Arizona’s soccer Central: Pride, Aztecs, Thunder rising - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Arizona’s soccer Central: Pride, Aztecs, Thunder rising

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Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007 12:17 am | Updated: 6:22 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It’s odd when Phoenix Mountain Pointe’s Erica Long jostles with Phoenix Desert Vista’s Kara Miller on the soccer field. The two play club soccer together and have been best friends for years.

It gets wilder when the two play against each other three times in this final month of the regular season.

It’ll be downright bizarre if the two play against each other in a state title match.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, which is why a state championship scene involving these two teams could take place in a month.

But it could also involve Tempe Corona del Sol, the 2006 state champion.

It’s been commonplace in the 5A Central Region the past couple years, and it’s happening again.

According to this week’s Power Point rankings, the top three girls soccer schools in the state are in the Central: Mountain Pointe, then Corona, then Desert Vista.

Meanwhile, Chandler Basha will play the three schools a combined eight times to end its season, and Tempe Marcos de Niza won one region game last year, then went to the 5A-II state semifinals.

The Pride lost in overtime to Corona in last year’s title game, but it was the second consecutive season a Central Region team won state. And there’s no reason to believe two Central schools won’t be there again in three weeks.

“The way it’s going right now, it’s a definite possibility,” Long said.

Entering today’s matches, the three schools are a combined 42-7-3.

Though perhaps not quite this dominant, the Central Region has enjoyed itself for most of the past decade.

Because of club teams, socioeconomic factors and quality coaching, the three schools have risen in near-uniform fashion the past few years.

Mountain Pointe is chock full of seniors this season, led by Long and future-ASU teammate Alexandra Elston. The Pride’s only loss thus far is to Corona earlier this season.

Corona has never had a losing season in school history. This senior class has lost nine times in four years.

Desert Vista went to the state finals in 2004 under current Pride coach Kirk Nelson, and the Thunder won in 2005, despite Corona winning the region.

“You can’t fall asleep here,” said Thunder coach Paul Manoogian, in his first year at Desert Vista after six years at Mesa.

The difference for most of these Central Region teams: Commitment.

“On any given roster I had three or four full-time players on the roster,” Manoogian said. “This year I have three who don’t play club full-time, so 90 percent of the kids in my program are playing year-round. It’s a huge deal.”

Matt Smith learned the same thing when he arrived at Corona seven years ago after being a Dobson assistant. He coaches club soccer in the summer, including three girls who play for Basha, so he’s heard the grumblings about how tough the Central plays.

And never one to toot his own horn about coaching prowess, he pointed out Brittany Whalen is an assistant at Mountain Pointe, and the school’s all-time scoring leader. Patti Smith is an assistant at Corona, and the school’s all-time scoring leader.

Since then, the three programs have been intertwined in high school soccer, club soccer and away from soccer.

Most girls on the three teams have known one another since elementary school.

“The competition among itself continues to build,” Matt Smith said. “You can’t relax. My first couple years at Dobson, we’d win the region if you close your eyes.”

Those days are long gone.

The East Valley Region has improved, but with Mesa Dobson no longer a dominant force, no one is holding a candle to the Central, and the region is set to prove that by battling each other from Friday until February.

“This region is crazy,” Long said. “It’s a special group of girls, something that just kind of happened.”

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