|Photo by Kris Cartwright
Corona athletes had a remarkable winter break winning two holiday tournaments and taking third in another.
Corona’s boys basketball put together a four-game winning streak to beat Brophy in the championship game of the McClintock Holiday Shootout at McClintock High School Dec. 30 after losing five straight games before the holiday break. The Aztecs beat Gilbert Williams Field, Glendale Mountain Ridge, Chandler and then Brophy for the title.
The Aztecs made it to the finals after beating Chandler 70-69 in overtime bout the semi-finals. Corona fought an uphill battle the entire first half, never taking the lead but only down by one point—30-31—at the half. Chandler continued to lead in the second half until a technical foul on the Wolves coach with 9:33 left in the game gave the Aztecs a five-point swing and the momentum.
Leland Devlin, expecting an “and one” free throw after being fouled on the play, buried three free throws and the Aztecs found themselves up 46-44 and in possession of the ball. The two-point technical foul conversion would become key down the final stretch.
Chandler came back to tie the score at 46 and the two teams would end up being tied five more times as the score see-sawed back and forth in the second half. With 6.4 seconds remaining and a two-point lead, the Aztecs committed a foul sending Chandler to the line. Chandler made tied the score at 63-63 by making the two free throws and sent the game into a four-minute overtime period. The Aztecs, who had an abundance of experience playing in overtimes this season, had a 1-3 win record.
The Aztecs came out determined not to lose in their fifth overtime game. Devlin added three points to his 26 total points and freshman guard Calaen Robinson forced the Wolves to turn the ball over by taking a charge with two minutes remaining in overtime to give Corona a 66-63 point lead. Chandler would rally to tie the score 69 with under 30 seconds to play. David Logston made a free throw at the end for a 70-69 Corona win.
Overall it was a team effort with several players coming off the bench to contribute to the win against Chandler. Mike Stahl not only became a “wall” on the defensive end but scored 12 big points on offense. Andrew Fox hustled on both ends of the court adding 18 points and David Logston and Tory Gomez played hard down the stretch contributing four points each.
The Aztecs had a slow start in their championship game against Brophy finding themselves down eight points at halftime with a 23-31 score. Things did not look much better for the Aztecs in the second half down 13 points with 10:40 left to play. Corona coach Sam Duane called a time out to talk things over with his players.
“I told my players that we just had to keep working on getting stops at the defensive end,” said Duane. “Then. if we could take better shots on the offensive end, 13 points is not impossible to overcome especially with the ability to make some 3-point baskets.”
That’s exactly what the Aztecs did with Devlin scoring a three coming out of the time out to cut the lead to 10 at 33-43. Corona played tough defense the rest of the way going on a 15-0 run coming out of that time out to go up by 2 points at 45-43 on a basket by Andrew Fox with 2:45 remaining. Corona’s defense shut down Brophy who only scored one basket down the stretch, a long 2-pointer by Tyler Hornacek, to tie the game at 45 with 1:03 left.
“When we were down by 13 points, we knew we had to buckle down and come up with some big defensive stops,” said junior David Whitmore. “Stepping up our defense and having confidence in our offense got us back in the game.”
“We started to believe in each other and forget about past games,” said Leland Devlin. “We just needed to concentrate on making one basket at a time.”
Leading 47-45 with 19.1 seconds left in regulation, Whitmore blocked Brophy forward Marques Valdez’s game-tying shot for another defensive stop by the Aztecs.
“The block happened so fast I didn’t really have time to think about it,” said Whitmore. “I just knew that I couldn’t let Brophy score and tie the game.”
Brophy threw up three missed shots the last one coming with two seconds left. Whitmore pulled in the rebound. Devlin then made one out of two free throws. The Aztecs had closed the championship game on an 18-2 run in the last 10:27 to win the McClintock Holiday Shot-out trophy with a 48-45 score over Brophy.
Several players stepped up in this win including Devlin, Fox, Gomez, Logston and Whitmore.
“Andrew Fox has been giving us great leadership and supplying all the intangibles that many people do not see,” said Duane. “David Logston really played well down the stretch along with Tory Gomez and David Whitmore. Leland Devlin is crucial to our winning and he’s beginning to give us great leadership, too.”
The Aztecs had played one of the toughest schedules in the state up to this point according to coach Duane. Nine of 13 games so far this season have been decided by five points or less including the games against Glendale Mountain Ridge, Chandler and Brophy in the Shootout.
The difference maker maybe that the Aztecs are finally starting to get healthy. Kyle Noon missed two games, Devlin four games, Damani Parrish 11 games and Marcel Towns 13.
“We have had as many as four guys out injured at a time,” said Duane. “Last Saturday was the first practice the whole season that we have had our whole team together. What we were missing was chemistry which we are starting to finally get going now.”
Winning one tournament does not make a season and the Aztecs have a lot of work to still do in their regular season playing Chandler Hamilton, Brophy again, St. Mary’s and Mesa Red Mountain to name a few before entering Central region play Jan. 27 against Mountain Pointe.
“We should have a lot more confidence after winning the McClintock Shootout,” said Duane. “Hopefully we can build on this win and carry it over to the rest of the games on our schedule. Every game now is a big game for us as we prepare to go into region.”
