and team play. Kids can attend more than one camp, held weekly June 4 through July 19.

Information: . 

Corona Girls Tennis

Corona’s girls varsity tennis team, with a 14-2 regular season record, made it to the quarter-finals of the Division I state team tennis tournament after entering the tournament as the No. 3 seed.

The lone senior, Rachel McKay,along with  four juniors—Maia Catiglione, Hannah Pfotenhauer, Tien Tran and Joyce Wen, and one sophomore, Sarah Rutkowski lost 5-1 to Mesa Mountain View on May 1.

Coronawas represented by unseeded Rutkowski at the individual singles state tennis tournament held April 20-21.

“Sarah won in the first round against McKenna Farnts of Miliennium and then defeated Cony Lugo from Independence, 6-0, 6-0, in the second round,” said coach Carol Sandvig. “She then lost in the round of 16 to Crissy Lee of Desert Mountain, 6-0, 6-2, on April 21”

The doubles team qualified to play for Corona at the individual doubles tournament was Castiglione and Tran who entered the tournament seeded as the No. 5 team.

“Maia and Tien earned a bye in the first round, then easily defeated a Cesar Chavez team, 6-0, 6-2, and a Cibola team, 6-1, 6-2,” said Sandvig. “They lost in the Elite 8 to a Desert Mountain doubles team of Mary Frances Byron and Kaley Hicks, 6-2, 6-2.”

The team should return all varsity players next season with the exception of graduating senior Rachel McKay.

“Rachel is a true Aztec, a great team player who finished her final season undefeated at 16-0 in singles and 15-2 in doubles,” said Sandvig. “Her development as a person and a tennis player over the past four years has been awesome to watch.”

McKay will be attending Arizona State on an academic scholarship next fall.

Corona’s JV team, led by Stefani Jarman, Caroline Lull and Sonya Tao, finished the season 13-1, according to Sandvig.

Team awards included Rutkowski as Most Improved Player; Tran as Joe Selleh Award recipient; and Jarman as Most Improved JV Player.

Corona Boys Tennis

It was an incredible season for both the varsity and JV boys tennis teams, according to coach Rick Wanta. Both finished the regular season undefeated at 14-0.

The varsity team entered the Division I state team tennis tournament, held on four days between April 24 and May 5, as the No. 4 seed after finishing third in their section behind Brophy and Desert Mountain.

“I am very proud of the team,” said Wanta. “We were unfortunate (however) that the teams who played in the state championship finals were in our section.”

The Aztecs defeated Mesa Mountain View, 5-0, in the first round but were defeated by No. 5 seeded Salpointe, 5-3, in the second round. The match was held at Corona because the Aztecs were the higher seed.

“In my 24 years of coaching at Corona, Salpointe has never traveled to Tempeto play at Corona,” said Wanta. “Alex Lawson at No. 1, Alex Jing at No. 4 and Connor Harber at No. 5 singles all won their matches before we lost two doubles matches to come up just a little short. The final score was 5-3.”

Athletic Scholarships

Paige Vallejos is joined by Corona Athletic Director Dan Nero, left, and Principal Brent Brown during signing ceremonies for her letter of intent to play softball at U.S. Military Academy at West Point. — Photo courtesy Kris Cartwright

Corona had an abundance of athletes from the 2012 graduating class sign letters of intent to play college sports during earlier signing dates but nine recent signees celebrated May 17.

Brooke Taylor signed a letter of intent to play golf at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn. Brooke was part of Corona’s girls golf team for four years.

“Brooke was always dependable and had a positive attitude,” said coach Pat Reed. “She always worked with all the other girls to get them more involved in Corona golf. I will miss her demeanor next year.”

Corona had three girls volleyball players commit to play at the next level: Kayla Ronda, Erin Miller and Alexa Moser

Ronda, who averaged 1.3 kills a game, will be headed off to Le Tourneau University in Longview, Texas this fall.

“Kayla has really developed into a great player over the past four years,” said coach Ben Maxfield. “She is very consistent, always works hard and is an incredible teammate. Le Tourneau will be the perfect fit for her.”

Miller had a good senior year, averaging 1.4 kills a game with a 50 percent kill rate, three aces and 22 blocks. She will be playing at Yavapai Community College.

“Erinis one of the hardest working girls I have ever coach who has improved tremendously over the last four years,” said Maxfield. “I still don’t think she has reached her highest level of play and I’m sure, as she develops more at Yavapai, it will springboard her into a four-year university.”

Moser, headed to Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo., next fall, led the team in kills, with 285 or 2.7 a game and had 33 aces and 50 blocks.

“Alexa has always been a great leader,” said Maxfield. “She works hard and never gives excuses. Ft. Lewis will benefit from her energy and love of the game.”

Dominic Mercurio, the Aztecs’ leading rusher carrying over 1223 yards on 187 carries and scoring 11 of Corona’s 13 rushing touchdowns his senior season, signed to played at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif.

“Dominic is a very talented athlete, who…could become an outstanding college football player,” said coach Thomas Joseph. “He is also going to an outstanding academic school where…he could have a lot of job opportunities when he finishes school. We at Corona wish him all the best.”

Lani Redmond will be playing softball at Phoenix College next year while Paige Vallejos signed a letter of intent to play softball for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“Lani is an amazing second baseman and team captain who led by example,” said coach Jeep Ray. “Page is an outstanding person who was a four-year letter winner. She was an excellent role model who led by example on and off the field. Both are wonderful kids that I am thankful to have had in our Corona softball program”

Two girls who had contributed the last four years to the rising success of Corona’s track and field team signed letters of intent recently.

Megan Benson is probably best know for running the hurdles but she also was a contributing team member of several different relay teams over her four years at Corona. She will be continuing her success at UC Irvine next year.

“Megan has a passion for track. She came out and worked hard at practice every day which helped in being awarded twice Track Athlete of the Year and her three state place finishes,” said coach Tim Kelly. “She will represent Corona very well at the next level and will have a terrific career.”

Dana McKenzie solidified her ongoing recruiting relationship with Nebraska by signing a letter of intent recently with the Cornhuskers. She will most likely compete in the high jump but she had broadened her scope the last couple of years to successfully compete in numerous other running and field events.

“Dana came to like track and field and found a home in running multiple events from hurdles, to high jump to long jump to the triple jump,” said Kelly. “She was a Joe Sellah award winner as well as the Field Event Athlete of the year.



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