A great deal of speculation before the season started, for the four-time defending D1 state champions Corona del Sol Aztecs, centered around the resignation of former head coach Sam Duane, Jr. and the departure of 6-11 sophomore Marvin Bagley III, last year’s azcentral.com sports Player of the Year.
Losing their first game, a three-point loss, 65-62, to Mesa Dec. 1, which broke the Aztecs 69-game winning streak against Arizona opponents and a 20-game 2014-15 winning streak culminating in Corona’s fourth DI championship, furthered the speculation that maybe Corona would not be able to continue the same level of success as the past four seasons.
Fast forward to the Aztecs game against Las Vegas’s No. 18 nationally ranked Bishop Gorman on Dec. 12. Corona’s three outstanding guards, Alex Barcello, Tyrell Henderson and Saben Lee with a bounty of role players including Nate Marshall, Jake Burroughs, Shane Grier and Jeff McCain, shocked the Gaels, 76-74.
The Aztecs, behind by as many as 15 points at 37-52 in the third quarter, never gave up tying the game twice in the fourth quarter, 61-61 and 74-74. Corona did not lead until Henderson made a game-winning layup with one second left on the game clock. He ended the game with 15 points.
This come-from-behind victory had everything including technical fouls, fast-break transition baskets, break-away slam dunks, momentum-changing three-pointers and total team effort on both defense and offense.
Bishop Gorman was called for two technical fouls in the first half that Barcello went 4-4 from the free-throw line to score four of his 17 total points.
The team used their speed to get out in transition and give the Aztecs an advantage over the taller Bishop Gorman players.
“Speed and quickness and our ability to defend consistently is our strength as a team,” said head coach Neil MacDonald.
Lee, with his quickness and escalating basketball skill development, was able to drive the basket on the Gaels tall lineup several times including two slam dunks that had the Bishop Gorman players, seven of them 6’5” or taller, stuck in their tracks on his way to 32 points.
“Saben has grown a lot as a player, and we expect him to be a big part of what we do on and off the court,” said MacDonald.
Marshall, who came off the bench last season, proved he could play during crunch time when he hit a big three-pointer to tie the game at 74 with a little over a minute left and add three points to his five total for the game.
It was a total team effort on defense, especially in the paint.
“Our defense, especially down low, is a team effort,” said MacDonald. “We have several players, like Jake Burroughs, Nate Marshall, Jeff McCain, and Shane Grier who are contributing to this team effort.”
“Jake has worked extremely hard, as has Jeff and Nate,” said MacDonald. “They have all had good stretches so far.”
Grier, who moved up this year from the JV team, contributed five points to the win.
The Aztecs have seven new players out of the 13 players on the roster. The only returning starters are Henderson and Barcello but Lee played significant minutes last season until he was injured at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. and had to sit out the rest of the season.
“Our three starting guards, Alex, Saben, and Tyrell have all played well,” said MacDonald, “but we have a lot of new faces on the court. It will take time to further develop the chemistry we need to continue to be successful as the season progresses.”
New players working hard to get court time include Jordan Bryant, Dalen Dorsey, Josh Onwordi, Erick Ozawa, Ty Stolworthy and Jordon Guy.
Defeating Bishop Gorman, a private basketball school that has been a power house nationally, had to have been a confidence builder for the Aztecs and should have reinforced the “never give up” attitude that past Corona teams have shown.
“The win against Bishop Gorman was a big step toward developing an identity for this year’s team,” said McDonald. “We are still growing, but it is a big confidence boost going forward.”
At Corona, the basketball program, as when Duane was in charge, continues with MacDonald to be about expectations, but is not dominated by winning.
“At Corona, we are looking at attitude and effort, not just points and rebounds, from all of our players,” said MacDonald. “We expect all of our players, whether they start or not, to continue their progression as players and leaders.”
The focus will continue to be the growth of each player and the team as a whole and to learn from each game including losing to Mesa in that first game of the season.
“Mesa is a good team and it was a tough first game, but we can expect that every night when we take the floor,” said MacDonald. “I think we learned from that first loss that every opponent is to be respected and anyone can lose on any given night.”
