Big question mark facing Aztecs next year: How to replace star Contes
After easily defeating Mesquite 42-17 on Oct. 19, the Corona del Sol Aztecs were hammered 52-7 in their last game of the season by Hamilton Huskies who were out to prove they can still dominate other teams as they did the past few years.
James Contes, Corona’s leading rusher, was able to gain 124 yards on the ground but the Huskies stopped all scoring drives except one when quarterback Evan Kinney broke free for a 50-yard running touchdown in the second quarter.
Corona’s game against Hamilton was the last game in the AIA’s two-year scheduling scheme. It was the same tough schedule as last season with similar results. Eight of the 10 teams the Aztecs faced this season will be in the state playoffs, including No. 1-seeded Mountain Pointe, No. 3- seeded Hamilton and No. 6-seeded Desert Vista.
Two of the teams the Aztecs dominated this season, Westwood and Cibola, are both in less competitive sections, and both made it into the state playoffs. Westwood, which the Aztecs defeated 32-7, came into the playoffs as the No.10 team, while Cibola, defeated by the Aztecs 48-7, will play as the No. 16 seed.
The Aztecs (4-6) have not had an appearance in the state playoffs since the 2008-09 season when they made it into the second round. Those were the days before the AIA did away with regions and put in the new sectionals and scheduled teams based on location.
The Aztecs may have an easier schedule next season because the AIA changes the arrangement every two years. It would be a big boost to a program that has seen some difficult times since 2008 if the Aztecs were scheduled to play teams other than ones predominantly from the top programs in the state.
Either way, the Aztecs will need to replace leading rusher Contes, who not only averaged 133 of the team’s 236 rushing yards per game but completed four passes for 125 yards, caught 10 passes, punted the ball and returned both punts and kickoffs.
George Wright (53 carries for 303 yards) and Blake Jones (35 carries for 109 yards) are potential players to replace some of the yardage, but it is a bit worrisome when the third leading rusher was senior quarterback Evan Kinney, who carried the ball 55 times for 176 yards.
RJ Rhiner, who completed 22 of his 48 passing attempts and rushed for two touchdowns over the year, started early in the season when Kinney was out. Since Kinney returned, he has still had significant snaps, so he should be a possibility to step in at the starting quarterback position next year.
The Aztecs will lose pass receivers Maceo Brown (13 catches for 268 yards) and Billy Clemens (9 catches for 118 yards) but will still have the use of Tevin Mayfield (20 receptions for 260 yards), Jones, Wright and a player who has recently had an offensive impact, Grant Fishburn, who led the team in yards per catch at 23.56.
The offensive line will lose James Corwin, Aaron Simons and Sam Radford, AJ Brackens, Draius Ryan and Tousif Mohmood.
While the Aztecs will definitely miss the likes defensive players Beau Sitton (52 solo tackles averaging 10.9 tackles per game), Brown (52 solo and 10 tackles per game), Carter Colton (7 tackles per game), Kion McKinley (6.4 tackles per game), Nick Plott (6.5 tackles per game) and Connor Stuhmer (5.1 tackles per game), Jacob Riedell, the teams leading tackler with 55 solo tackles, 4 quarterback sacks and 12.6 tackles per game, should be returning next fall.
Returning with Riedell should be Isaac Niemtschk (averaging 7.7 tackles a game), Thomas Turley (2 sacks and 4.8 tackles per game), Cassius Peat (3 sacks and 4.8 tackles per game) and Fishburn (4.4 tackles a game). Niemtschk also scored 26 point-after kicks over the season.
Teams have no real control over scheduling so Corona could end up playing against the same top division I football teams the next two seasons just because of their proximity. This system, based on economics according to the AIA, inherently makes it difficult for some teams to ever make it in the playoffs.
Tempe High School football — When the Buffalos lost 34-17 at Maricopa Oct. 26, Tempe (6-4) fell off the bubble and did not make it into the state playoffs this year despite having one of their best seasons in recent history.
Tempe’s high-powered offense kept it close in the first quarter, 13-10, before the Buffalos ran into Maricopa’s buzz-saw defense which intercepted two of sophomore quarterback Emanuel Gant’s passes, caused two fumbles and held them scoreless in the second and fourth quarters.
Gant still managed to complete 19 of 34 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown to receivers Massiah Smith (7 catches for 107 yards), Jaija Holt ( 5 for 95), Jordan Wiatr (3 for 13 and 1 touchdown), Sebastian Watkins (2 for 17), and Osvaldo Gomez (2 for 12 yards).
Holt and Wiatr were the only Tempe players to rush the ball when the Buffalos attempted to gain yardage on the ground against the Ram’s stingy defense. Holt, who gained 86 yards rushing the football and one touchdown, had one 45-yard gain but was mainly held to small yardage in his other eight carries. Wiatr gained 47 yards on seven carries.
