Corona del Sol Aztecs are inching closer to their third Division 1 state title
By Alex Zener
and four to go.
That’s how many
games the Aztecs have
to win in order to threepeat
as Division I state
Ranked No. 12 in
the MaxPreps Xcellent
25 boys basketball
rankings, No. 7 in the
National rankings and
No. 1 in Arizona, the
Aztecs have defeated
every Arizona high
school team they faced
so far this season, but no
team gave them the “run
for their money” like
Perry did in the finals of
what the AIA is calling
the Super Sectionals Feb.
15 at Desert Ridge High
73-72, in the hard-fought, high-scoring super sectional finals, kept the
Aztecs’ unbeaten state record alive and gave them
the No. 1 seed in the Division I state tournament.
The only team to defeat the Aztecs with a 29-1,
14-0 record in their section this season was Findlay
College Prep out of Henderson, Nev.
The Aztecs drew blood first with a two-point
shot by Cassius Peat. The two teams traded baskets
back and forth until Perry’s senior point guard,
Jordan Howard, started a 33-12 run, with his first of
four three-pointers in that run to give the Puma’s a
39-19 lead. Howard would end up scoring 18 points
total with most coming in the first half.
Senior center Connor MacDougall stopped the
bleeding and started an 8-0 run by the Aztecs when
he scored back-to-back baskets to cut the lead to 16.
Then Peat and Corona’s impressive freshman guard
Alex Barcello added two points each to cut the lead
to 12. The Pumas continued to shoot lights out to end
the half up 11 points, 49-38, on the Aztecs, who were
kept within reach partly due to Casey Benson’s nine
and Barcello’s 10 first-half points.
“We knew we had to continue fighting when we
got down in the first half,” said Benson. “We wanted
to come out in the second half and chip away at
their lead. We knew it was a 32-minute battle and
we could not get down on ourselves if we wanted to
The Aztecs did come out more focused and
defensive minded in the second half.
“The difference in the second half is that we
defended the three or power forward position better
and really played with more energy,” said coach Sam
Duane Jr. “I’m not sure we played very well at all
the whole game but we played with more energy and
found a way to win.”
As a result, Perry’s team, which scored nine
three-points in the first half, did not have the same
hot hands in the second half. Still behind 11 points at
63-52 the Aztecs went on a 14-0 run to take a threepoint
lead at 66-63 after back-to-back baskets by
Jarret Givens, who contributed seven points in the
“Jarrett made a couple of big baskets and
competed on the boards all night for us,” said Duane.
Corona’s 14-0 run came to a halt when freshman
guard Markus Howard, Jordan Howard’s younger
brother, buried his fifth trey of the game to tie the
score at 66-66. It appeared that one Howard shooting
three pointers was not enough. Markus Howard
made five treys and a total of 34 points. Together the
Howard brothers scored 52 of the team’s 72 points.
Tied at 66-66, Benson, Peat and Barcello hit free
throws down the stretch to give Corona a three-point
lead at 71-68 before the Pumas roared back with
two baskets of their own to lead by one, 72-71. Dane
Kuiper, who scored 15 points total, 10 in the second
half alone, sealed the victory with a two-point basket,
and the Aztecs escaped with a 73-72 win.
“Cassius was relentless on the boards and
showed great leadership and the poise of a veteran
on the floor all night,” said Duane. “Casey, Dane and
Alex made some big plays as well for us to pull off the
Unlike past years, it was crucial
to win this super sectional tournament
because it had major ramifications on
the state tournament seeding due to
changes the Arizona Interscholastic
Association once again made this
“The way the super sectional was
formatted made winning extremely
important to get the No. 1 seed at
state,” said Duane. “The two winners in
each of the two super sectionals were
guaranteed the No. 1 and No. 2 seeding
and the two losers the No. 3 and No. 4
“I am not a fan of this format
because it puts very little weight on
your whole body of work,” said Duane.
“A team that has a great regular
season is not rewarded. The 18 section
games you play are really a true
representation of how good a team is,
not a three-day tournament at the end
of the season.”
The AIA state tournament rules
are a constant work in progress and
seem to change every year, but Corona
did play by the rules this season and
win, when they had to, to get the No. 1
“Our guys fought and played hard
to get that No. 1 spot, with very good
leadership from our more seasoned
players. We never gave up and
continued to cut into the lead until we
pulled off the win,” said Cassius Peat.
“Dane’s final go ahead basket that gave
us the lead was definitely huge.”