Corona is scheduled to play Liberty Dec. 14 at home before playing in the Hoophall West at Scottsdale Chaparral Dec. 18-19 against some challenging out-of-state teams.
On Dec. 18 they will play St. Anthony from Jersey City, NJ, at 7 p.m. and on Dec. 19 against Seattle’s Garfield at 4:30 p.m. The Aztecs are then scheduled to play Highland on Dec. 22 at Talking Stick Resort Arena at 8:00 p.m.
Marcos de Niza Boys Basketball
After losing the first four games of the season, possibly due the absence of three key players, the Padres have won five out of the last six games played before breaking for finals.
The team started to hit their stride after the return of guard Mason Stark, the leading scorer on the team at over 17 points per game, and football players Davigughn Reagan and Montre Williams.
Reagan, the leading rebounder with over eight rebounds a game, and Williams, who contributes over 10 points and two steals per game, were major players on the Padres State Championship Runner-Up football team.
Reagan was missed not only for his rebounding ability but for his scoring, blocks and steals. Since returning he leads the team in blocks at over one a game and averages 11 points and over one steal per game.
Holding down the fort in their absence was Cameron Stark, Chris Buchanon, Zurell Livingston, Tyson Union and Joey Villa.
Cameron Stark, the leading three-point shooter on the team, has made an amazing 41% of his treys or 20 out of 49 attempts, and is contributing over eight points a game.
Buchanon, the second leading scorer on the team, averages almost 12 points a game, and, along with Mason Stark, is the assist leader with close to three a game.
Union and Livingston, both juniors, are the second and third leading three-point shooters on the team. Livingston has made 11 or 41% of his treys while Union, shooting 39%, had hit 13 three-point field goals.
Villa, playing in nine out of the first 10 games, contributed 30 points including eight three-pointers making 38% of his treys and 56% of his shots overall.
Other players on the team contributing to the Padres success include juniors Jamari Robinson and Gaige Hale and sophomores Janathan Bolds and Orion Bryant.
The Padres will play in the McClintock Holiday Shootout starting Dec. 26 with their first game of the tournament against Chandler.
The Aztec have a strong nucleus of 10 starting wrestlers from last season led by returning state champion Ryan Farina and his brother Marc Farina, a fifth place finisher at state according to coach Jimmy Martinez.
Returning state entrants include Cam Upshur, Cole Bernstein, Nick Ramirez and Hunter Carmona. Other varsity starters from last season are Justin Sorenson, Diego Fill, Nick Ruffalo and Dylan Conner.
“Ryan and Marc should have a shot at winning championships this year but I expect each of the returning state entrants to improve on their performance over last year,” said Martinez. “It is not unreasonable to expect 7-9 state place-winners to come out of our returning wrestlers.”
“Hunter, Diego and Cole will also be in the hunt for a top three or four finish while Cam, Nick and Dylan will be setting their sights on standing on the medal platform this year,” said Martinez.
In addition to these returning starters, Martinez has three wrestlers who should be able contribute to the team’s overall success.
“Bradley Buchholz has put in a lot of time this spring and summer and will have a good season,” said Martinez. “Freshman Zack Kvavle also wrestled last spring and summer and should have a good deal of success as should transfer Michael Santa Cruz who I expect to be a solid starter for us this season.”
Martinez is expecting the Aztecs to be solid in the 113-pound through 145-pound weight classes and from the 170-pound to 285-pound weight classes. In the middle weight classes are new starters who will have to rapidly gain experience.
Other wrestlers competing for the Aztec include Anthony Farina, another one of the Farina triplets wrestling for Corona, Tyler Black and Mario Reyes.
The Aztecs went 5-1 taking second place to Cibola at the Duals in the Desert held at Chandler High School Dec. 4-5. Four Corona wrestlers were selected to the All-Tournament Team: Marc Farina (138 lbs.); Fill (170 lbs.); Ruffalo (182 lbs.); Conner (285 lbs.).
The Aztecs are scheduled to compete Dec. 18-19 at the Moon Valley Invitational before finishing 2015 at the Blackford Duals Dec. 29-30 at Arizona State University. They will start the new year off on Jan. 6 with a dual meet at Hamilton before competing in the Mile High Challenge at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Jan 8-9.