That’s it for the 2011-2012 high school sports season, and what a year it was.
It was a year of controversy, raging debates and outrage; hoardes of material with which to shout from rooftops.
It was a year of rival schools resurrecting bad blood, coaching changes for obvious and head-scratching reasons, kids setting records, dynasties being formed and stopped, and the passing of an East Valley coaching institution.
It was, no matter which way you watched, a very good year. Here are 10 reasons why, and we’ll even throw in a few more for good measure.
It’s not everything, but as finishes to a school year go, it’s a start.
Power points fiasco
Near the end of the winter sports season, local engineer John Carrieres found a flaw in the power points system which unintentionally rewarded teams for playing in extra games, regardless of outcome. The error caused a massive shift in the state tournament seedings throughout all the team sports and made multiple deserving teams miss the playoffs. Girls and boys basketball teams were affected the most because of the implementation of sectional tournaments, which added as many as three more games to a team’s schedule. The Arizona Interscholastic Association refused to acknowledge there was a flaw in its formula, but went through the unusual step of presenting an alternate formula — the one Carrieres recommended — to the executive board for a possible immediate change. The member schools adopted the new formula for the spring season and for the foreseeable future, which took away the advantage given to teams who played more games than others. The power points system may undergo more changes in the summer.
Reductions and realignment
It’s a pick-em between whether the new realignment of schools and state tournament reductions created a more firestorm of opinions than power points, but this debate rages on. In an effort to reduce travel expenditures for Arizona schools in a brutal economy combined with a desire to increase competitive standards, the Class-5A-through-1A system of seven classifications that began in 2006 was abolished in favor of six divisions (based on enrollment), with three sections (loosely based on geography) per division. So the number of team sports state championships was reduced by one, two or even three in some sports. Supporters claim a savings in money and the contraction of divisions has led to better competition and a more arduous path to win a championship. Critics claim it’s made such paths nearly impossible for “non-elite” sports programs to even compete for a playoff spot, let alone a championship. The computer scheduling model has also drawn ire for its “geography-based” databases that have made for uneven matchups (often outside of each school’s division) and skewed the power point system into becoming an unreliable means of measuring schools’ abilities and success.
Saguaro and Chaparral share spotlight
There was no shortage of news coming out of the Saguaro and Chaparral football programs this season. The teams met for the first time in three years in the regular season finale on national television, but citing the health of his players heading into the postseason, then-Saguaro coach John Sanders rested his starters and a took a beating, both on the scoreboard and in the court of public opinion. The decision eventually played a small role in Sanders being fired as coach, even though the Sabercats won their fifth title in six seasons. Chaparral won the Division II championship — its third straight — and coach Charlie Ragle rode that wave of success to a job with the University of Arizona. Saguaro running back D.J. Foster was named the Tribune’s Player of the Year, and in an opening round playoff win over Peoria Sunrise Mountain, carried the ball 20 times for a state-record 508 yards and 10 touchdowns. Chaparral star Davonte Neal made headlines for a different reason, no-showing a press conference at his former elementary school in which he planned to announce his college decision before returning to the school later, apologizing and pledging to Notre Dame.
D.V. ends ‘The Streak’
For several years, there was a faction of East Valley football followers that believed Desert Vista underachieved; that the caliber of athletes wasn’t matching the on-field results. Well, beating three-time defending champion Hamilton and its 53-game winning streak to win the Division I state championship is one way to counter those critics. Desert Vista’s lone loss of the season was to Hamilton in Week 7, but the Thunder’s adjustments up front led to thorough domination of the Huskies. It started with a do-everything leader in running back/linebacker Mike Arredondo, followed by an experienced offensive line, quarterback (Hunter Rodriguez), and speed to burn (Dominic Kereluk, Matt Geranen, Ryan Wagner, Nick Farina). The Thunder won close games (vs. Saguaro 31-28; vs. Chandler 38-31; vs. Basha 42-32) and showed more effective balance offensively than in previous years. The encore will be a tough act to duplicate with the likes of Arredondo, Rodriguez, Geranen, Kereluk, Wagner, and Ryan Ortega graduated, but for the first time since 1998, championship blueprints can be found in Ahwatukee.
R.I.P. Scot Bemis
An injured elbow suffered with his family during a summer vacation turned into to the loss of one of the East Valley’s best and most beloved coaches and teachers. Scot Bemis started Notre Dame’s football and girls soccer programs from scratch in 2002, but on January 22, his life was cut tragically short due to complications from lung cancer at 45 years young. When the elbow pain worsened, an MRI revealed the tumor, and Bemis took a leave of absence from the school after a win on Sept. 16. After starting as a linebacker and then assistant at McClintock, plus a couple years at St. Mary’s, Bemis’ successes at Notre Dame — football state titles in 2007 and 2008; a soccer championship in 2009 and runner-up in 2010 — pales in comparison to the contributions he made as a parent and science teacher. Though private in nature, he was a rarity who was universally held in the highest esteem by football coaching peers. As Mike Gibbons, former McClintock coach and longtime assistant with Bemis, said: “I feel like a giant has left the stage.”
