The early unveiling of this season’s high school boys soccer map isn’t too far removed from most of the past few years’ worth of championship geography.
Brophy will be a beast. Hamilton has a lot to make up in its quest to repeat as state champions, and everyone else is in “chase mode.”
The Broncos, which lost to Hamilton in overtime of last year’s title game, return players aplenty, led by one of the best offensive players in recent years in Riggs Lennon. His younger brother, Brooks, opted to stay with Real Salt Lake academy instead of playing high school this season, but the Broncos have a group of a half-dozen starters back from last year’s team and a couple newbies who didn’t play last year because of club ball. Brophy coach Marc Kelly feels this year’s team is deeper and more talented.
Despite the graduations, the Huskies, now an elite program, are naturally in the chase as they attempt to repeat. There’s no chance Hamilton won’t be there in the end again. Gilbert is a perennial top-four or top-eight program under Jeff Perry. Red Mountain, Mountain View and Corona del Sol are also contenders, while Chandler, Desert Vista and Mesa could be interesting sleepers.
Once a woeful program, Marcos de Niza made a memorable run to last year’s Division II quarterfinals, but the Padres lost some good senior talent. Can they find the magic again and establish some long-awaited consistency? Campo Verde could be this year’s Marcos de Niza in Div. II if new coach Drew Guarneri and the kids have their way with a team loaded with returning players and a couple kids who didn’t play H.S. last season. Notre Dame fell to Tucson Salpointe in the title match after a thrilling semifinals victory in penalty kicks, and much has changed with the Saints, but never enough to where they can’t return.
Speaking of returns, Mike Tsorin’s Coronado kids went to its first title match in school history last year, and are primed to make another run with experience and talent back in the mix.
The smaller-sized East Valley schools knocked on the championship door last year. Are Div. II and III ready to open it?
Teams to Watch
Brophy: Marc Kelly’s perennial state contenders lost four seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad, but have seven additions from club soccer who didn’t play high school last season. Riggs Lennon chose to return to Brophy this season instead of continuing for Real Salt Lake academy, a huge boost for the Broncos. David Lane (18 goals in 2011-2012) joins a senior group of Ian Poblete, Clarence Clark, Justice Kelly and Ryan Grotjohn, plus a strong junior class has the Broncos deeper than last year and loaded again.
Chandler: The Wolves return 11 significant contributors from last year’s 12-6-1 team which reached the Div. I state quarterfinals.
Corona del Sol: After winning the state title in 2010, the Aztecs took a hit last year with graduations and defections to the Real Salt Lake academy, but Dan Salas’ team of youth last year should blossom this season; A trendy sleeper pick in Div. I
Coronado: Mike Tsorin’s team made a run to the school’s first state championship match (Div. III), but fell to Phoenix Cortez in a 1-0 heartbreaker after dominating time of possession. The Dons return nine starters but getting another chance is tougher the second time around.
Gilbert: The Tigers lost a good amount of talent and experience to graduation, but Jeff Perry is one of the best coaches in the state. A semi-reconstruction is underway, but Chris LoConti helps lead the way for a program which has reached either the quarterfinals or semifinals for four consecutive seasons.
Hamilton: Defending the Div. I state championship could be more difficult than what it took to win in overtime in 2011-2012, but a solid group of midfielders and defenders give Nick Markette’s team a chance.
Mountain View: New coach Kevin Burke’s squad only brings back three returning starters from the 2011 team which lost in the opening round in double-overtime, and though a senior-heavy squad, the Toros are short on varsity experience. Burke is also trying to implement a new on-field scheme. Will it work and how quickly?
Red Mountain: The Lions return a core group of athletes and midfielders/defenders from last year’s 14-6 squad which barely missed the state tournament. Championship match participants a few years ago, the Lions are headed toward knocking on that door again.
Players to Watch
Paul Astrain, McClintock: The two-year captain and all-city sweeper is returning from knee and back surgeries to lead experienced Chargers who took their lumps in 2011-2012; Also part of the school’s cheer squad.
Sam Gleadle, Campo Verde: The junior forward had 12 goals as a freshman but didn’t play as a sophomore. He’s back as new coach Drew Guarneri tries to get the Coyotes off the ground.
Riggs Lennon, Brophy: Decided to forgo Real Salt Lake academy and re-join Brophy this winter, which is great news for Brophy but bad news for the rest of Arizona’s Division I soccer trying to defend the Virginia commit. He scored 51 goals last year as a junior and scored 77 goals in two years of H.S. soccer.
Daniel Wichman, Hamilton: A kicker on Hamilton’s state championship football team this fall, the senior defender will join with Nolan Barth on the Huskies’ backline to try and defend a different Division I state championship.
Matt Winkler, Mesa: The junior goalkeeper and captain had six wins and four shutouts last season. The Jackrabbits will need him to come up big with an inexperienced defense and offense to reach the postseason.
