Corona’s track program is having its best start in years with the boys tying for first place with Desert Vista in their first tournament of the year, the Aztec Invitational, March 2, and then both teams winning the Husky Invitational last weekend at Horizon.
“I am extremely proud of our student athletes, their efforts and our success so far this season, on both the boys and girls teams,” said head coach Tim Kelly. “I am even more impressed with the leadership of our athletes who did not competing in our Aztec Invitational but who did a fantastic job of organizing and running the meet. We would never have been able to make it go so smoothly and be as successful for our athletes to compete without their valuable help.”
Highlights of the Husky Invitational for the girls team include Grace Ashu breaking a school record in the 100-meter dash crossing the finish line first in 12.48 seconds.
Ashu had great results in her other events at the Husky as well including a second in both the 200 meter dash and the 300 meter hurdles.
Other first place finishers at the Husky for the girls team included Hallie Swenson in the 800 meter run and the 4×100 relay team of Ashu, Gabrielle Dotson, Justice Onwwardi and Isabelle Cartagena.
Additional Corona top eight finishers included Dotson, 8th in the 100 meter dash, Cartagena, 6th in the 200 meter dash, Mason Swenson, 3rd in the 800 meter run, Kelly Neumann 2nd and Samantha Moore 4th in the 1600 meter run, Brooke Frahm 4th in the 100 meter hurdles and Anna Lee 4th in the 300 meter hurdles.
The girls 4×800 meter relay team of Alexia Artiaga, Mason Swenson, Hallie Swenson and Amberly Ricks was second while the 4×400 meter relay team of Naumann, Dotson, Hallie Swenson and Mason Swenson took third.
In the field events at the Husky, Dotson was the high finisher with a 3rd place finish for her 15-05.50 long jump while Stephanie Allen took 3rd in the triple jump with a 32-04.50 jump. Caitlyn Sorensen and Lauren Hightower tied for 6th in the high jump event.
“Ours girls team is young but they come to practice every day, smile, work hard and are an enjoyable group to work with,” said Kelly. “We have a core group of junior senior girls who are helping to lead our young team and then we have some super sophomores on the team who now have more experience and are stepping up to fill in important roles in relays and individual events.”
If the girls team is young you might think of the boys team as experienced and on a mission this season.
The boys team is undefeated so far this season. The Aztecs defeated Basha 90-51 and Westwood 88-51 in dual meets. They then had an impressive tie with track powerhouse Desert Vista at the Aztec Invitational in early March and recently took home the championship trophy at the Husky Invitational March 16.
Highlights of the Husky Invitational include first place finishes for Corona’s cross country star athlete Nate Rodriguez in both the 1600 meter run and the 3200 meter run. Rodriguez was also first at the Aztec Invitational in both events.
>Tevin Mayfield, leading receiver on the Aztec football team, was also impressive with first places finishes in both the 110 meter hurdles and the 330 meter hurdles at the Husky. He took first place, also, in both events at the Aztec Invitational.
In addition, Mayfield was part of the first place 4×100 relay team along with Jamaree Johnson, Quinn Robertson and George Wright at the Husky Invitational.
Two other Aztecs took home first places finishes at the Husky: Nicholas Creasman in the 800 meter run with a 1:58.46 time and Aaron Simons with a 151-10.50 discus throw. Creasman was 3rd in the 800 at the Aztec Invite.
George Wright, another notable football player, had a good outing at the Husky. He was 2nd with a time of 11:55 in the 100 meter dash and 7th in both the 200 meter dash and 400 meter dash to add to his 1st place finish as part of the 4×100 relay team.
Other top finishers who helped the Aztecs tally enough points to win first place overall was Gergen VanderKnoop, 3rd in the 400 meter dash, Patrick Buck, 4th in the 800 meter run and Ryan Normand, 4th in the 1600 meter run. Normand took first place in the 3200 meter run at the Aztec Invitational and also ran the 1600 meter in 4:25.35 coming in 2nd behind Rodriguez at the same event.
Jake Whitney was 5th in the 3200 meter run, Quinn Robertson, 6th, and Tyler Stehr, 8th, in the 110 meter hurdles all at the Husky Invitational.
Robertson upped his finish to 5th in the 300 meter hurdles while fellow teammate Diego Parra took 7th in the same event.
In addition to the first place finish in the 4×100, the Aztecs took 2nd in the 4×400 and 4th in the 4×800 meter relays. Buck, Creasman, Mayfield and VanderKnoop ran in the 4×400 while Andrew Eversden, Blake Fischer, Andrew Trusswell and Samuel Rodriguez competed in the 4×800 relay.
Football linebacker Simons, in addition to his first place finish in the discus, took 2nd in the shot put, putting 45-10.50. Other field event athletes who scored points for Corona at the Husky Invitational included Blake Jones, 6th and Stehy 7th in the high jump, Matt Eckles, 3rd in the pole vault, Brian Skinner, 4th in the long jump and Wyatt Larson, 3rd and Skinner, 8th, in the triple jump.
Coach Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff’s efforts to recruit athletes from all fall and winter sports at Corona has started to payoff. This season, the Aztecs not only have on the track and field team the aforementioned football players, but cross country runners, soccer players and even wrestlers.
“The cross country kids who come out are very hard working,” said Kelly. “Sometimes they are so driven and want to work so hard every day that we have to pull them back a little because we are focused on the long-term picture for them. We want them to be their best and healthy in May.”
