By Alex Zener
Corona’s girls volleyball team, feeling confident after defeating Xavier in a five-set thriller in the semifinals, easily defeated Mountain Pointe in straight sets, 25-13, 25-21, 25-15, in the finals earlier this month to win the 2016 Division 6A State Championship for the first time since 1991.
Corona, entering the tournament as the No. 3 seed, was not seriously challenged until the semifinals, a match against No.2 Xavier. The Aztecs won the first two sets 25-23 and 25-18 and seemed to have the momentum and the match on their side, but a slow start in the third set changed everything.
Xavier won the third set easily 15-25 and the fourth set 18-25 to tie the match at two sets each in the best of five sets.
Xavier seemed to have everything going its way, but Corona was not to be denied. The Aztecs dug in against the Gators, a team which had won six titles in the last 10 years, and took back the momentum and regained their dream of winning a state championship.
Xavier scored the first point in the deciding fifth set with the score going back and forth until the Aztecs, down 9 to 11, made their move.
“We decided to start in a different rotation in that last set against Xavier trying to create different matchups for us,” said head coach Ben Maxfield. “Even when we were down 9-11, I believed that we would find a way to win, especially since our middle blocker Lauren Forte had just rotated to the front row.”
The Aztecs went on a 7-0 run to win the fifth set 15-11 and the match 25-23, 25-18, 15-25, 18-25, 15-11 and earn a chance to play in the finals against Mountain Pointe.
Junior outside hitter Brooke Nuneviller had an incredible outing against Xavier with 18 kills, nine digs, two aces and two blocks while senior outside hitter Erica Ronda was next with 12 kills, 17 digs and one service ace.
“Brooke and Erica were huge against Xavier. They not only scored so many points for us, they dug a ton of balls, passed really well and served tough,” said Maxfield.
Senior middle blocker Forte had 13 kills and junior middle block Emma West had nine in the Aztecs’ win over Xavier.
“Our hitters were instrumental in our win against Xavier,” said Maxfield. “We have four very strong hitters. We knew if two of them were on, we would be in a good position to win. If all four were clicking, we would be very difficult to beat.”
The Aztecs ran a two-setter system this season with both senior Madi Ruem and junior Abby Meyer each tallying over 20 assists each against Xavier.
“It worked well for us to run a two-setter system this year,” said Maxfield. “Both Madi and Abby have their strengths and their weaknesses which created a good balance.”
“Abby and Lauren Forte connected really well so we wanted them working together,” said Maxfield. “Then Madi is a scrapper on defense and is very tough to beat.”
Corona’s defense played well against Xavier with very few balls hitting the floor. Altogether the team dug 80 balls. Camryn Tucker, the libero, had 27 while the two setters, Ruem and Meyer had 11 each.
“Camryn and our other players who dig up the balls are all very disciplined in their positioning,” said Maxfield. “Throughout the past three years they’ve learned to not hide behind the block. Our blocking also improved tremendously throughout the season which always makes it easier to defend behind it in the back row.”
Corona’s blocking has progressed steadily over the season as demonstrated in the 13 total blocks, or 2.6 blocks per set, against Xavier and .
“We’ve been working on our blocking a lot throughout the season,” said Maxfield, “but the biggest difference is we were able to knock both Xavier and Mountain Pointe out of system with our serving so it made them more predictable.”
Seniors Jessica Murphy and Forte had six total blocks each against Xavier while junior West had five and freshman Madelyn Noble four.
“Jessica is the hardest working player I have ever coached,” said Maxfield. “Madelyn came into the season well prepared, then she really started to bring more power to her game. She caught up to the speed of the game very quickly.”
Corona will lose a total of eight seniors to graduation this spring including Brooke O’Meara, Logan Wallerstedt and Keelan Nelson.
“Brooke is the epitome of a team player,” said Maxfield.
“She is a really great passer and defender.”
“Logan is a terrific captain on our team, who is willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Maxfield. “In her four years on varsity she has played and contributed to every position except for setter.”
