Corona del Sol’s badminton team has a new head coach and only one returning starter from last year’s team that knocked off Mountain Pointe to take home the Lady Aztec’s first state championship trophy. None of this seems to faze the Lady Aztecs who are on a quest to defend their championship.
Senior Brittany Messer, the lone returning varsity player, will be counting on five new varsity team members, junior Christine Tang, sophomore Alexis Emerson, sophomore Nicole Schwalbe, junior Rikki Gurule and sophomore Rachel Gur-Arie to fill the shoes of the five seniors who graduated last May.
First-year Corona coach, David Taylor, coached and played intramural badminton at Loughborough University in England, where he also coached cricket, tennis and soccer, before moving to Tempe two years ago.
Taylor currently teaches computer classes at McClintock High School. He is looking forward to seeing the high schools athletes compete because badminton is not a sport played in England at the high school level.
“I’m excited to begin my first season as a coach at this level,” said Taylor. “It will be interesting to see how we match up against other teams because I have not seen anyone else at this level play. After the first few games, I’ll probably have a better idea of how things will work out.”
Taylor, who has an undergraduate degree in Sports Management from the UK and a Master Degree in Education from ASU, sees the vacancy caused by graduation last season to be a plus for the new varsity players.
“Losing five state championship players is a loss,” said Taylor. “But in reality, it just gives upcoming players a chance to step up and perform. We’ve got a great team and I’m confident our players will do well this season.”
Replacing five championship caliber players is not something that will happen overnight. It is a process that will take time and the main thing now is to work on becoming consistent according to Taylor.
“This season’s team has a great deal of potential now and in the future,” continued Taylor. “We could be very strong in the next few years because 90% of our squad is sophomores or freshman.’
Taylor’s main concern is that players come to practice prepared and ready to learn in order to improve their performance both in practice and in actual game situations.
“I expect all players, whether returning, or ones new to varsity, to try their best and have fun,” said Taylor. “My players have been coming to practice prepared and eager to learn and as a result, I can already see the improvement.”
In addition to team captain Messer, who has the experience and will lead Corona’s team by example, the Lady Aztecs will be counting on depth as being one of their strengths this season.
“There are numerous JV players and exhibition squad players what could step up and perform at a high level, if needed,” said Taylor. “We also have great team spirit, the susceptibility to learn quickly because we are such a young team, and an excellent team captain in Brittany, who will lead her team by example.”
“Brittany Messer has an outstanding talent and I have not doubt she will perform well on an individual level,” said Taylor. “I will be looking for her to support and motivate her team and to give them the confidence to succeed.”
The Lady Aztecs won their match against Desert Ridge 9-0 Sept. 3 after losing their first match to Red Mountain 2-7 Sept 1. Their next two matches will be at Chandler Sept. 8, and at home against Perry Sept. 10.
Corona will compete against the state top 5A schools in the Mesquite Invitational Sept. 12. The next regular season matches will be Sept. 15 at Horizon and Sept. 17 at home against Cesar Chavez.
Information about the badminton team can be found on Corona’s athletic website at http://web.me.com/dspadafore/Aztec_athletics/Home/index.html
Swim and dive
Corona del Sol’s second year swim and dive team coach Caleb Guest is looking forward to seeing what will happen when his team competes this season in the new Central Region after the recent realignment. He has 65 athletes on the boys and girls swim and dive teams combined this season, many of them competing on a high school team for the first time.
A few of the new swimmers are showing some promise but Corona has a nucleus of returning swimmers who qualified for the state meet last season that should be able to challenge these new region schools and perennial contenders Brophy and Xavier according to Guest.
“I believe we only lost about eight swimmers from last year,” said Guest. “A few of last season’s state qualifiers that I’ll be looking for key performances from this year are Bryan Liu, Ryan Telep, Taylor Thorn, and Emily Lewandowski.”
