Girls VB MaxPreps Tour of Champions
Corona’s 2016 6A state championship volleyball team was honored for being named to the MaxPreps Tour of Champions at halftime during the home boys basketball game at the end of January.
The team was presented with the Arizona National Guard’s trophy for its No. 9 national ranking.
The Aztecs (39-5) won Corona’s second state championship the previous month by defeating cross-district rival Mountain Pointe 3-0.
Although Corona had finished seven times in second place, it was the first time they had won a state title since 1991.
Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year — Brooke Nuneviller, the leading attacker on Corona’s 6A state championship team, was named Gatorade-American Family Insurance Arizona Girls Volleyball Player of the Year and will be among finalists for National Player of the Year.
Corona Boys Basketball — The Aztecs, with a 21-2 record and only three games remaining on their regular season schedule, could potentially be the No. 1 seed in the 6A state tournament with their current rating points of 24.84, if they can win all three, based on the AIA rating system.
Basha, MaxPreps 6A division No. 1-ranked team, though, is right behind Corona with 24.64 points, so the placement could easily change before state tournament brackets are announced.
The No. 3-rated team, Cesar Chavez, has a slim chance of overtaking either Basha or Corona with their current 13.83 rating points.
It may be more advantageous for Corona to be the No. 2-ranked team if Desert Vista, which has had a storied history and a cross-school district rivalry with the Aztecs for years, remains rated No. 4.
The No. 1- and No. 4-seeded teams are on the top half of the brackets, so if both teams were to be seeded No. 1 and No. 4, they could meet in the semifinals of the 6A state tournament.
The Thunder gave Corona about the only real challenge the Aztecs had against teams in their 6A conference section this season when they played at Desert Vista on Jan. 17.
Corona came away with a hard-fought 86-83 victory on the road but there were several times, especially in the second half, when Desert Vista played well enough against the Aztecs to take the lead.
The Aztecs are scheduled to play the Thunder again, at home, the last game of the season on Feb. 7.
What is more important than the No. 1 or No. 2 seeding, though, could be keeping Alex Barcello and Saben Lee injury free and healthy throughout the rest of the season.
The offense relies heavily of Barcello and Lee to score points. For instance, both Barcello and Lee scored 30 or more points each against Desert Vista, or almost three-quarters of the 86 points.
Most fans will remember last season when Lee was ill and had to watch from the bench as the Aztecs, seeded No. 1, lost to the No. 8 seed Sunnyslope, 61-53, in the quarterfinals of the 2016 state championship.
This season, Lee had been healthy and injury free until recently when he sprained his ankle in the first half against Highland on Jan. 24.
He did not play in the Aztecs’ 66-55 win against Desert Ridge three nights later, probably for precautionary reasons, but was in uniform on the bench.
One significant injury the Aztecs did suffer was to senior guard Jordan Guy who was hurt Jan. 10 in the Aztecs’ 62-49 win over Gilbert, in which he was a starter.
“Jordan Guy had been playing great minutes for us, adding energy and accurate shooting to the lineup,” said coach Neil MacDonald. “Unfortunately, Jordan suffered a broken hand and has been unable to play.”
Relying on the Aztecs’ two Division I scholarship senior players, Barcello (University of Arizona) and Lee (Purdue) to lead their team to victory does not mean the other players on the team do not play significant roles and are not part of the key to Corona’s success on and off the court.
The Aztecs would not be where they are without players like Melek Alexander, Dalen Terry, Josh Onwordi, Jordan Guy, Eric Blackwell and Eric Ozawa who have all, at one time or other, started or come off the bench to help the team be successful.
Senior Onwordi is one of the team’s better defensive players.
“Josh is an extremely athletic forward who has helped us a great deal defensively,” said MacDonald. “He has the ability to guard larger opponents plus use his speed to beat bigger guys down the floor.”
Alexander can be counted on to hit a couple of three-point baskets almost every game.
“Melek is a very talented shooter who is now starting to emerge as a complete player on both ends of the floor,” said MacDonald. “We expect, as we get towards the end of the season, he will continue to come into his own and his contributions will increase.”
The two freshman players on the team, Terry and Blackwell, have shown they belong on varsity.