Some of those seasoned players
were seniors Benson, Givens, Russ
Davis, MacDougall, Vance Arnold and
Logan Dubek, who were honored Feb.
6 at Senior Night in a home game
against Red Mountain. The Aztecs
defeated the Mountain Lions 77-43.
“It was important for us to
honor our six seniors who have had a
tremendous impact on our program,”
said Duane. “We have always believed
that the heart of a great team is having
great senior leaders, and this year’s
group has been outstanding.”
With their third straight
championship on the line, the Aztecs
will need to be ready to play from
the first whistle because there are
no second chances in this single
elimination state tournament.
“We need to leave everything on
the floor because from here on out, it’s
win or go home,” said Benson.
Corona, the No. 1 seed, received a bye in the first round of the Division I
state tournament with its win against Perry and was due to face the winner of the
No. 17 seed Desert Ridge and No. 16 Desert Mountain game Feb. 22 on Corona’s
home court at 7 p.m.
The main focus leading up to this first game will be to tighten up some areas
defensively and offensively plus plan their strategy and be prepared to play both
Desert Mountain and Desert Ridge, according to Duane. The quarterfinals are
scheduled Feb. 27 and the semifinals Feb. 28, both at 7:45 p.m. and at Wells
Fargo Arena. It’s possible that the Aztecs could face Perry in the semifinals
because they are in the same top half of the brackets. The finals, which could give
coach Sam Duane Jr. his 305th career victory, are scheduled for March 1 at 3
p.m. at Jobing.com arena in Glendale.
You can find the brackets at www.aia365.com/brackets/basketball-boys/d1.
After being postponed for a week due to possible skin infections in some
other Division I high school wrestlers, the Corona del Sol wrestling team
competed in the Division I Section IV tournament Feb. 14-15.
The Aztecs took second place as a team, qualifying 11 wrestlers out of the 14
possible weight classes for the state tournament scheduled Feb. 21-22 at Tim’s
Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
The Aztecs had five wrestlers make it into the finals including 160-pound
senior Ethan Tursini and 182-pound sophomore Bridger Barker who both won
It was the third section championship for Tursini and first for Barker,
according to coach Jim Martinez.
Finishing in second place were 138-pound senior Glenn Farina and 195-
pound senior Michael Clare. Junior Taylor Rico, wrestling in the 170-pound
weight bracket also finished second, which was a welcome surprise for the team.
“Taylor has gone through a progression this season where he has gotten
more confident as he has been able to win more matches,” said Martinez. “He
entered the sectional tournament with a 15-15 record but then proceeded to beat
the No.3 seed with a 35-6 record and then the No. 2 seed with a 30-5 record for a
place in the finals.”
Placing third in the sectionals and qualifying for the state tournament were
126-pound sophomore Marc Farina; 132-pound junior Matt Churchill; and 145-
pound junior Ryan Spadafore. Rounding out the state qualifiers were fourth
place finishers 113-pound sophomore Ryan Farina; 120-pound freshman Hunter
Carmona; and 285-pound senior Darius Ryan.
The 14-3 Aztecs should do well in the early rounds, especially the two
wrestlers who won in the finals of the sectional, because their seeding will
improve and because they have already faced tough competition in their Section
“Given that our section is so tough, it will be a rare exception if we do not
face easier competition from Sections I and II in the early rounds,” said Martinez.
“That gives our wrestlers who took losses this past weekend at sectionals a good
opportunity to win in the early rounds. After that, you need to beat the best
wrestlers to win at the state tournament.”
Corona Girls Basketball
The Corona del Sol girls basketball team was scheduled to play in the
Division I state tournament at home in the first round as the No. 16 seed against
the No. 17 seed Laveen Betty Fairfax on Feb. 19.
Led by junior Taylor Kalmer, who averages 20 points, 3 assists, 2 steals and
2 rebounds a game, the 15-11 Lady Aztecs have won their last three games against
Perry, 49-43, at home against Desert Ridge 41-23 and at Red Mountain 62-59.
They have a good chance of winning this first round game because they
already beat Fairfax early in the season 47-31 but anything can happen in state
tournaments. Seniors Sammi Moore, Naomi Chee and Kahara Hodges, who were
honored at Senior Night Feb. 4, may make the difference because they are not
ready for the season to be over.
If they defeat Fairfax, Corona could have been lined up to play the No. 1
seed Dobson at Dobson at 7 p.m. Feb. 2. Find the Division I state playoff brackets
online at http://www.aia365.com/brackets/basketball-girls/d1.