Coach Kelly would like to have more football players on his track team.
“We don’t have as many football players as we’d like but the ones who have come out are a committed bunch,” said Kelly. “The players get a great experience on the track team and are really standing out but track also ultimately helps their football team.”
Some soccer players from both the boys and girls teams have also come out for track along with a couple of wrestlers and a basketball player.
“We have a very talented group of young soccer players on both the boys and girls team who are doing a great job practicing and getting better every day,” said Kelly.
“We have some wrestlers including Ethan Tursini, Corona’s undefeated state champion, and Samantha Moore, from the girls basketball team, who are contributing to our team’s success.”
Up next, the Aztecs were scheduled to compete at the Chandler Rotary Mar. 22-23 and then the Basha Relays Mar. 28. The then will squeeze in a dual meet with Marcos de Niza at home April 2 before the ASU Classic April 4, the Arcadia Invitational April 5-6 and then the ASU Sun Angel April 6.
Player of the Year
Casey Benson is one of those rare basketball players in the current “Me Generation” who could care less about how many baskets or assists or rebounds he gets each game as he does about getting his teammates involved and most of all, winning the game.
“Casey is extremely competitive and a very hard worker,” said head coach Sam Duane, Jr. “He does not care about individual stats, he just wants to win.”
Last season Benson flew under the radar, so to speak, because Corona has point guard Calaen Robinson and big men Andrus Peat and Avery Moss to garner all the attention in their first championship. Not so this season.
“Casey embraced his role last year and did whatever we needed him to do to win,” said Duane. “This year his role changed and he ran with it as well. He had to become more of a leader on the court which he did well in our second championship season.”
Benson, along with returning senior starter Bryan Seifker, were instrumental in helping to lead a team no one really thought could repeat as state champions through a 29-4 record and a back-to-back Division I state championship.
“Casey is a special player and deserves the Player of the Year award,” said Duane. “He works really hard at improving his individual game plus he has a great understanding of the game of basketball.”
“He knows when he should take over a game and when to get everyone else involved.”
That knowledge was evident in the double overtime win in the second round of the state playoffs when Corona came from behind not once but two times on last-second treys from Benson or when his shots were not falling when Corona was down seven points to Pinnacle with the final three minutes ticking off the clock.
Benson found a way to get his teammates Adam Gleave and Cassius Peat scoring points with pinpoint passes which ultimately helped the Aztecs to a 63-59 victory and a repeat championship.
Even though Benson is not concerned with his stats, his average of 20.7 points, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.3 rebounds per game have drawn him national attention.
His abilities are getting the attention of college coaches hoping to recruit the 6-foot-3 guard. In addition to offers from Arizona State University, Benson is reportedly being recruited by Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Saint Mary’s, USC, San Francisco, Boise State and Boston College just to name a few but he is in no hurry to choose a school.
“I am looking for a school that is the right fit for me,” said Benson. “Some things I am considering are my relationship with the coach and how well I connect with the coach and players when I take my visits.”
What does he think about getting the Player of the Year award for both the Arizona Republic and the Tribune?
“I give my teammates and coaches a lot of credit for me getting these awards,” said Benson. “They were great all season long.”
Coach of the Year
Sam Duane, Jr., in his 10th year as head basketball coach of his alma mater, was recently awarded his second straight Coach of the Year award by the Arizona Republic.
“I was honored to be named Coach of the Year but you win this kind of award as a result of a good team,” said Duane. “Honestly, good players make good coaches and my team this year was special.”
“They were really on a mission and did not let anything get in their way,” said Duane. “They always found a way to make the right play when needed and never ever believed that they would not win.”
Duane is only the third coach in Corona’s history after his father, Sam Duane, Sr., coached from the school’s inception in 1978 through the 1996-97 season. Duane, Sr. won four state championships while coaching the Aztecs.
What was the best advice his father ever gave him about coaching high school basketball?
“My dad told me to enjoy watching kids develop as players and to appreciate and enjoy the relationships that you build with your players,” said Duane, Jr. “I’ve tried to do just that over the years.”
Corona Boys Tennis
The Aztec tennis team is hoping to earn a state playoff spot after returning four lettermen from last season and adding quite a few newcomers to the varsity squad. At press time, Corona was on its way compiling 4-0 record in dual matches and finishing third in its first tournament, the East Valley Invitational Doubles at Mesa’s Gene Autry Tennis Center in early March.
“Playing in our No. 1 singles spot is senior Kevin McMahon, who is playing well with a 3-1 record,” said coach Rick Wanta. “I’m also pleased with a couple of first-time varsity players, junior James Duvall and sophomore Daniel Lee, who have been anchoring the bottom of the lineup and are undefeated in doubles including winning all six of their matches in the East Valley tournament.”
Rounding out the varsity are four returning lettermen, sophomore Alex Jing playing No. 2, junior Conor Prindiville at No.3, junior Connor Harber at No.4 and senior Pranav Balaji according to Wanta.
The Aztecs were scheduled to play at home against Dobson, Mar. 20 and then Mesa, Mar. 21 before playing in four away matches before the Tempe City Tournament April 5-6. They will be at Marcos de Niza, Mar. 27, at Gilbert, April 2, at Westwood, April 3, and at Desert Vista, April 4.
“We are looking forward to playing in the Tempe City tournament and to finish the season strong in the hopes of making it once again into the state tournament,” said Wanta.