Kicker Victor Perez-Rodriguez completed two point-after kicks and a field goal to score five points.
Although the defense had 97 total tackles, the Buffalos allowed over 400 yards of offense and five touchdowns by the Rams who have won five straight games heading into the Division III playoffs.
Despite giving up huge chunks of real estate, the Buffalo defense had some bright spots in their loss to Maricopa. Talib Id-Deen had three quarterback sacks while Terry’on Wycoff had two and Sam Leha had one sack. Leha also blocked a Ram field goal attempt.
The good news for coach Brian Walker is that his star quarterback Gant is only a sophomore. The bad news may be having players around Gant to compliment his passing and running game.
Tempe’s three rushing leaders, Holt, Wiatr and Johnathan Caraway are all seniors. On the other hand, three of Gant’s leading receivers, Smith, Gomez and Sebastian Watkins, are all juniors.
The Buffalos will lose their leading tackler, Oscar Carrizosa, at 10.1 tackles per game, and sack leaders Id-Deen, eight total sacks and Leha, four sacks, but they should retain Ramon Castro, who averaged 9.3 tackles per game and Wycoff, 8.1 tackles a game. Wycoff was also second on the team with 5 sacks this season.
If Gant and the other key players can stay healthy, next season may be the year the Buffalos make it into the state playoffs.
Marcos de Niza football — The Marcos de Niza football team beat undefeated Chavez 45-27, Oct 26, to make it into the Division II state playoff race for the seventh straight year. The Padres were scheduled to play No. 15 seeded Betty Fairfax Nov. 2 at home.
If the Padres win, they will face off against the winner between No. 7 Chaparral and No. 10 Perry on Nov. 9 at home. Playing the Chaparral Firebirds would be a rematch of not only their close 29-27 victory earlier this season but also it was the Firebirds that defeated Marcos in the 2009 Division II finals. The Padres brought home the runner-up trophy but would love another chance this season to bring home their first state football championship.
Although Betty Fairfax sports a 7-3 record, it is about the only statistic that is even close to the Padre’s statistics, on paper that is. If Josh Eckley, Mauriece Lee, Paul Elvira Jacquese Moore and the rest of the offense play the same as they have all season while Derek Craig, Richie Becerra and Priest Willis fire up the defense, Marcos should have no problem defeating Betty Fairfax.
The game to watch, if you are a Marcos fan, will be the following week most likely against multiple-state champion Chaparral. The Padres will not be able to play the careless, unfocused game they had in the first half of their eventual win over Chavez, if they are to defeat the Firebirds in the second round of the state playoffs.
Corona girls volleyball — The Lady Aztecs, who have been consistently ranked among the top 16 teams all season by the Maxpreps.com/AIA’s power ranking system, recently found out, at the last minute, they did not make it into the state tournament because of an error in the computer algorithm used to determine rankings.
“It would be one thing if we had been looking at the rankings all season long and seeing that we weren’t in the top 16. It would then be obvious we wouldn’t get in,” said coach Ben Maxfield. “But to look at it weekly and see we were anywhere from 9 to 14, (this morning 12th), you think ‘Hey, we made it.’ And then for them to drop this on us the last day of the season is inexcusable.”
It appears the error which caused movement either up or down by about 6% of the schools in the state tournament seeding was not discovered until after the final regular season power rankings were released.
The formula, which is kept a secret, inadvertently allowed invitational tournaments to play a role in a team’s rating and strength of schedule. Corona, along with Sunnyslope, Sandra Day O’Connor and Mesa High were the most adversely affected by the revised formula.
The AIA state tournament ranking system has been under attack ever since it was put into play a couple of years ago by volleyball coaches who have proposed, through the girls volleyball committee, a 24-team state tournament which has failed to pass due to what the AIA terms as cost issues.
“But cost isn’t an issue with volleyball,” said Maxfield. “The entrance fee taken in by the AIA from just my team’s parents to enter the match is probably sufficient to pay the officials. Member schools pay the officials for all regular season matches.”
The main grievance may be the secret formula and seeding determined by a computer.
“The fact that the state tournament is really being determined by a computer and not on the court is ridiculous,” said Maxfield. “We have no control over who we play, strong or weak, and so the system inherently makes it impossible for some teams to even have a chance at the playoffs.”
“Just look at Sandra Day O’Connor. They are a good team that would consistently beat at least 35 of the 49 Division I teams and they ended up going from No. 12 to the No. 21 team and out of post-season play.”
Maxfield and others are so disgusted with the new rules that they would rather go back to the region system of five to six teams that was in place for so many years in Arizona.
“At least with the region system we could determine the three teams who get in with a region tournament instead of relying on a computer,” said Maxfield. “It’s not perfect, but at least it’s determined on the court not by some computer.”
