Despite state loss, it was still ‘a great year’

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After easily defeating Desert Ridge, 74-43, in the first round of the 5A-I state tournament on Feb. 23, the Aztecs were moved up No. 2 in the rankings. Unfortunately, the power rankings gave Corona a No. 5 seeding, which set up a quarterfinal matchup against the No. 1 team, Mesa Mountain View, in the second round, Feb. 26.  

Even Casey Benson’s 19 points and Calaen Robinson’s 14-point effort was not enough for the Aztecs, who eventually lost 67-42 to the Toros. Behind 3 points, 25-22, at halftime, Corona could not withstand a 12-1 run by the Toros to start the third quarter and were outscored 20-10 in the fourth.

“Our guys played extremely hard but we did not shoot the ball very well and there was a four-minute stretch in the third quarter that the game got away from us,” said head coach Sam Duane Jr.

“One game should not take away from the great 22-6 year that we had. Our guys should be very proud of what they accomplished.”

The Aztecs should continue to grow and have a state championship contender team next year returning several key players, in addition to freshman point guard Benson. Avery Moss, Andrus Peat, Tyler Bolton, Matt Weber, Elijah Hempstead, Jesse McCain, Petey Stazzone and Robinson should all be returning as seniors, along with Braden Tennyson and Bryan Siefker, who played significant minutes as sophomores this season.

Coach Duane will be looking to these players to replace the often hard-to-quantify but much-needed contributions made this season by seniors Michael Miller, Nick Siefker, Rashidi Kabamba and David Garner.

“Our seniors all gave us great contributions in their own ways this year,” said Duane. “They are all good kids and I wish them nothing but success in their futures as they move forward.”

Freshman Boys Basketball

Corona’s freshman boys basketball teams have been on a 59-0 winning streak over the past three seasons, and new coach John Wochner was able to help this season’s team sustain Corona’s winning tradition by going 18-0.

Fortunately Wochner already understood and appreciated Corona’s winning tradition as a CdS alumni, having played on the Aztecs’ 1989 state championship basketball team under Sam Duane Sr.

“We had a deep team of 16 players who did not want to lose and worked hard every day to make sure it didn’t happen,” said Wochner. “Every player on the team had an important part in our success where we defeated our opponents on an average of over 20 points per game.”

The Aztecs were a balanced team with skilled offensive players who worked hard on defense and made up for any lack in size by quickness, athletic ability and basketball intelligence, according to Wochner.

The Aztecs had great leadership by example from captains and leading scorers Russ Davis and Jarrett Givens.

Other players who could be counted on to score baskets were Kaylon Kinlicheenie, Vance Arnold, Thomas Turley and Steven Coker, according to Wochner.

When the Aztecs needed a stop on defense with a press attack, Wochner could call on the defensive skill and quickness of Johnny Coronel, Nathan Chokey and Tevin Mayfield.

Turley, the leading rebounder, was good at boxing out and fighting for the rebounds, receiving help on that end from Dan Starkey and Davis.

At the freshman level, coaches are looking for improvement over the season, and Brian Boylan, Marcus Herrada and Kevin Kas were the most improved players, according to Wochner

The Aztecs were able to put some teams away early but other more competitive teams like Gilbert, Poston and Highland, Corona was able to wear down by going deep into their bench with key reserves and role players.

Chokey, Tim Coen, Trevor Wood, Reed Burroughs, Kinlicheenie, Mayfield and Starkey provided quality minutes and attributes off the bench that may not have shown up on the stat sheets but were necessary to winning games according to Wochner.

 Corona Baseball 

Coach Dave Webb has high hopes for this season’s Aztec baseball team with seven returning players, five of them starters, from last season’s 17-11-0 team.

“If we play like we are capable and stay healthy, these guys can play with anyone,” said Webb.

Webb is expecting great play from his starters from last season and a couple of players who moved up to varsity from last season’s highly successful freshman team.

Kyle Jorgensen will start at third base. He has great power, hitting 10 home runs as a sophomore last season,” said Webb. “Heath Dwyer will be our ace on the pitching staff. He’s a big lefty with good stuff who knows how to pitch.”

