Roller-coaster year ends with Aztecs repeating as 6A East Valley grid champ, yet missing playoffs

Sophomore quarterback Connor Ackerley succeeded senior Quade Swearingen as starter and, after a rocky start, led Corona del Sol to a successful defense of its 6A East Valley league title. –Photos by Andrew Lwowski for

After going undefeated at all three levels in 2020 and winning the 6A East Valley league, Corona del Sol had high expectations for its football team this season.

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No one envisioned the varsity’s 0-4 start. Yet the Aztecs reversed their fortunes and rallied to go 5-0 in league play and defend their 6A East title.

The roller-coaster ride ended Saturday morning when the Aztecs failed to make the 16-team Class 6A playoff bracket. They end their season 5-5.

Corona opened with back-to-back nail-biting losses to Mountain Pointe and Notre Dame Prep, by one and two points, respectively. They then took a step backward, suffering back-to-back blowout losses to Red Mountain and Desert Vista.

The team came into the season looking to find an identity, replacing their former starting senior quarterback Quade Swearingen, and inputting sophomore quarterback Connor Ackerley.

Corona’s offense was rocky to start, but the team found its groove. The Aztecs regrouped after their bye week and made a late push that propelled them back to the league championship.

Corona del Sol won all five of its 6A East Valley league games to finish 5-5.

“Everybody stayed together,” head coach John Becktold said. “It was discouraging to lose the first four games, especially after losing by one point to Mountain Pointe and two points to Notre Dame. They kept practicing hard throughout the year, little by little — we’re better now than we were at the beginning of the year.”

Senior receiver and linebacker Jeff Lambert and senior linemen Evan Lenz demonstrated their leadership by kicking the team back in the right direction through more-disciplined practices.

“We figured it was time to flip things around,” Lambert said. “We started paying attention more in practice, relying on each other and holding each other accountable. It was during our bye week that we started talking about how we have to get our stuff together. We all came together and decided to flip it around the second half of the season.”

Despite the underwhelming start, the boys did not let outside pressure of distractions deter them. Both Lambert and Lenz said that they didn’t put too much thought into outside noise and instead, relied on the team.

“The beginning was rough,” Lenz said. “Once we started coming together and started working together, we became more fluid as a team and it brought us all together.”

The turnaround heartened Becktold.

“It’s good for the kids to see that,” said Becktold about the strong finish. “For the upcoming class and stuff like that — these kids are equipped and it’s a good role model.”

Corona del Sol will look to build upon its end-of-season success in 2022.




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