The Aztecs may have a huge target on their back after winning 30 straight games and the Division I state championship last season, but with the help of a veteran point guard, a hard-nosed defender and the leadership of five seniors, they could easily find themselves in the mix for another state title.
Aztec returning starters Casey Benson and Bryan Siefker, in addition to the other four returning players, will be crucial in setting examples and providing guidance on and off the court about what it takes to become a championship team.
“Casey, who averaged 15 points per game last season, and Bryan will be heavily counted on to provide leadership to the younger players,” said coach Sam Duane Jr. “Also counted on to help will be returning players Cassius Peat, Braden Tennyson, Adam Gleave and Alex Van Ryswyk.”
The biggest challenge for this year’s team may be replacing the scoring firepower and tenacious rebounding of graduating seniors Caleen Robinson, Avery Moss and Andrus Peat.
Although Corona lost the intimidating and formidable size advantage that Moss and Peat brought to the court plus the high-flying scoring ability of Robinson, the Aztecs proved in their first three games of the season that they have maintained some of the same tenacity as last year’s team with their high-paced, run and gun offense and good shooters at all positions.
Point guard Benson showed that he is still the catalyst for the team’s main strength which is its elevated up-tempo style of play that opens up shots for all players, especially Corona’s outside shooters Siefker and Tennyson.
“I envision myself as a leader on this team and someone who keeps everyone accountable,” said Benson. “I am excited to lead this group of guys and defend our state championship with them. I think we will be up for the challenge.”
Siefker is still the team’s spark plug making countless efforts to give his team the advantage by either sacrificing his body taking opponent’s charges on the defensive end or by throwing down fast break slams on the other end.
“I want to make sure I set a good example for my young teammates and help us become the best possible team we can be,” said Siefker. “That basically means showing up every day focused and ready to work on the little details of the game which ultimately determines the outcome.”
“We have a lot of work to do to get to the same point we were last season which can only be accomplished by working hard and getting better one day at a time.”
Ready to work hard to learn the nuances of Corona’s basketball program and contribute to the team effort is 6-foot-5 senior forward Ashton Howard, a transfer from Las Vegas, and another transfer, 5-foot-11 guard Logan Dubek from Marcos de Niza.
Already somewhat familiar with what coach Duane is trying to accomplish with Corona’s basketball program and who will now be expected to contribute at the varsity level in numerous ways on and off the court are juniors Russ Davis, Jarret Givens, Thomas Turley, Vance Arnold and Dan Starkey.
Corona’s team also includes 6-foot-2 freshman guard Tyrell Henderson.
Rebounding by committee, team defense and the willingness to accept team roles are key factors that could make this team a powerful adversary as the season progresses.
“Yes, our strength is our excellent perimeter play and work ethic,” said Duane. “But we need to find a way to rebound as a team because that’s what sets us up to play at the pace we’d like.”
Last season’s team was exciting to watch which brought in the fans to Corona’s gym and created an atmosphere that was fun for the team as well.
“I am so looking forward to playing our home games,” said Cassius Peat. “The crowd goes crazy and the atmosphere of playing in front of our home crowd is incredible.”
The team has a lot to work on to keeps the fans coming and to prove they can be competitive against some of the predicted top teams in the state including Dobson, Hamilton, Red Mountain and Basha, all in Corona’s section. Add to the mix Pinnacle, Desert Mountain and Mesa, who recently won their own Fear the Hops Thanksgiving Tournament. Corona finished third after losing in the second round to Gilbert.
“I think, as the season evolves and our guys figure out their roles, we will get better and better,” said coach Duane. “This team is a very coachable group that wants to get better every day. We will be fun to watch because of their up-tempo style but we could be very competitive as well.”
Corona was expected to play at Central, Nov. 27, and at home against Chandler, Nov. 30. Up next the Aztecs will play at Desert Vista, Dec. 4, at home against Dobson, Dec. 7, at Casa Grande, Dec. 11, and then at home against Hamilton, Dec. 14, before breaking for finals. They are scheduled to play in the Visit Mesa Holiday Shootout, Dec. 26-29.
Girls Basketball — The Corona girls basketball team had a good off season and was anxious to get on the court to show their opponents and fans just how much they have improved.
“We had a very good summer and I am very excited about the season,” said coach Andrew Strom. ”We play well together as a team and it will be interesting to see just how much we have improved.”
The Lady Aztecs have six returning varsity players. Three were starters but four of them played significant minutes last season.
“Lauren Lucky, Kaelin Shaffer, Sammi Moore and Taylor Kalmer all played major minutes for us last year,” said Strom. “All four have improved over the past year and I expect them to continue to improve as the season goes along.’
“Haley Langille has also made major strides as a player and has been practicing very well. I expect them all to have very good seasons and be major contributors to our success.”
In addition, the Lady Aztecs, whose strengths are shooting, quickness and perimeter play, have some solid players from last year’s JV team who will be expected to provide energy and play specific roles when they enter the game, according to Strom.
Contributing to the team’s success and adding depth are senior Gabi Rodriguez, juniors Stephanie Galsim, Sidney Brice, Brenna Bjodvedt and Vicky Sanford, sophomore Ally Becker and freshman Hannah Lauer.
The main impediment to the Lady Aztec’s success this year may be height. The tallest players are 5-foot-9 Lucky and Shaffer.
Regardless, the Lady Aztecs are off to a good start this season with a 2-1 record at the Desert Ridge Invitational held, Nov. 23-24. Corona was scheduled to play at home against Central, Nov. 27.
