Beat Brophy? Many have a chance.
The Broncos may be boys soccer’s Division I defending champions, but a lot has changed. Remarkable talent graduated (Riggs Lennon, Clarence Clark) and coach Marc Kelly stepped down after last year’s championship.
It is, however, still Brophy, a powerhouse program much more often than not, and a stable of returning starters returns along with the usual influx of club players
Again, however, Hamilton, Desert Vista, Corona del Sol, Mesa and Gilbert are a host of East Valley schools licking its collective chops, along with Pinnacle, Phoenix Carl Hayden, and West Valley school such as Tolleson, Sandra Day O’Connor and Glendale Ironwood. Lurking below are the likes of Basha, Chandler,
Tucson Salpointe is a heavy favorite early in the Div. II campaign, along with a few Tucson- and Yuma-area schools, but Tempe is capable of making another postseason run, Queen Creek is among the more physical and better-defended units, and Williams Field is quietly molding itself into another Southeast Valley threat. Coronado, which has dealt with nothing but championship-match heartbreak the past couple years, along with Seton Catholic will be in the mix in Div. III.
The air is cold but the field is deep, and while the season has already begun in earnest, January will help further mold the 2013-2014 season when teams get deeper into sectional (and, eventually, postseason) schedules.
Schools to Watch
Basha: It was a struggle for Brian Snyder’s team last season at 3-8-1 in power rankings matches, but five starters and eight overall contributors return (mostly on defense). The Bears could make the playoffs with improved offense and if freshman goalkeeper Gage Rogers develops quickly.
Chandler: Sasaha Hunter’s team was left out of last year’s postseason, but six starters and 13 total kids with experience are back on the roster, and the Wolves are off to a quick start this season. A strong Section 2 schedule will help the Wolves’ cause.
Corona del Sol: Once a dominant program which underwent a couple lean seasons due to graduations and defections to RSL development academy in Casa Grande, the Aztecs are fast, experienced and deep. Dan Salas’ team should be in the playoffs and go beyond.
Desert Vista: Mike Rabasca’s team set new benchmarks in reaching the Division I championship match last year before falling to Brophy. There are 12 seniors on the roster. A lot of offensive punch was lost from last year’s team but the Thunder are well-coached and stout defensively.
Gilbert: Always among the best-coached, most physical teams in Div. I, the Tigers are perennial playoff contenders — and perennial advancers — with a quartet of returning starters from a 15-3-3 squad in 2012-2013 to get them there.
Hamilton: Quarterfinalists a year ago after a championship in 2011-2012 and a couple other previous finals appearances, the Huskies are strong defensively and always deep. Nick Markette’s team has the ingredients again to be a final four squad.
Highland: After a 5-7 season, the Hawks are replacing graduated GK Chase Boulton with Austin Wagoner, but Sam Cioara, Noah Miller and Brady Zaugg will lead a deep team. Though in need of a go-to playmaker, the Hawks’ sophomore class upcoming could be the school’s best ever.
Mesa: One of a few teams who felt jobbed out of a playoff spot last year, the Jackrabbits have arguably the best GK in the state returning in Matt Winkler. Despite a mostly-new offense and brand new defensive group, T.J. Hagen’s team have five starters back and should be a postseason partier this time.
Tempe: A 10-6 squad last year, longtime coach Steve Cihomsky’s Buffaloes are again eyeing the Div. II postseason with seven returning starters, mostly on defense and in the midfield.
Players to Watch
Basha: Kevin Beck, Sr., MF; Bryan Padilla, Jr., MF; Gage Rogers, Fr., GK;
Campo Verde: Luke Gleadle, So., F; Briley Guarneri, Jr., G/F; Eric Mormon, Sr., F; Carter Rumsey, So., GK;
Chandler: Jairo Castro, Jr., MF; Don Tchilao, Jr., F;
Desert Ridge: Josh Barnes, Sr., F; Alex Petty, Sr., F; Austin Schafer, Jr., F;
Desert Vista: Tim O’Brien, Sr., GK; Andrew Sweeney, Sr., MF;
Dobson: Marlon Bonilla, Sr., D; James Deron, Sr., MF; Ryan Feickert, Jr., GK; Jarred Merino, Sr., D;
Gilbert: Levi Chavez, Sr., D; Dylan Fedor, Sr., MF; Matt Kowalski, Sr., F; Ryker Seifert, Sr., MF;
Highland: Sam Cioara, Sr., MF; Noah Miller, Sr., D; Austin Wagoner, Jr., GK; Brody Zaugg, Sr., MF;
Higley: Johannes Naess, Sr., F; Erick Fritz, Jr., F;
Mesa: Victor Esquivel, Jr., MF; Brian Perea, Sr., F; Manny Venzor, Sr., D/MF; Matt Winkler, Sr., GK;
Mesa Prep: Darion Cantrell, Sr., F;
Mountain Pointe: Riley Biederbeck, Sr., MF; Victor Cogco, Sr., GK; Brandon Johnson, So., D; Danny Meyer, Sr., MF; Damian Toulouse, So., MF;
Perry: Mitch Albrecht, Sr., D; Carlos Parra, Sr., GK;
Queen Creek: Jacob Dominiguez, Jr., F; Ryan Kottcamp, Sr., MF; John Myers, Sr., F;
Red Mountain: Taner Brendan, Sr., D; Justin Cheung, Sr., F; Cody Lawrence, Jr., F; Jay Purcell, Sr., MF;
Tempe: Johnny Aviles, Sr., D; Jose Fierro, Sr., MF; Sergio Vega, So., MF;
Tempe Prep: Ryan Bush, Jr., F; Conner Woltz, Jr., F;
Williams Field: Heber Tenney, Sr., F
Dec. 9-13: Tempe Diablo Classic (at Tempe Sports Complex)
Dec. 7-14: Coyote Classic (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Dec. 16-21: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational (at Mesa H.S.)
Dec. 27-31: Arizona Soccer Showcase (at Reach 11 Sports Complex)
Feb. 3: State tournaments begin
Feb. 12: Div. I and II state semifinal matches (at Campo Verde H.S./Paradise Valley H.S.)
Feb. 14: Div. III state championship match (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Feb. 15: Div. I and II state championship matches (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.