Welcome to the Bizarro World.
It was a year ago this week when complaints of a disproportionate playing field hit a fevered pitch.
Hamilton was dominating like usual, Chaparral couldn’t be slowed by its Division II brethren and Saguaro was hanging 60 points on any and all comers.
And now, poof, it’s all gone.
Saguaro has lost a game, Hamilton two and Chaparral three. Division I, especially, is full of parity.
In each corner of the East Valley, there is a team with legitimate reasons to believe it can win the Div. I championship. The first half of the season brought no separation, and Friday’s juicy matchups will either lead to clarity or convince us once and for all that it will be a wild November.
“This week will be as interesting as any in the past several years,” Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said.
Six of the top seven teams in Division I will face off against each other on Friday night — No. 1 Mountain Pointe at No. 4 Brophy; No. 2 Red Mountain at No. 7 Desert Ridge and No. 6 Chandler at No. 5 Hamilton — while No. 3 Desert Vista hosts Division III’s top-ranked team, Saguaro.
There’s no consensus on a favorite, but impressive play by any of the seven would go a long way.
Wins by Red Mountain or Mountain Pointe would keep them undefeated and atop the rankings. Victories by Hamilton or Brophy would re-establish those schools at the top, while Desert Ridge and Chandler can get taken much more seriously by pulling upsets. Desert Vista needed a furious rally last season to beat Saguaro and would like to control this one from start to finish.
Many of these teams have already met, with upsets and close games the norm.
Mountain Pointe has made the biggest statement with a 3-0 record against Hamilton, Desert Vista and Chandler, but those wins have come by a combined six points. Red Mountain needed a late fumble recovery and a fourth-down conversion to beat Brophy by two points. Chandler trailed by 17 points before scoring 41 after intermission to beat No. 8 Basha.
Hamilton has the only decisive win, beating Desert Ridge 34-14 on Sept. 14, but the Huskies’ offensive shortcomings have kept them in the middle of the pack.
As these matchups beckon, the question remains: Is there a team capable of emerging Friday night as the clear-cut No. 1 team?
“I don’t think there’s any team that can go or will go out and dominate somebody,” Aguano said.
Hamilton coach Steve Belles won’t read too much into this week no matter the results.
The Huskies were last year’s preseason No. 1 team, started 13-0 and were big favorites to win the state title before getting routed by Desert Vista, 45-19, in the title game.
“Going into the finals, everyone handed us the golden ball but we forgot to grab it ... and we got smashed,” Belles said. “You take each game for exactly what it is and where you are in the season and try to prepare your kids right.”
The coaches note how much regular season is left, as a clearer picture may emerge when strengths are further forged and weaknesses exposed.
But one thing is clear: there is no big, bad wolf this season.
“I think it’s very interesting,” Brophy coach Scooter Molander said. “You want to win games, obviously, but I think there are a lot of good teams this year who believe in themselves. It’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s a great time to be a fan in Division I.”