Spring sprang, and now summer has set in.
But before everyone scurries away on vacations, summer passing leagues and other non-high school hi-jinx, let’s take a quick pause to remember the months of April and May, in which more champions were crowned, memories were made and, sadly, others’ dreams were dashed.
From juggernauts to newbies and some real-life drama in between, here’s the best the high school spring sports state tournaments had to offer.
It was pretty good.
Brown Road dynasty
Every year the Arizona softball landscape grows wider and deeper in talent, and every year for the past four years, it hasn’t mattered at the end. Red Mountain’s run as perennial state title contenders began in 2006, and not only has it not stopped, it’s gotten stronger. The three-time defending state champion Lions dominated their state tournament competition, outscoring opponents 39-9 in five Division I tournament games, including a 9-5 win over Chaparral in the championship game, the second consecutive year Red Mountain has gone undefeated through the state tournament. In addition to a fifth consecutive state championship game appearance (the Lions have won four straight and lost to Basha in 2009), the Lions are the first school in the biggest enrollment classifications (Division I/Class 5A) to win four consecutive championships in Arizona softball history. Bad news (again) for the rest of Div. I: Only one of the team’s four seniors who’ll be lost to graduation was an everyday player (TJ Beeson). That means the likes of ace Bre Macha, No. 2 pitcher Marian Ruf, catcher Jordan Beck, infielders Alyssa Fernandez, McKenzy Gutierrez and Ashley Hill, along with outfielder Alex Wiley are all slated to go after No. 5.
Red Mountain may have ran away with another softball state title, but part of the beauty of the single/double elimination formats are always the schools which sneaked up on the rest of the field. Desert Ridge did no such thing per se, having beaten Red Mountain twice (first time since 2007 any school has beaten the Lions twice in the same season), Chaparral, Perry, Gilbert and Basha. Jen Broderick’s team made its biggest push through the state tournament in a few years behind a freshman ace in Bailey Klitzke and some solid defense before eventually falling to Horizon and Red Mountain in the field of 8. Speaking of Chaparral, the Firebirds struggled against their only good competition in the final few weeks of the season, and then the wheels appeared to come off: injuries (players and coach Stefanie Ewing), assistant coaches quitting before the start of the state tournament and starting infielder Blakeley Koziol lost a close friend to a drug overdose to begin postseason. Yet behind a core group of Dallas McBride, Ashtyn and Kendra Coleman, Alana Anderson and Koziol, Chaparral took state runner-up honors after reaching its first championship game since 2007.
Desert Mountain navigates distractions
Brian Stephenson left Westwood for the Desert Mountain baseball opening last year after the school fired coach Bryan Rice. The Wolves played well all season, but on April 19, Stephenson was among many teachers who lost their jobs at the school as a result of district-wide cuts. The team surged on, and by the time Stephenson got his job back late in the season, everything lined up. While the state tournament was full of upsets, Desert Mountain went undefeated to claim its first title. Third baseman David Greer lined a walkoff, RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Chaparral, 4-3, in eight innings. The Wolves finished the season 31-4 and were the clear-cut top team by the end of the year.
Ky Westbrook and Devon Allen dominate again
At the beginning of the final day of the state track and field championships, Ky Westbrook and Devon Allen weren’t quite measuring up to their ultra-high standards. Westbrook breezed to the 100-meter dash title but wasn’t too excited about her time. Allen won the 110-meter high hurdles but then lost the 100-meter dash to Mountain Pointe star sophomore Paul Lucas. By the end of the night, though, both would shine. Westbrook came back and set an all-time state record by finishing the 200-meter dash in 23.39 seconds, which was more than two tenths of a second faster than former Peoria star Jessica Onyepunuka’s old record of 23.60 seconds, set in 2004. It was the second state record of the year for Westbrook, who broke the shot put distance at the Chandler City Meet with a throw of 47 feet, 9 inches, surpassing the record of 47-5 set by Chandler’s Cindy Johnson in 1980. She finished with state championships in the 100, 200 and shot put. Allen was challenged in the 300 hurdles by Bobby Grant but broke away at the end for the title. He then exacted some revenge on Lucas by winning the 200 in 20.98 seconds, capping the final meet of his illustrious career with three state titles and a runner-up finish.
The single-elimination format in the first two rounds of the baseball and softball tournaments didn’t have a huge effect last season, but it sent many elite teams home early this year. Basha, which had won two state softball titles and made the finals four times in the past five seasons, was knocked out in the second round by Chaparral. Gilbert, a perennial contender and the No. 4 seed, lost in the second round to upstart-Desert Vista. On the baseball side, preseason No. 1 Hamilton lost in the opening round to Corona del Sol, while other top teams like Desert Ridge, Horizon, Brophy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Gilbert and St. Mary’s were all dispatched before the double-elimination rounds commenced. The tournament changes expanded the field from 16 to 24 teams, and the single-elimination portion added another wrinkle to the sports’ already-unpredictable postseasons.
Legally blind pole vaulter finishes sixth at state
Aria Ottmueller wouldn't take no for an answer, pestering Valley Christian track and field coach Dan Kuiper to give her a shot the pole vault. What was his holdup? Well, Ottmueller was born completely blind, and though she regained some vision, can still only see at a 20-400 ratio due to optic nerve hypoplasia. Ottmueller first did distance running before asking for a chance at the pole vault. Even though she can't see while running down the runway, the Trojans' junior qualified for the state championships by clearing 6 feet, 7 inches, and then vaulted 7-6 for a sixth place finish in Division IV.
The gym was packed for the boys volleyball state championship match, as state — and, maybe more importantly to these two teams, town — bragging rights were on the line. Gilbert had the benefit of home court advantage when the predetermined neutral site was decided, but it was Highland which came away with the title. The Tigers won two of three regular season matches, but the favored Hawks captured the hardware with ease, rolling to the 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 victory. Highland has been one of the most successful programs in the state for the past decade, but hadn’t won a state title since 2005. Not only did the Hawks achieve it, they did it by beating their rival in the finals.
Another private school parade
There’s no stopping Brophy and Xavier on the tennis courts these days. Brophy didn’t lose a match in the team state tournament to repeat as Div. I team state champions, and the Broncos swept the team, singles (Hudson Blake) and doubles (David Akin and Michael Cowan) titles for the second time in 20 years. Their sister school, Xavier, did much the same on the girls’ side, moving through the Div. I team state tournament without losing a match en route to repeating as team champions, and swept the title trifecta with singles (Madison Clark after being the runner-up as a freshman last year) and doubles (Maggie Cohen and Scarlet Rush) for the first time since 1990. The private school prowess trickled down into Div. II, where Notre Dame’s Luke Carstens and Adrian Cordova won the boys doubles title before the Saints’ narrow loss to Tucson Ironwood Ridge for the team title.