Corona boys soccer team, currently ranked No. 3 nationally and No. 1 in the state, according to MaxPreps.com, with 14 returning players, 10 of them starters from last season, has a chance to be as good or better than the Aztec team that won the Arizona Division I state championship in 2010.
It appears the only team standing in their way may be Hamilton, which they defeated earlier in the season 3-1 but lost 2-2, 4-3 in penalty kicks in the finals of the Black Division at the Arizona Soccer Showcase Dec. 30.
The Huskies goalie may have developed a penalty-kick strategy based on knowledge he gained by watching the Aztecs play earlier in a Lotto Sport Western Showcase match that went into the same penalty kick format to determine the winner. He may have used what he saw and heard during that earlier match to predict the Aztec players’ potential order and tendencies.
Despite the recent loss to the No. 2 ranked Huskies, the Aztecs, who are playing one of their toughest schedules in the past 10 years, enter the second half of the season with an outstanding 12-1 record
“We have a very experienced group of returning players. Most have two to three years of previous varsity experience,” said coach Dan Salas.
“We started the season defeating two very good teams in Hamilton and Sandra Day O’Conncor,” said Salas. “We then traveled to San Clemente (Calif.) where we were undefeated in the Lotto Sport Western Showcase winning the championship trophy by defeating Servite 5-3 in the finals Dec. 10.”
Ryan Flood scored three goals against Servite, which had only allowed one goal all season before the Aztecs scored five against them. Josh Allison and Emilio Echerivel scored the other two goals against Servite
“Ryan Flood, who was a finalist for Player of the Year last season, is very motivated this, his senior, season,” said Salas. “He not only works hard to be the best player he can be, but he is focused on winning a state championship like his older brother, Nathan Flood, did in 2010.”
Allison is the second leading scorer on the team with five goals while Echerivel, only a sophomore, is third on the team with four goals.
“Josh Allison, a junior transfer from Real Salt Lake Academy, is super dynamic and a play-maker up top for us,” said Salas.
The success Corona has been experiencing this season did not happen overnight but started when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“Our team’s strength is in our senior class,” said Salas. “They are a special group of young men and the core of the team.”
Tanner Pile, Conor Thorne, Austin Delaney, Josh Whitney, Michael Lopez and Ethan Crupe have been varsity starters since their freshmen year, according to Salas
“This group has been through some challenging situations on and off the field,” said Salas. “As freshmen, they were not a very good team. Their record and performance has improved tremendously since then.”
“The players made a commitment to constant improvement. We’ve weight-trained over the summers and continued to train in the Advanced PE: Soccer class during the school year,” said Salas. “Now the players are starting to see the rewards of their hard work pay off.”
Whitney, the team’s goalie, has kept opponents scoreless in five matches and only allowed 11 goals so far this season. In contrast, the Aztecs have scored 37 goals.
Delaney leads the team in assists from his midfielder position, while Lopez, another midfielder, has three assists this season.
Several of seniors are looking to play soccer in college, including Delaney, Pile, Crupe, Thorne and Flood.
Flood, the leading scorer on the team with 18 goals so far this season, is interested in playing at the next level and is currently being recruited by New Mexico, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, Oregon State, San Francisco University, Grand Canyon University and San Diego State to name a few, according to Salas.
Delaney has received interest from Spring Hill, Colorado State Pueblo and Pacific University while Pile is being recruited by Cal State San Bernardino and Colorado State Pueblo. Thorne has two California State Universities interested in his soccer skills, Fullerton and Riverside.
In addition to the strong senior leadership, Salas is looking for the junior class of players to improve over the course of the regular season.
“I’m expecting the junior class, specifically Mitch Carpenter, Preston Grayson, Bryan Olivares and Marco Escobedo, to really step up and have more of a presence in each match now that the season is underway,” said Salas.
With only five regular season matches left, the Aztecs’ only weakness may be keeping everyone on the team engaged and focused with so many talented players.
“I think our largest challenge is going to be in playing time,” said Salas. “We have such a mix of quality players who can play multiple positions that training will be very competitive.”
“I hope the players see this as an opportunity that forces them to stay sharp and not allow their form and attitude to slip,” said Salas. “We are going to have to stay focused throughout to fulfill our team goals.”
The rest of Corona’s talented soccer team include Isaiah Garay, Brenden Murphy, Kevin Soria, Tyrese Gray and Nathan Flores.
Up next, Corona had a home game scheduled for Jan. 6 against Basha. The final five matches included two away games, at Highland Jan. 11 and at Desert Ridge Jan. 13, and then three straight home matches. The Aztecs are scheduled to play at home against Gilbert on Jan. 17, against Mountain Pointe on Jan. 20 and against North on Jan. 23.
The Aztecs competed at The Clash XV, the nation’s premiere high school wrestling duals tournament, held Dec. 30-31 in Rochester, Minn., and came away with a second-place trophy with a
Three Corona wrestlers were undefeated with perfect 6-0 records: Zack Kvavle, competing in the 106-pound weight class; Vinny Dolce, 152-pound weight class; and Brandon Konecny, 160-pound weight class.
Dolce was selected to the All-Tournament team.
“We are very proud of Vinny Dolce,” said coach Jimmy Martinez.
“He is only the second Arizona wrestler to be selected with this prestigious distinction of making the All-Tournament team.”
Cole Bernstein won five out of his six matches competing in the 126-pound weight class as did Jacob Garcia, wrestling at 138 pounds.
Bryce Nickel won four out of his six matches at 132 pounds.
Dylan Conner won three of his six matches in the 285-pound weight class as did Diego Fill in the 182-pound category.
Nick Ruffalo won two out of six at 170 pounds; Jacob Santa Cruz won one match at 195 pounds; so did Jacob Featherman at 220 pounds and Hunter Carmona at 145 pounds.
Other Aztec wrestlers who made the trip and competed at the Clash included Matt Gable and Cam Upshur
The Aztecs, who were due to start 2017 by wrestling in the Peoria Invitational Jan. 6-7, are currently 22-2 for the 2016-17 season.
Marcos de Niza and Tempe Boys Basketball
Tempe’s boys basketball team defeated cross-town rival Marcos de Niza, 91-88 on Dec. 28 at the McClintock Holiday Shootout.
The Buffaloes’ sophomore guard Kameron Spivey-Johnson scored a team-high 26 points along with nine rebounds and six assists.
Junior Naseem Vigil, who made four of his 10 treys, scored 23 points, while senior Nate Manley put in 15 points and had a team-high 11 rebounds.
The Padres leading scorer was senior Mason Stark with 26 points and nine rebounds.
Fellow senior Jamari Robinson was next with 21 points and six rebounds. Tyson Union scored 10 points along with his three assists.
The leading rebounder for the Padres was Zurell Livingston with 13 rebounds and two blocked shots.
All-Tribune Boys Cross Country
Corona senior Slade Sumners was named to the All-Tribune Boys Cross Country First Team along with fellow senior Liam Kovatch.