Play ball, Dylan Cozens
Chaparral right fielder Dylan Cozens entered the season amid more eligibility questions. He finished as the last batter in the state to swing the bat. Cozens was ruled ineligible for 365 days last March and missed the second half of his junior season after getting kicked off the Desert Mountain baseball team and transferring to Chaparral. He wasn’t supposed to return to action for a year, but Chaparral and the Arizona Interscholastic Association ruled that he could play earlier, and Cozens took full advantage. He finished the season with a state-leading 19 home runs, including a two-run, walk-off homer to beat Brophy, 5-3, in the Division I state championship game. He is expected to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft, and also has a scholarship waiting for him to play football and baseball at Arizona.
Corona del Sol won its first boys basketball state title since 1994 behind a core group of Calaen Robinson, Avery Moss, Andrus Peat and Casey Benson. All except Benson (a sophomore) played together since junior high, led by the ultra-quick Robinson (who’s headed to Arizona State) and the two big boys inside in Moss and Peat (both of whom are headed to play college football at Nebraska and Stanford, respectively). A consensus No. 1 team in the state in Div. I for most of the season, the Aztecs’ only loss of the season came in late November during the Mesa’s “Fear the Hop” tournament. The title also turned father (Sam Duane won two titles in the 1980’s and 1990’s) and son (Sam Duane Jr.) into Corona championship coaches.
Arizona is a state with no shortage in softball talent, and the northeast quadrant of Mesa has assembled a collection that has done what no other big-school can claim. Red Mountain took its own unorthodox approach by going through the winner’s bracket, but for the third consecutive season, the result was the same. A victory against Basha in the Div. I state championship was Red Mountain’s third consecutive big-school state championship, also a first in Arizona softball history among Class 5A-sized schools. For senior Haley Culley it was her third state championship in four championship game appearances. For a core group of Lions expected to return (Bre Macha, Jordan Beck, Ashley Hill, Marian Ruf, Alyssa Fernandez, Taylor Beeson), how much longer can they help hold up these celebration sprees against a deep Division I?
Mountain View’s Gary Ernst is considered one of the best Arizona high school basketball coaches of all-time, and now he has the total wins record to bolster his resume. With the Toros’ 66-50 first round victory over Rincon in the first round of the Division I state tournament, Ernst picked up his 775th career victory, passing Tucson Sahuaro legend Dick McConnell for the most in Arizona history. Mountain View has seven state championships under Ernst — he also won one at Chandler in 1976 — and he may be the best X’s and O’s coach in the state, continually squeezing the most out of his players.
Gilbert digs volleyball
The epicenter of volleyball in Arizona this year? Gilbert, where both the boys and girls programs captured state championships. The girls team rallied from two games down to defeat Horizon 14-25, 24-26, 26-24, 25-18, 15-10 in the Division I title match. It defeated four-time defending champion Xavier in the semifinals. The boys team defeated Brophy, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 25-20. Macey Gardner earned the Tribune’s Girls Volleyball Player of the Year award and is headed to Arizona State, and Cody Martins and Ty Hutchins were the most potent 1-2 boys volleyball duo in the state.
Andrew's four feats
A wrestling season sprinkled with frustration and confusion over state meet qualifications ended on an uptick, thanks to a Mesa junior purposefully willing to take on the best. Ben Andrew missed placing at the state meet as a sophomore by one match, knew 220 pounds would be a stacked weight class. Naturally, he signed up. Andrew beat four state champions (who won a combined six career state titles) en route to his first state title, beating defending-champion Cedric Gonzalez from Tucson Sunnyside for the 220-pound crown.
•Saguaro running back D.J. Foster sets unofficial state records with 508 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns against Peoria Sunrise Mountain. Now at Arizona State, Foster finished with 3,058 yards and 54 touchdowns as Saguaro won a second consecutive state championship.
•Brophy sprinter and hurdler Devon Allen dominates one of the best track meets in the nation at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational. The junior set state records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, won the 200-meter dash and ran a leg in the team’s victorious 400-meter relay. He was named the meet’s Male Outstanding Performer. A month later, Allen — who’s also a standout wide receiver — won state titles in the 110- and 300-meter hurdle, and lost to Glendale Deer Valley sprinter Trae Armstrong in the 100- and 200-meter dashes both by a hundredth of a second.
•With Chandler track star Jasmine Todd out after suffering a torn ACL during practice midway through the season, Wolves’ sophomore sprinter Ky Westbrook took the proverbial baton. She dominated the 100- and 200-meter dashes with times of 11.42 and 24.15 seconds, respectively, and also cruised down the straightaway in the relay without any competition. Her 100-meter dash was the third-fastest in state history and she helped lead the Chandler girls to their seventh-straight state championship.
•A winning streak that’s at 40 consecutive games culminated in a second consecutive state championship for St. Mary’s girls basketball team. The Knights’ defense, size, athleticism and eagerness to share the ball amongst seven or eight regulars couldn’t be stopped, witness a 31.8 average margin of victory for the season. It also vaulted the Knights to No. 1 in the nation according to several national outlets.
•Speaking of dynasties, Karen Self’s Seton Catholic girls basketball program couldn’t be corralled by a move up to the current Div. II or a significant turnover in the Sentinels’ roster from previous seasons. In a year which saw Self win her 500th career game during the season, Seton won a third consecutive state championship and sixth overall under Self. It included a bizarre sequence against Peoria in the Div. II championship game in which Seton scored on a 5-on-0 play coming out of a 30-second timeout. Peoria claimed it never heard the whistle or heard a warning for its kids to be back on the floor. Seton returned to the floor and the whistle blew again, so the Sentinels inbounded the ball for a layup while Peoria was huddled near its bench.