Guest will also be counting on the leadership of team captains Ryan Telep, Gavin Haws, Taylor Doren, Brittany White and Amy Foster to help steady the nerves of the new swimmers. Guest is thinking he will know more about where the team stands after their first few meets.
Anything is possible, though, when competing against some of the new schools in the Central Region.
“I’ve been told that some of these teams are pretty solid,” said Guest. “But I think we’ll be able to surprise a few people out there and put up some good times this year.”
The true assessment, though, may be at the Brophy/Xavier Invitational on Sept. 25-26.
“The Brophy/Xavier Invite will be the first real test for some of these kids and should give us a good idea of where we are in comparison to a handful of top teams,” said Guest.
Meanwhile, Guest is expecting the same competition as ever from Desert Vista.
“Moving the All-City Meet to the weekend right before regional should be nice as it will give those swimmers looking for a bid at the regional and state meet another shot at their goal times,” said Guest. “I hope to send another solid handful of athletes to the state meet with the potential for a couple of big performances.
Guest received a preliminary idea of what to expect from Corona’s team after the first swim meets. The Aztec swimmers had their first home meet against Brophy/Xavier on Sept. 3. Then they were away Sept. 10 at Desert Ridge.
Corona swimmers have typically done well in the past at the Mesa Relays that will be held this year at Carson Pool on Sept. 12. The next regular season meet will be at Desert Vista Sept. 17 and then a meet with Marcos de Niza at home on Sept. 19. All home meets are held at the West Chandler Aquatic Center.
More information about Corona’s Swim and Dive teams can be found on Corona’s athletic website at http://web.me.com/dspadafore/Aztec_athletics/Home/index.html
Boys cross country
Corona’s co-head coach Theresa Hodge thinks this may be the year for her boys cross country team to shine.
“I am really looking forward to this season because it looks like we will have the best team I have had since I started coaching at Corona 12 years ago,” said Hodge. “We return five of our seven runners that ran at state last year.”
Altogether, Corona will return seven letters winners from last season. Some of these runners had outstanding track seasons last spring.
“Top returnee is senior Matt Whitlatch who was 12th in the 5A-I state cross country meet in 2008,” said Hodge. “He also had an outstanding track season highlighted by a third place (4:20) finish in the 1600 meter run at the state 5A-I meet.”
Corona’s team is also returning from last season’s state meet four-year varsity runner, senior Wade Hooke in addition to seniors Dylan Barr and Josh Coulter, and junior Daniel Wrapp.
Other top returnees are Michael Seall and Justin Yang according to Hodge.
Hodge has a large team this season with about 30 boys total coming out. In this group are two boys who had great track seasons last spring but are new to cross country.
“We have two outstanding newcomers to the team this year,” said Hodge. “Senior Garrett Baker-Slama, who ran 4:23 in the 1600-meter run in track, and Jared Hirschl. Neither one has run cross country at Corona before.”
Hodge is expecting some strong finishes from her returning runners but is also thinking someone else in the 30 who came out for the sport might just step up into a varsity spot.
The recent realignment will continue the belief of many Corona fans that the Central Region has always been one of the most competitive regions in the state in all sports including cross country.
“Our region should be one of the toughest in the state,” said Hodge. “Mesa Mountain View and Gilbert Highland are perennial cross-country powerhouses. The whole region is solid top to bottom.”
The top teams in the state that Corona will be competing against at some of the 5A meets including the state meet should be Phoenix Alhambra, Desert Vista, Mountain Ridge, Mesa Mountain View and Gilbert Highland according to Hodge.
Corona’s cross country schedule includes four invitational meets: Chandler Invite Sept. 12 at Tumbleweed Park; George Young Invite Sept. 19 at the Sanctuary Golf course in Scottsdale; Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival Oct. 2 at Toka Stick Golf course in Gilbert; and Doug Conley Invite Oct. 10 at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Tempe.
More information about Corona’s cross country teams can be found at the school’s website at http://www.tuhsd.k12.az.us/CDS