Up next the Lady Aztecs will play at home against Desert Vista, Dec. 4, and at Dobson, picked by Strom to be their main section competition, Dec. 7. They will play two more games before finals, Dec. 11, at home against Casa Grande and at Hamilton, Dec. 14, and then compete in the Prescott Invitational, Dec. 28-19.
Corona wrestling — The Aztecs will face some very competitive teams vying for the state championship this year including defending state champion Chandler according to head coach Jim Martinez.
The Corona del Sol wrestling team, though, may be up to the challenge after returning three state place winners and eight additional varsity letter winners.
The nucleus of the team and expected to have an immediate impact on its results with their leadership abilities and improved wrestling skills is Zach Walton, second at state, Ethan Tursini, fifth at state and Glenn Farina, sixth at state.
“Zach, Ethan and Glenn each spent the summer competing in various regional and national competitions that helped them improve from last year,” said Martinez. “Their commitment to their strength program and pre-season conditioning will enable them to be ready to lead the team early on and to challenge for state titles in their respective weight classes in February.”
Martinez, however, is looking for these three wrestlers to benefit the rest of the team the most in the practice room including returning wrestlers Zack Turner, Matt Churchill, Raul Herrera, Riley Rayburn, Kort Turner, Colton Winstead, Michael Clare, Brix Kronborg and Josh Caliendo.
“These three wrestler’s workout partners will be able to work on techniques and wrestle with some of the best wrestlers in the state,” said Martinez. “Our team will be the beneficiaries of their experience and knowledge. With the understanding that ‘steel sharpens steel,’ our practices will become tougher because of the competitiveness in the wrestling room.”
In addition to 11 returning wrestlers from last season, the Aztecs welcome several promising freshman to their program.
“We look for freshman wrestlers Alex Carrillo, Ryan Farina, Marc Farina, Bridger Barker and Darius Ryan to strengthen our lineup,” said Martinez. “Alex and Ryan will compete for the 106 lbs weight class, Marc Farina in 126 lbs weight class, Bridger at 170 lbs and Darius at 286 lbs.”
“All bring vast backgrounds and success in middle school and freestyle wrestling. For instance, Bridger recently won the Freakshow competition in Las Vegas against some of the best wrestlers in the country while Darius won a Cadet State Freestyle championship last spring.”
In addition to graduating three state-place winners Steven Rodriquez, second, Jay Tucker, third, and Justin Butler, sixth, the Aztecs will miss sophomore Daniel Cartagena, fourth at state, who recently relocated with his family to Dallas.
So far, the Aztecs are on track to be in the mix when the state tournament rolls around in February by notching their first win of the season against defending Division II champions Thunderbird, 43-25, Nov. 20.
Six Aztecs won by fall against the Chiefs including Barker, Caliendo, Ryan, Glenn Farina, Walton and Tursini. Winning by major decision was Carrillo and by decision was Clare.
“Alex Carrillo, wrestling at 106 lbs, won a major decision in his first varsity match,” said Martinez. “His intensity level throughout the match wore down his opponent and allowed him to pick up takedowns late in the match to get the team bonus point.”
The Aztecs, with years of wrestling experience and a strong strength and conditioning program in the offseason, still expect to face strong competition from Sunnyside, Chandler, Desert Vista and Hamilton just to advance out of their section. Then add Cibola and Mesa Mountain View to the state picture. Any of these teams, including Corona, could be the last one holding the state championship trophy in February.
The Aztecs were scheduled to wrestle Mountain Pointe, Nov. 29, before competing in the Southwest Showdown, Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
“We are likely to meet up with several of the best teams in the state, including defending Division II state champions Ironwood Ridge and Marcos de Niza, who is always competitive, at the Southwest Showdown,” said Martinez. “This tournament will provide us with some of the strongest competition in the state.”
After the Southwest Showdown, the Aztecs will compete in two dual meets: Dec. 5 at Chandler and Basha and then Dec. 13 at Brophy and Mountain Ridge.
Marcos de Niza football — Marcos almost had a perfect season leading to a Division II state championship except for one thing: The Padres could not beat Ironwood Ridge.
The Padres had an outstanding 11-2 season, one that most teams in Arizona would love to have in their record books. They won every game, even creaming Chaparral in the playoffs, except against the same team that defeated them in week five of the regular season.
The fact that Ironwood Ridge went on to easily defeat Centennial in the Division II state championship game should not detract from the accomplishments of this year’s Marcos de Niza football team.
The Padres will lose the leadership and experience of 23 seniors, probably most noted, Priest Willis and Derek Craig on defense and Mauriece Lee, Paul Elvira and Jacquese Moore on offense, but several other seniors contributed in ways that are not always measured in the stat sheets.
In addition to kicker Jaron Jones, these seniors left everything on the field when they played as a Padre: Richie Becerra, Anthony Snyder, Ozo Cabrera, Khadeem Stewart, Kaharyee Davis, Taylor Henson, Kahari Johnson, Josh Howard, Nicholas Huerta, Josh Kirkwood, Andrew Molina, Royal Bailey, Laine Begay, Taylor Blakenship, Antonio Warner, Kahari Johnson, Maximus Gonzales and Augustine Almanza.
There will definitely be holes in both the offense and defense to fill next year but with quarterback Josh Eckley and defensive back Dominque Fenstermacher, who has really come on strong lately, along with 25 other returning football players with varsity experience, the Padres could still be competing for that elusive state football championship trophy in 2013.