First-year Mesquite head basketball coach Michael Edgmon sat in the stands at Willow Canyon High School with the rest of the basketball team on Dec. 6.
The team was already two weeks into their regular season, but they made the 56-mile journey to not only support the Mesquite football program in the 4A Conference championship but also some of their teammates.
They looked on as senior defensive back and point guard Jordan Wollangk, intercepted the pass from Desert Edge quarterback Adryan Lara to clinch Mesquite’s first-ever championship in football.
“As soon as I got that interception the other guys that play basketball told me, ‘bro, we have practice at 9 in the morning,’” Wollangk said. “I love basketball. I just couldn’t wait to get on the court and bring the energy we had from football to basketball.”
Edgmon offered to give Wollangk, Michael Sterling, Christion Ashe and Maverick Harrington the weekend off to enjoy their win. But all four seniors declined.
Less than 12 hours after hoisting the trophy on the football field, all they were in the gym with the rest of the basketball team. Edgmon said he immediately noticed a change in his team’s demeanor.
“It gave us a competitive edge,” Edgmon said. “Practices were so intense. Sometimes I had to stop it because they were being so competitive. I would put the scores up and we would go at it.”
Edgmon was hired ahead of the 2019-20 season after spending four years as an assistant at the varsity level after being brought over from Mesquite Junior High, where he was the head coach. He became familiar with many of Mesquite’s players during that time, as he either coached with or against them.
A pharmacist at a local Walgreens, Edgmon love for the Mesquite basketball program stems back to his own playing career for the Wildcats. He was part of the school’s first graduating class in 2001 and helped clinch the program’s first region title the same year.
In his first season as head coach, he’s already replicated some of the success he had when he was a player. A win over Buckeye on Feb. 7 helped the Wildcats clinch the 4A Desert Region.
“Every time I walk in this gym I look up at the banner,” Edgmon said. “It’s something special I was able to do and it’s something I wanted for these guys and we did finally get over that hump and win the region.”
Mesquite’s journey to a region championship had several bumps in the road early on.
The Wildcats, missing four of its players due to the football team’s run in the playoffs, relied on several junior varsity and freshman players to fill roster spots in their absence. While many had little to no varsity experience, they helped keep Mesquite afloat until its full team returned for its Dec. 10 game against Estrella Foothills.
But even at full strength, the Wildcats still struggled to find a consistent rhythm. They were 6-6 through the first 12 games of the season, losing to playoff-bound teams Deer Valley, their first meeting with Buckeye, Moon Valley, St. Mary’s and 5A foe Williams Field.
After that loss to the Black Hawks on Dec. 26, something clicked. Mesquite went 13-1 to close out the regular season. As a result, the Wildcats clinched an automatic berth in the 4A Conference tournament as the No. 6 seed.
“I had a conversation with these guys and told them where we end up ranked doesn’t matter,” Edgmon said. “I think we can really take on any team.”
Along with Wollangk’s 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, Mesquite has benefitted from the success of sophomore guard Nathan Calmese and senior guard Ricky Hernandez.
Calmese has quickly risen into the spotlight with his natural scoring ability. Whether it be his ability to drive to the basket or pull up from anywhere on the floor, he’s been key to the Wildcats’ success this season as he averages a team-high 22.8 points per game.
“I just go into the game and play basketball,” Calmese said. “I don’t really have a specific mindset, I just play the game. I let my shots come to me and do whatever I can to help my team.”
Hernandez, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career. The 6-foot senior is the team’s second leading scorer with 17.7 points per game. He’s scored 20 or more points in nine games this season, including a season-high 33 in a win over Horizon in November.
Ahead of his final regular-season home game against Arcadia Tuesday, Hernandez said he had goosebumps just thinking about the moment he is honored along with the eight other seniors on the basketball team.
It was one of many special moments for the team this season. But they hope to create even more when postseason play for the Wildcats begins Tuesday night.
“I just want to make the most of it,” Hernandez said. “We need to keep working hard in practice. As long as we play together, we just need to stick to our all-in mentality.”
Gilbert teams in conference playoffs
Highland came on strong at the start of the season, beating last year’s 5A champion Gilbert and 6A contender Skyline. The Hawks finished the season 13-5 in power point games and 7-3 in region play. They were the second-ranked team in the conference heading into the final game of the season but lost to Basha. Regardless, the Hawks finished as the third-ranked team in 6A and will host Pinnacle on Wednesday night.
Perry finished the season strong with two straight wins after going through a six-game losing skid in the final weeks of January and into February. The Pumas play in one of the toughest regions in the state, with the likes of Brophy, Hamilton, Chandler and Basha all making the playoffs. At 9-9, Perry finished as the No. 12 seed in the tournament and beat No. 21 Queen Creek in the play-in tournament on Friday. The Pumas face No. 5 Brophy on Wednesday.
Last year’s 5A champion lost just two power point games to 6A Highland and Millennium, one of the favorites to win the 5A Conference. The Tigers struggled in their last two games of the McClintock Holiday Shootout in December but found consistency when they entered region play. They finished the season on a 10-game winning streak and once again clinched an automatic bid to the 5A tournament as one of the No. 3 seed. Gilbert faces Centennial on Wednesday.
A five-game losing streak to start the season seemed to be the turning point for the Williams Field basketball team. The Black Hawks found rhythm in region play and finished second overall in the standings behind Gilbert. They managed to sneak in to the 5A play-in tournament at No. 22. Williams Field went on the road Friday to play No. 11 Nogales but fell to the Apaches.
At 11-6, Gilbert Christian has already clinched a spot in the 3A tournament. But exactly where the Knights end up still remains to be seen. They finished ranked No. 7 overall in 3A and clinched a bye in the first round of the tournament. The Knights await the winner of No. 23 River Valley and No. 10 Chinle.
Leading Edge Academy
Leading Edge Academy won its first region championship since joining the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Led by a healthy dose of three-point shooters, the Spartans will face No. 20 Gilbert Classical Academy as the No. 13 seed in the 2A playoffs on Wednesday night.
Arete Prep entered the 1A tournament as the No. 12 seed after falling to Fort Thomas in the 1A East section tournament. The Chargers beat fifth ranked Joseph City on Saturday and was reseeded to No. 7. Arete Prep faces second-ranked Rock Point on Thursday.