Terry has turned into quite the shot-blocker, especially if his blocked shot in the fourth quarter of the Aztecs’ 75-60 win over Mountain Pointe on Jan. 13 is an example of his capabilities.
The 6-foot-3 Terry can also hit the three like he did when he scored Corona’s first points against Desert Vista Jan. 17 or when he stepped up his game in the Aztecs 66-55 win over Desert Ridge Jan. 27 and Lee did not play.
“Dalen and Eric are both giving very solid performances off the bench,” said MacDonald.
Senior guards Ozawa and Shane Grier have stepped in when and wherever they are needed to help the team’s overall success.
“Shane and Eric Ozawa are continuing to find ways to contribute in different areas of the game,” said MacDonald.
The Aztecs are trying to focus on each game as it comes and not think too much about the impending state tournament.
“We like how we are growing and evolving as a team,” said MacDonald. “We will continue to focus on defense and rebounding as the two areas where we can improve and give ourselves the best chance for success.”
The Aztecs were scheduled to play two away games, at Gilbert, Jan. 31, and at Mountain Pointe on Feb. 3, before they have their last regular season home game, Feb. 7, against Desert Vista.
That night Corona will honor its eight seniors including Seth McCollum, Ty Stolworthy, Shelan Yarde, Lee, Onwordi, Guy, Ozawa and Barcello.
The first round of the 6A state tournament will be at Corona Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. If Corona wins that game, the second round will be Feb. 18, also at Corona.
The semifinals are scheduled Feb. 23 at Gila River Arena and will also be broadcast on the NFHS Network. The finals are scheduled at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Grand Canyon University.
Tempe Boys Basketball — The Buffaloes are currently ranked No. 6 in the 4A conference with a 12-4 record and will play in the first round of the state championship tournament scheduled Feb. 15 at the higher seed.
With only two regular-season games on its schedule, Tempe was scheduled to play at home against Higley on Jan. 31 and at Casa Grande Feb. 2.
Tempe is led in scoring by junior guard Naseem Vigil, who averages almost 18 points a game with 44 three-pointers. Sophomore Kameron Spivey-Johnson is second averaging 10.5 points a game, followed by senior Nate Manley with close to 10 points a game.
Spivey-Johnson is the assist leader with 59 assists, while Manley is the leading rebounder on the team with 129 rebounds. Spivey-Johns also has 102 rebounds while Manley has 40 assists.
Sophomore Emmanuel Gore has 82 rebounds while senior Allan Vigil has 68.
The senior players honored at the Buffaloes’ last home game Jan. 31 included Alex Beltran, Angel Flores, Fabian Lopez, Allan Vigil and Manley.
Marcos de Niza Boys Basketball — The Padres, in the same 4A conference as Tempe, are currently ranked No. 12 with an 11-5 record and should have no problem being one of the 16 teams that make it into the state tournament, if they can win their last two games.
Marcos was scheduled to play its last home game Jan. 31 against St. Mary’s before playing at Higley Feb. 2.
Seniors who were scheduled to be honored on Jan. 31 included Jamari Robinson, Zurell Livingston, Mason Stark, Tyson Union, Aaron Childers, DaShawn Ray and Gaige Hale.
Stark is by far the leading scorer on the team, amassing over 550 points or close to 23 points a game, followed by Livingston and Ray with 11.9 points each a game.
Stark made 50 three-pointers, as of Jan. 30, hitting an amazing 46% of his 109 attempts and was also the leading rebounder with 138 total rebounds.
Corona Girls Soccer — Ranked No. 9, Corona defeated Trevor Brown 7-1 in the 6A Conference Play-In Tournament Jan. 26 and was due to play as the No. 9 seed in the first round of the 2017 AIA 6A State Championship Tournament Feb. 1. The Aztecs are scheduled to play at the No. 8 seed Highland in the first round.
Corona Boys Soccer — Corona’s boys team, with a 16-1-2 overall record, received an automatic bid to the 6A state tournament as the No. 4 seed. The Aztecs were set to play at home against Highland Jan. 31 at 6 p.m.
If the Aztecs would up with a win at their first-round match, they will play the winner of the No. 12 versus No. 5 Tolleson Union match Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals on Corona’s home field.
The semifinals are scheduled at 5 p.m. Feb. 7 at Campo Verde High School, with the finals scheduled at noon at the same venue.