January 18, 2005
Considering 10 players graduated from last year’s team, including the team’s two stars, Apache Junction boys basketball coach Dale Richardson figured his Prospectors were in for a struggle this season.
"I thought we might win seven, eight, nine games if we were lucky," Richardson said. "I thought it would be tough."
Richardson is happy he was dead wrong.
The 10th-ranked Prospectors are 16-5. What’s more, they are only a basket away from being unbeaten in the 4A East Sky Region. That is quite an accomplishment considering scoring machine Steve Elman and point guard Steven Richardson graduated along with eight other players.
"It’s a combination of a lot of different things," said Dale Richardson, trying to explain the Prospectors’ surprising success. "These kids are real nice. These kids like each other. They play well together."
Leading the way for Apache Junction is junior Cody Anderson. The 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 23 points per game. Three other players — Justin Hewitt, Justin Higuera and Aaron Quiroz — also average in double figures.
The Prospectors’ biggest frustration of the season came at unbeaten region foe Coronado, where they lost a heartbreaker, 56-55. While Richardson figured 10 wins would be a good season, he has a new goal.
"We’re hoping we can stay in the race with Coronado," said Richardson, "and then maybe get them at our place."
High on the Hawks: Highland has let it be known that the 5A state championship will be at least a three-team race this season.
Led by individual titles from Stetson Anderson (189 pounds) and Ty Porter (215), the Hawks finished ahead of 5A powers Mountain View and Red Mountain last weekend at the prestigious Flowing Wells Invitational at Tucson. Class 4A Tucson Sunnyside won the tourney with 227 points, followed by 3A Safford (183), Highland (176), Mountain View (174) and Red Mountain (169).
"We have a pretty good team," Highland coach Abel Figueroa said. "The most important thing we wanted to accomplish (at Flowing Wells) was to stay close to Red Mountain and Mountain View. Those are some very strong programs, just as we are.
"It is really shaping up to be a real exciting end of the year."
Anderson, the top-ranked 189-pounder in 5A, is 20-2, losing only to two out-of-state wrestlers at a tournament in Las Vegas.
"He could have easily been the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament," Figueroa said of Anderson.
Porter, the defending state champ at 215, improved to 21-1.
"He went undefeated at the Vegas tournament and was winning the one match he lost at a tournament in San Diego," Figueroa said. "He just keeps getting better."
Highland also got a secondplace showing from Spencer Jasper (125 pounds), a fourth from Ryan Becerra (152) and a fifth from Nate Schulz (171) at Flowing Wells.
Playing forward shut out: Gilbert goalkeeper Jessica Elley, the Fiesta Region defensive player of the year last season, had her heart set on seeing ample playing time as a forward this winter. However, Tigers coach Ben Holzer decided Elley’s play in net was too valuable, particularly her knack for compiling shutouts.
If teams have an identical record at the end of the season, a point system (i.e. three points for a regulation win, two points for shootout win, one point for shootout loss and one point for each goal scored up to three) serves as the tiebreaker. In addition, teams are awarded a bonus point for each shutout, making Elley’s play in net invaluable, even if Gilbert has a sizable lead in a game. The senior has six shutouts already this season. Elley has also scored three goals during limited time at forward.
"Shutouts are at a premium, so I can’t monkey around with the goalkeepers too much," Holzer said. "I’d like to get her on the field more, but until the region is locked up, that’s not a chance I’m willing to take."
All in the family: Watch out for Tony Cascio, for whom soccer runs in the family.
Tony’s older brother Jason had 22 goals and 16 assists for Hamilton before graduating last year. Jason just completed his first season with Seattle University, which won the Division II national championship with the defender getting among the most minutes of anyone on the roster.
Tony’s big sister Marissa is on the Hamilton girls team and now Tony is starting as a freshman. In fact, he already has a goal and five assists for the Huskies.
- Correspondents Al Bravo and Christopher Drexel contributed to this report.