In the 2007 5A-II state girls swimming championships, Centennial finished fourth and Ironwood fifth, pushing perennial power Tucson Rincon to third place.
With both teams led by young standouts and supported by solid returning talent, a push for a top three spot looked likely this year. However, fortune has smiled on only one of the squads this year.
When the teams renewed their rivalry Wednesday at Centennial Pool, the Coyotes posted an unusually easy 113-73 win. It's indicative of what Centennial's added - and what Ironwood's had taken away.
It's Centennial's seventh win in eight dual meets this year - the only loss coming to the solid 5A-I team from Mountain Ridge. Coach Shannon Orcutt said the team may have more high finishes in the state meet than last year, but is somewhat limited by the dearth of freshmen coming in.
"We returned a lot, but we didn't get a lot in, so our depth isn't the same," Orcutt said.
Ironwood has the opposite problem. The girls have a strong freshman crop, but are without their projected top two swimmers, junior Skylar Wilson and sophomore Cassandra Morales.
That duo led the Eagles in scoring at state last year, with Wilson winning the 50-yard freesytle and taking second at the 100-yard freestyle, while Morales debuted with a second-place finish in the 100-yard breastroke and fourth place in the 200-yard individual medley. They also teamed up on Ironwood's second-place 200-yard freestyle relay and third-place 400-yard freestyle relay.
Morales' season was lost when she was injured in a summer car accident. Coach Sue Turner said Wilson is taking a break this year, and hopefully will return in 2009.
"Skylar was just burned out and wanted to take the year off," Turner said.
Without their standard bearers, Turner said, Ironwood would be happy with a top 10 finish this year. There have been some positive signs, however, and if Wilson and Morales return next year, the Eagles could field a very strong squad.
"I've had a lot of freshmen girls that have done very well," Turner said.
While Ironwood has a deeper freshman class, Centennial boasts the top newcomer on this side of town, freshman Cece Simpson.
This younger sister of star sophomore Tess Simpson is a threat in the 100-yard butterfly, good enough to allow Tess to drop the event - she was fourth in the state meet last year - in favor of the 100-yard freestyle.
"Cece does the 100 fly and is just as fast (as Tess) if not faster," Orcutt said.
While junior Rikki Jo Chavarria will help pick up some points and the relay teams are solid, the Simpson sisters will determine if Centennial matches or exceeds last year's result. Orcutt cautioned against expecting too much because the top two teams last year, Phoenix Pinnacle and Scottsdale Horizon, are loaded again, and Rincon finished ahead of Centennial in the Nike High School Classic this year.
"We have a total of seven club swimmers this year and those east side teams are almost entirely club members," Orcutt said.
The Simpsons swim in the same clubs and Tess, for one, is excited for state this year. Though she finished second in the 200-yard individual medley last year, Tess said she thinks her best chance is in the 100 free. In both events, she knows she'll battle with four or five other girls who can win it - girls she's matched up with before on the club circuit, such as Annika Jonsson, the Horizon swimmer who won the 200 IM as a freshman last year.
"It's fun to race them and the results are always different," Tess said.
She'll also be cheering for her sister in the butterfly. After years of competition, it's nice to have Cece on her side.
"At our first meet, Shannon had us swim the same events and that was a lot of fun," Tess said. "We've gotten a lot closer this year."
On the boys side, Centennial and Ironwood appear to be the Desert West Region's top teams, both having defeated Sunrise Mountain by five points earlier this year.
Centennial moves into the favorites role after beating Ironwood 103-80 Wednesday. After finishing behind Sunrise at state in 2007, Centennial boys coach Brady Mitchell is looking for his squad to be the best in the West Valley.
"We've got a lot of swimmers that'll be region champs and in the top heat in state," he said.
Team leaders are junior Matt Brickley in the 50 and 100 freestyle and junior Cole Chavarria in the 200 and 500 freestyle. Like the girls side, 5A-II boys swimming is dominated by two teams, in this case Horizon and Rincon. Mitchell said he hopes the team is high in the next group of schools at state.
"We're probably one of the better teams on the west side," he said. "But it's pretty silly to say we're shooting for some of the better east side teams."
Ironwood's boys, while not there yet, have shown improvement this year Turner said. Sophomores Dion Nielsen and Andy Anderson are the Eagles' best, and the team's depth has improved.
"Between us and Centennial, we should have the top teams in the region," Turner said.
The schools join Sunrise Mountain, Avondale Westview, Avondale La Joya and Tolleson in the Desert West Region meet Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at the Surprise Aquatic Center, 15831 N. Bullard Ave.