“Keelan is a great setter and versatile with the ability to play both middle and right side,” said Maxfield. “She is a very positive teammate and very vocal in her support.”
Other players contributing to Corona’s success on and off the court are Allie Wade, Lexi Vlcek and Isis Mitchell.
Corona had an unprecedented 13 athletes sign letters of intent to play a sport in college next year. Altogether, three basketball players, two baseball and two softball players, two wrestlers, two volleyball players, one lacrosse player and one golfer signed Nov. 9 in Corona’s gym.
Alex Barcello and Saben Lee, rated by recruiting sites as the Nos. 1 and 2 high school basketball players in the state from the 2017 recruiting class, are the top players on this year’s Aztec basketball team.
Barcello committed to play point guard at Arizona after narrowing his choices to Arizona, Virginia, Butler, Indiana and Stanford in early August. He had an incredible summer club season, averaging close to 20 points a game.
Lee, remarkably fast and athletic player who grew taller and improved tremendously the last two years, both playing for the Aztecs and during the club season, signed to play guard at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN.
Leilani Peat, a 6-foot guard for Corona’s girls basketball team, signed a letter of intent to play at Seattle.
Peat, who has played on varsity since her freshman year, played in 87 games averaging over 10 points, two assists, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals a game for the Aztecs.
Quinn Flanagan and Chase Hamilton signed baseball letters of intent.
Flanagan, a right-hand pitcher who pitched over 52 innings last season with a 1.74 ERA and 57 strikeouts for the Aztecs, signed with Arizona.
Hamilton, who signed to play middle infielder at Colorado Mesa, will be playing his third varsity season this spring for the Aztecs. Last season he played in 27 games where he had 27 hits, 14 RBI’s and 44 runs earning a .36 batting average.
Allyssia Sanchez and Haley Vallejos signed letters of intent to play softball.
Sanchez will be at Arizona Christian, most likely playing third base next year. At Corona last season, she had 26 hits with 22 RBI’s and 14 runs playing in 31 games.
Vallejos, a varsity player since her freshman season, signed to play at Penn State. She played in 32 games last season as catcher for the Aztecs, where she tallied 173 putouts on defense while batting .357 with 35 hits, 21 RBI’s and 14 runs.
Vincent Dolce and Brandon Konecny both signed letters of intent to wrestle for Air Force. Dolce and Koneckny are both All-Americans who will be competing with the Aztec wrestling team this season before heading off to the Air Force Academy when they graduate.
Lauren Forte and Erica Ronda, both members of the Aztecs’ championship volleyball team, signed letters of intent to play volleyball at the next level.
Forte, the leading blocker on Corona’s team, will be playing indoor volleyball for the California State Bears while Ronda will be playing beach volleyball at Arizona State University.
Forte, a four-year varsity player at Corona, played in 321 sets over her high school career, amassing 605 kills hitting .293 with 307 blocks as a middle blocker on the team.
Ronda, also a four-year varsity player for the Aztecs, played both front and back row in 416 sets over the four years. She tallied 1069 kills, 781 digs, 110 blocks and 185 service aces.
Emma Lower, a member of Corona’s girls golf team, signed a letter of intent to play golf at Hawaii-Manoa. Lower has played one of the top spots on the golf team since her freshman year and was the top player on the team the last two years.
Lower is currently ranked No. 24 by the Junior Golf Association finishing as high as first in the Tempe City Junior Championships in late July and sixth at the Thunderbird Junior Classis in early June.
Erin Langley signed a letter of intent to play lacrosse for Adam State. Langley, who plays for the East Valley Girls Lacrosse Club, has five years’ experience playing midfielder and attacker.
Kyrene Aztec Lacrosse Club
Entering its third week, the Kyrene Aztec Lacrosse Club is experiencing its largest fall turnout in history with over 70 players registered to play this fall.
The club has a goal of 100 registered players by the spring to fill their teams in each age division to capacity.
On Nov. 26, at 10 a.m., the club will hold its 8th Annual Aztec Lacrosse Alumni game and potluck. Starting at 8:30 a.m., there will be some fun games for younger players.