That’s not much consolation to the eight Corona seniors, Patrice Moritz, Kasey Kiefer, Kaitlyn Martin, Kaileen Fei, Stephanie Kennedy, Kraymer Johnson, Taylour Rohme and Caroline Trent, who had their state tournament playoff hopes dashed by an error in a computer program formula.
Corona swim and dive team — Chloe Hacker will be going for her third straight state diving championship held Nov. 3 at the Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa.
Hacker, who has won every meet this season including the Tempe City Meet last week, is excited about the opportunity to keep her state title run intact.
“Going for my third state championship title is pretty exciting but a little nerve wracking at the same time,” said Hacker. “I want to focus on just relaxing during the meet and letting myself do what I know I am capable of.”
Hacker, who not only loves to dive but is passionate and dedicated to her training and the sport, planned on attempting some more difficult dives this state meet but has been hampered by a shoulder injury.
“I have increased the degree of difficulty on some of my dives and I’m looking forward to competing them,” said Hacker. “I have been also battling a shoulder injury that is taking awhile to heal. It’s hard to rest with the state tournament coming up so I’m hoping it will hold up for state this weekend.”
Corona should also have Jackson Whitten qualified to compete at the state diving meet as well as several swimmers who qualified for the Division I state meet to be held Nov. 2 for preliminaries and Nov. 3 for finals at the Skyline Aquatic Center.
The boys team has qualified Nick Quon in the 100 backstroke and the 200 individual medley, Chris Tate in the 100 fly, Matt Hurst in the 200 and 500 freestyle, Ryan Riley in the 50 freestyle and Trace Langley in the 100 backstroke.
Hurst has been training to swim in the state meet since last season when he joined a club team.
“I am really excited to have a chance to swim in the state meet this season,” said Hurst. “But being part of a relay team really gets me pumped because you need a total team effort in order for you to win.”
The boys team qualified three relay teams: the 200 medley, the 200 freestyle and the 400 freestyle.
Quon, Nathaniel Kroger, Tate and Ryan Riley will be swimming in the 200 medley relay. Tate, Brandon Haws, Rick Riley and Hurst will compete in the 200 freestyle relay and Quon, Langley, Ryan Riley and Hurst in the 400 Freestyle relay.
The girls team had two individuals and three relay teams qualify to swim in the Division I state meet.
Freshman sensation Karilyn Quon qualified in the 500 freestyle, 200 freestyle, 100 back stroke and 200 individual medley.
Nicole Holly will be swimming for Corona in the 100 fly.
“I am so excited that I made it to this level of competition,” said Holly. “I get to see all my hard work over the season pay off, which is exhilarating.”
“I really like the team atmosphere of the relay swimming, though, because of all the cheering involved,” said Holly. “It makes me want to push myself even harder because I know that I have three other people depending on me to do my best.”
Amy Hong, Myah Kamani, Holly and Quon will be competing in all three relays, the 200 medley, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle, just in different starting positions.
Corona Cross Country — Corona’s boys team placed second and the girls team third in Division I Section II at the Sectionals held Oct. 26-27 at Freestone Park in Chandler.
Nathan Rodriguez took second place, Ryan Normand fourth, Jake Whitney sixth, Blake Fischer 28th and Alex Frantz was 33rd. The Aztec team finished just five points off of Highland who took first.
The girls team was led by Hallie Swenson who crossed the finish line in third place was followed by team mate Victoria Haun at 14th, Kelly Naumann, 15th, Sammie Moore, 18th and Mason Swenson was 21st.
Desert Vista finished first and Highland second in Section II.
Both teams will be competing in the state meet at Cave Creek Golf Course Nov. 3.
Local sisters run cross-country for Xavier — Shelby and Sierra Brown, Kyrene Corridor residents, run on Xavier’s MileSplit’s No. 9 National Cross Country ranked Girls High School team.
Shelby, a junior, and Sierra, only a freshman, usually place in the top five in any events they compete in during the Arizona high school cross country meets and in the top 30 in national events.
Xavier has so many runners that they don’t get to run in many local events but compete for the school in other events around the country.
For instance, Shelby came in 23rd at the Mount Sac Invitational held Oct. 19-20 at Mount San Antonio College, Calif., while Sierra came in 27th in the same race.
Sierra, two years younger than Shelby, has been a blessing and a threat this season since they often compete in the same race against each other.
“It feels weird having my younger sister out there running in the same race as me but at the same time it makes me want to race that much harder,” said Shelby. “Lately, though, we have been using each other to set the pace in races, which I love, but it’s still a shock to have her up there with me leading the team.”
“It’s also a scary thought to have her so close to me time wise because there is always the possibility she might just outkick me and cross the finish line first,” said Shelby.
Both sisters did not compete in the sectionals this past weekend but should be competing for Xavier in the Division I state cross country meet to be held Nov. 3 at Cave Creek Golf Course.