After taking second place to Cibola in the Westwood Warrior Classic in early December, the Corona del Sol wrestling team bounced back and won the McClintock Invitational Dec. 20 and remain ranked No. 1 in the state 5A-I conference by the Arizona Republic.
“It was a great feeling being able to come back and win the McClintock Invitational after a tough loss to Cibola,” said Kasey Turner. “A lot of guys were able to take care of tough matches in the quarter-finals and semi-finals which gave us a huge boost into first place.”
The Aztecs definitely got a boost by totally dominated their opponents scoring 227.5 points beating the next best opponent, Mesquite (140.5), by close to 90 points.
Altogether, coach Dave Vibber’s team placed six wrestlers in the finals earning three titles.
Wrestling in the finals were Kasey Turner at 130 pounds, Brad Spadafore at 135, Ryan Miller at 145, Derek Felton at 160, Luke Macchiaroli at 215 and Mike Howard in the Heavy Weight category.
Miller was successful in repeating as Invitational champion in the 145-pound class and Derek Felton, who was a runner up in the McClintock Invitational last year, was victorious in the 160-pound class with a pin in the finals. Additionally, Macchiaroli finally got a chance to show his stuff on the mat after teams forfeited matches to him early in the season.
Macchiaroli, defending state champion in the 215-pound weight class and bound for Iowa State next fall, pinned all four of his opponents winning his matches 53-0.
In the end, the Aztecs had eight wrestlers place in the top three in their respective weight classes.
The Aztecs are on track to win the state champions if they can hold on for the rest of the season and stay healthy. Since the big winners seem to mostly be in the higher weight classes, are the Aztecs weak in the lower weights? No, not according to Macchiaroli.
“Coaches will try to find our weak points and assume that since Derek, Ryan, Mike and myself are all heavier that our lighter weights are weak,” said Macchiaroli. “That is definitely not the case. Everyone on our team is tough as nails. It gives coaches a headache try to strategize against us.”
Up next was a meet with Basha at Mountain Ridge on Jan. 7. The team will then be hosting the Aztec Duels over the weekend starting at 3:30 Friday, Jan. 9, and 8:30 Saturday, Jan. 10.
On Jan. 14 the Aztecs will travel to Yuma to face the only team that has beaten them so far, Cibola, in a duel meet. What do the Aztecs need to do differently to beat Cibola?
“The first time we met Cibola, we gave up three pins which cannot happen again if we want to win,” said Felton. “We need to get pins in our stronger weight classes and if we do lose a match or two, it can’t be by a pin.”
The team practiced well over the break and feel nothing can stop them this year from winning the state championship.
“Basically our team is snowballing right now. We are getting stronger, faster, and hungrier for the state title,” said Macchiaroli. “I want that team trophy just as bad as an individual trophy and I know the feeling is mutual for our entire team.”
The Corona del Sol girls soccer team took third place in the Dobson Mustang Holiday Tournament held over the break. The Lady Aztecs had their chances but eventually fell to Gilbert 0-3 after losing to Highland in overtime in the semifinals 0-1.
Corona beat Centennial on Dec. 29 at the Red Mountain high school soccer field 4-0 where the Lady Aztecs took 29 shots at the Centennial goal compared to five by the opposing team. They continued their winning streak beating Desert Mountain 2-0 on Dec. 30 this time only taking 11 shots while holding Desert Mountain to three.
The Lady Aztecs ended up losing to Gilbert 0-2 on Dec. 31 when Gilbert had 13 shots at Corona goalkeeper Hailey Hayes but only too nine shorts at Gilbert’s goal. This lose put them in the quarter-finals against Desert Vista Jan. 2. Desert Vista managed 17 shots compared to 10 by Corona. The score remained tied at 1-1 even after overtime and penalty kicks.
The tie with Desert Vista was the third time Corona had tied this season. The Lady Aztecs tied Dobson Dec. 10 and Red Mountain Dec. 11 in the Tempe Diablos where they ended up in a tie with Red Mountain in the consolation bracket semi-finals. Is it hard finishing with a tie instead of a win?
“It’s not the greatest feeling in the world because winning obviously feels so much better,” said senior Lexie Schroeder. “Basically every time we have tied, though, it has gone into overtime and penalty kicks after the overtime session, so in the end we can’t get too down on ourselves.”
So far the Lady Aztecs are not too far off their goals for the season. Some new players have stepped up after Corona graduated a number of players last year. Mackenzie Koenig, Jessica Johnson and Heather Crothers, to name a few, have really started to show how much heard they have in the game according to Schroeder. Corona is also counting on the leading scorers Ashley Kniffen, Julie Vandeberg and Angela Williamson to keep taking shots are opponent goals. Vandeberg, Whitney Miller and Tori Papp are leading in assists.
“Our team has a lot of potential this year and I think everyone is just now starting to realize that we do have a good shot at state,” said Schroeder. “We just have to work hard at it. Even though we lost a lot of great players last year, we still have a dangerous team and no one should underestimate us.”
Corona went on to beat Desert Mountain 3-0 on Jan. 5 and is scheduled to play at Xavier on Jan. 7.