Aaron Siple is our speedy center fielder who started almost every game last year but will also have an impact on the mound this season,” said Webb. “Two young and talented sophomores, Josh Ethier at short stop and Jeff Carter at second base, the best players on last year’s very talented freshman team, should also get a ton of playing time.”

Seniors Siple and Brian Lambert are the team captains but Webb is expecting leadership on this season’s young team, with seven sophomores and three juniors, to come from all the returning players.

“We are looking for additional leadership to come from returning utility player and right hand pitcher, Chris Gammon,” said Web.

“Also from Mike Castellano, a senior who missed all last season with a broken wrist, and Brett Spradling, a solid hitter and left handed pitcher for us.”

Other players on the team hoping to play a significant role as the season progresses include seniors Zach Torres, Trevor Cates, John Templeton, Grant Suman, Tyler Lynch and Kevin Zunino; juniors Michael Gammon and Tyler Peterson; and sophomores Chris Tate, Colby Hamilton, Rick Riley, Jake Martin and Shawn Maloney.

Coach Webb is expecting Gilbert, Mesa Mountain View and Mesquite to be the Aztecs’ main competition in the Central region with strong competition in the state coming from Hamilton, Brophy, Gilbert, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista.

The Aztecs already played in the Adam Donnefield Tournament, Feb. 23-26, losing all four games, two by just a point on their home field. CdS lost 9-8 to Sandra Day O’Connor and 10-9 to Chandler.

Corona was scheduled to play a regular season game March 1 against Tolleson before hosting three home games, March 7 against Gilbert, March 8 against Mountain Pointe and March 11 against Red Mountain. These games will start at 3:45 p.m.

 Corona Boys Tennis

Playing the same schedule as last season, with 12 of Corona’s 14 opponents either 5A-1 or 5A-2 state playoffs teams last year, the Aztec’s boys tennis team has already played two 2010 state champions, Brophy and Chaparral, and two 2010 state semifinalists, Horizon and Desert Mountain, with mixed results.

Alex Lawson, Corona’s No. 1 player, is 3-0 in singles and 2-1 in doubles so far this season but the rest of the team has not fared as well. Coach Rick Wanta expects the team to gain momentum now that the toughest part of the Aztecs schedule is behind them and focus this month on team wins and climbing up the rankings.

After losing four key players to graduation, Corona returns four athletic letter-winners, but only two with much tournament experience. Returning are seniors Justin Zelen and Ryan Wanta and juniors Thaminda Edirisooriya and Alex Lawson.

“Alex and Thaminda are really my only two varsity players with tournament experience, and with the strength of our schedule, the top of our order will constantly be tested against other teams’ tournament players,” said Wanta.

To replace this lack of tournament experience, Wanta hopes to rely on depth for a successful overall team season. He is optimistic about getting quality matches from some of the new-to-varsity players once they have gained more experience.

One such player is sophomore Divya Rayudu. “Divya is quite skilled and will definitely help our varsity,” said Wanta.

Sophomore Kevin McMahon and senior Vamsi Varra will also be competing for tournament match play. “Varra is class valedictorian, a national merit scholar and has played tennis for me for four years,” said Wanta

Lawson, who won the 5A-I state championship doubles with Corona alum Kyle Ogren the last two seasons, is currently setting his sights on a 5A singles championship. Ogren is playing in the No. 1 singles spot at Mesa Community College according to Wanta.

Corona’s main competition in the Central region will most likely be Dobson, Mesa Mountain View and Highland, who should all have strong teams this year according to Wanta.

Regardless, Corona’s top goals are to win the Central region, be repeat champions at the Tempe City Championships and to make the state team playoffs this season.

Combining all the 5A schools together will make that final goal even tougher than in past years according to Wanta. He’s expecting Brophy, Chapparral, Hamilton, Salpoint and Desert Mountain from 5A-I to be good but there are also many strong teams from the 5A-II conference.

Corona was scheduled to play at home against Centennial March 1 and Hamilton March 3 before heading out on the road to play at Mountain Pointe March 8. Up next will be March 10 at home against Mesquite.

Aprende 8th Grade Basketball Team

Aprende’s 8 th grade boys basketball team made it all the way to the state championship finals before losing to Gilbert Mesquite Junior High School. Cassius Peat was awarded the co-MVP.

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