Repeating as state champion in prep athletics is no easy feat. Although there are a smattering of teams that make long playoff runs each year, actually finishing on top in back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen often.
So don’t ask Phoenix Desert Vista coach Mike Rabasca about trying for a third straight title in 2006-07.
“You don’t lose 12 seniors and still be considered the team to beat,” Rabasca said in analyzing the upcoming boys soccer season.
Most coaches figure southern Arizona power Tucson Salpointe, with three state final appearances in four years, is the team to beat since it is loaded with talented seniors. But who faces the Lancers come Feb. 9 is still a matter of debate.
The 4A-I race is focused on Phoenix Pinnacle, which returns 30-goal scorer Kyle Ciliento. But Scottsdale Chaparral figures to make a run if the Sereno club players who have not played high school contribute as expected. Firebirds coach Jason Speirs was pleasantly surprised by the turnout of club players who chose to forego the club season to play in their final year of high school.
Cave Creek Cactus Shadows hopes to make a return trip to the 4A-II final, having lost some key personnel but having a half-dozen returning regulars to build around.
Chandler Valley Christian and Chandler Seton Catholic both reached the state semifinals last year but the Sentinels have a new coach and the Trojans have to replace All-Tribune goalkeeper Shawn Vance.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Desert Vista: Two-time defending champion has some holes to fill but may have a shot at a three-peat if it can get through a tough region and gain experience.
Gilbert: Perennial Fiesta Region power has some key personnel back from a state quarterfinal team of a year ago. Tough region should give it plenty of power points come playoff time.
Hamilton: The Huskies are always dangerous in the Fiesta and beyond — losing to eventual champion Desert Vista in the state semifinals last year — but 33-goal scorer Dominic Papa has graduated.
Chaparral: Club players are planning to play with high school team, which could pay big dividends by February. The Firebirds also are returning a few players from the state playoff team of last year which creates excitement in Scottsdale.
Pinnacle: The Pioneers were one match short of the final last year — losing to the eventual state champion — and return key personnel, including big goal scorer Kyle Ciliento. The Pioneers are ready to build off two state playoff appearances in successive seasons.
Seton Catholic: Sentinels were in the quarterfinals two years ago and reached the state semifinals last year. Is it their turn at the top?
TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tony Cascio, Jr., MF, Hamilton: All-Fiesta Region performer set a school record for assists with 25 in 2005-06.
Edy Farfan, Sr., MF, Mesa: East Valley Region player of the year sparked Cinderella run to the state quarterfinals. Had 22 goals and 16 assists.
Spencer Thompson, Sr., F, Mountain Pointe: Four-year starter had 14 goals and eight assists for perennial power.
Kyle Ciliento, Jr., F, Pinnacle: Already has 64 goals in his high school career and still has two years left.
Tyler Keith, Sr., MF, Fountain Hills: Second-team All-Tribune player.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
William Arechiga, Soph., MF, Skyline;
Nick Ayers, Soph., F, Brophy;
Brent Blaylock, Sr., GK, Hamilton;
Gerardo Brito, Sr., MF, Dobson;
Anthony Crum, Sr., MF, Skyline;
Philipppe Garre, Sr., F, Brophy;
Moises Gonzales, Sr., F, Dobson;
Chris Hicks, Sr., MF, Desert Vista;
John Kierstead, Sr., MF/D, Mountain Pointe;
Oliwer Kucharski, Sr., MF, Desert Mountain;
Phil Michieli, Sr., MF, Gilbert;
Brandon Rumore, Sr., F, Gilbert;
Austin Vanderbur, Jr., GK, Corona del Sol;
Matt Wadjaj, Soph., MF, Corona del Sol;
Justin Williams, Sr., F, Mesquite;
Toby Wright, Jr., D, Chandler;
Chris Yoder, Jr., MF, Mesquite.
Paul Barker, Jr., MF, Valley Christian;
Sergio Chavez, Sr., MF, Higley;
Ryan Covey, Sr., MF, Cactus Shadows;
Mike Defeyter, Sr., D, Saguaro;
Weston Glenn, Jr., F, Chaparral;
Ben Lobrutto, Sr., D, McClintock;
Luis Lopez, Sr. F, Tempe;
Spencer Luna, Sr., F, Chaparral;
Dawson Rauch, Sr., F, Fountain Hills;
Juan Reyes, Sr. MF, Tempe;
Ryan Sharman, Sr., F, Cactus Shadows;
Michael Zhring, Sr., F, Saguaro
DID YOU KNOW?
Rule changes: Although relatively minor, there are a few rule changes this year. Among them is a rule that allows players to wear a protective face mask if they have a facial injury and that visible apparel worn under shorts must be of a similar length and a solid color (as opposed to the same color of the shorts). Also new this year, officials’ “jurisdiction” at a game begins 15 minutes prior to the start of the actual match, meaning they could caution or disqualify coaches and players up to 15 minutes before kickoff.
Split small school seasons: Half of the 56 schools in 3A, 2A and 1A that field boys soccer teams play in the fall and half play in the winter. Schools in the southern, northern and northeastern parts of Arizona as well as three in Phoenix play in the fall season. Most of the others in the Valley play in the winter along with schools in western and central Arizona.
Dec. 4-8: Tempe Diablos tournament, Tempe Sports Complex
Dec. 20-23: Jackrabbit Invitational, Mesa High School
Dec. 26-28: Mustang Classic, Red Mountain Park
Jan. 30: Beginning of state tournaments
Feb. 8: 5A-II, 4A-II state championships at ASU
Feb. 9: 5A-I state championship at ASU
Feb. 10: 4A-I state championship at ASU