Other players to watch
Brophy: Clarence Clark, Sr., MF/D; Ryan Grotjohn, Sr., MF; Ian Poblete, Sr., MF; Campo Verde: Jacob Fox, Sr., GK; Sam Gleadle, Jr., F; Devin Ries, Jr., D; Chaparral: Kian Johnson, Sr., GK; Coulte L’Hearuex, Sr., F; Luke Matiski, Jr., D; Corona del Sol: Ellis Rutili, Sr., MF; Leo Santos, Sr., MF; Jeremy Ramsland, Sr., D; Grant Galan, Jr., F; Coronado: Cesar Cervantes, Sr., D; Jesse Garcia, Sr., MF; Miguel Gonzalez, So., F; Victor Perez, Sr., GK; Desert Vista: Chris Byrd, Sr., D; Mitchell Abernathy, Sr., MF; Conner Leisy, Sr., MF; Josh Greene, Sr., D; MacKenzie Paquette, Sr., F; Desert Ridge: Michael Cohen, Sr., D; Landon Whitlow, So., D; Brenden Orona, Jr., MF; Josh Barnes, Jr., F; Brian Hickey, Jr., GK; Dobson: James Deroon, Jr., MF; Alejandro Garnica, Jr., F; Jarred Merino, Jr., D; Gilbert: Chris LoConti, Sr., D; Trevor Irion, Jr., D; Kahlin Gonzalez, Sr., MF; Hayden Rus, Sr., GK; Hamilton: Nolan Barth, Sr., D; Luis Manta, Sr., MF; Gabriel Parra-Munoz, Jr., MF; Tyler Patel, Jr., MF; Marcos de Niza: Jose Segura, Sr., F; McClintock: Hugo Ademe, Sr., MF; Jorge Anaya, So., F; Giancarlo Baranzini, Sr., MF; Julio Chavez, Jr., GK; Luis Estrada, Jr., F; Mesa: Alex Gutierrez, Sr., MF; Diego Godinez, Sr., D; Brian Perea, Jr., MF; Mountain Pointe: Timmy Leach, Sr., D; Brian Bettner, Sr,. MF; Danny Meyer, Jr., MF; Mountain View: Pepe Alonso, Sr., MF; Ben Nelson, Sr., GK; Jose Zuniga, Sr., F; Paradise Valley: Diego Vargas, Sr., GK; Angel Garcia, Jr., F; Tayler Strand, Sr., MF; Red Mountain: Justin Cheung, Jr., D; Drew Farnsworth, Sr., MF; Carson Frost, Sr.. MF; A.J. Poulson, Sr., GK; San Tan Foothills: Joe Saldano, Jr., MF; Emilio Pulido, Sr., MF; Abdiel Barron, Jr., D; Mario Lopez, Jr., F; Sr. David Oceguera-Midfield Tempe: Gregorio Rojas, Sr., D; Kevin Reyes, Sr., MF; Valley Christian: Riley Hill, Sr., GK; Taylor Wiehl, Sr., MF; Jake Uthe, Jr., D.
• No more shootouts or penalty kicks in the regular season. Matches will go to the pair of 10-minute overtime periods and if there’s no scoring by the end of the second OT, the match ends in a tie. Penalty kicks will continue after the overtime sessions during the state tournaments.
• The National Federation of High School Associations passed a rule. As it has previously existed and will continue to do so, two yellow cards on a player equals a red card, which means the player must sit out the rest of the match and is suspended for the next match. Now, however, that team must play shorthanded.
• Coaching changes: Kevin Burke is the man in charge at Mountain View. Burke is a Mesa Community College assistant and has coached both boys and girls, along with various club teams in the East Valley. He played at Show Low and Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Drew Guarneri takes over at Campo Verde, and already has title match aspirations with 12 kids (seven starters) returning despite a 3-9 record in 2011-2012 in Division II.
Dec. 3-7: Moon Valley tournament (at Apollo H.S. and Moon Valley H.S.)
Dec. 3-6: Tempe Diablos tournament (at Tempe Sports Complex)
Dec. 7-8: Cactus Cup Invitational (at Desert Ridge H.S.)
Dec. 14: Desert Vista at Notre Dame
Dec. 15-22: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational (at Mesa H.S.)
Dec. 18: Mountain Pointe at Desert Vista
Dec. 20/Jan. 11: Hamilton at Perry/Perry at Hamilton
Dec. 26-31: Mustang Classic (at Red Mountain Park and Dobson H.S.)
Dec. 27-31: Arizona Soccer Showcase (at Scottsdale Park)
Jan. 10: Gilbert at Mountain View
Jan. 14: Fountain Hills at Coronado
Jan. 16: Chaparral at Brophy
Jan. 22/24: Chandler at Desert Vista/Desert Vista at Chandler
Jan. 30: State tournaments begin
Feb. 8-9: State championship matches
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.