As the Valley cools off, winter sports are now heading into the start of their campaigns. At Skyline High School, the men's soccer team is building chemistry while they search for their identity.
Unlike in previous years, this Coyotes team is young. The squad only has eight returning players, with the rest joining the varsity team for the first time. The majority of these new players are freshman and sophomores.
In order to create a team, head coach Fernado Pacheco has worked to get the two groups to work together. Throughout the offseason the team has had practice and weight training sessions after school. These training sessions have laid the groundwork for the team to build its chemistry off of.
“A lot of the returning players have been able to kinda get to know the underclassmen, get to really understand the way that they play. So, I feel like we are kinda a step ahead then where we would have been in other years,” Pacheco said.
At practice, the early brotherhood forming was in full effect. The players went from working hard in a possession-based drill, to loosening up with a final shooting drill to round out the day. What went from the shouts of “ball” and “man on,” came the joking shouting and teasing of players wanting to have another shot on goal.
Early in the season the team's bond on the field is being tempered and worked. To strengthen the bond between the players even more, Pacheco plans on having team outing events like bowling and team dinners to bring the players closer in a brotherhood.
“The more we hang out together, the more chemistry we will get, and the better used to each other we will get,” junior Shakib Martinez said.
The benefits of the team outing events reach far beyond just the chemistry of the team. The brotherhood that is being built allows for the team to support each other in ways that had previously been blocked. Players can push each other to their limits in ways that elevate the playing of the team as a whole. It allows the team to work as a machine.
The chemistry of a team is just the start of what brings success to a program. The Coyotes are working this brotherhood into finding a team identity on the field. With scrimmages and games looming near, Pacheco and his squad are working on finding a play style that suits the team best.
“The identity we are going for is swinging the field,” sophomore Alejandro Gonzales said. “I think that will be a successful identity for us, because we are a very technical team.”
The chemistry the team has together, plus the work they are doing on the practice field equals a team hungry for wins. In Pacheco’s last seven years at Skyline, five as the JV coach and two as the varsity coach, the Coyotes have not once made the playoffs. This long drought has both the coach and the team pushing for a playoff appearance that hasn't been secured since the Coyotes first year in 2006-2007 season.
With the Coyotes heading into their third season under coach Pacheco, the team chemistry and identity have been focused on in order to create a new winning program at Skyline.
“We found a lot of success in the JV program just because we were able to see each other as family. We were able to do the little things in care for one another, as in, work hard for one another. The big goal now with the varsity program is . . . we want to have a winning record,” Pacheco said.
The Coyotes search for a winning season does not start until December. Their first game is Dec. 3, against the Rincon University Rangers at 6 p.m. in Tucson.
Mesa winter sports on the horizon
Skyline’s wrestling program graduated some of its top wrestlers on both the girls’ and boys’ side last year, including Alex Sanchez, who also played football, and Julia Chambers, a three-sport athlete for the Coyotes. That opens the door for others to step up for a senior-heavy led team in 2020. The Coyote basketball program also looks to make headway now two years removed from a semifinal run.
Fresh off a run to the postseason, Mountain View’s boys’ basketball team hopes to continue its success under legendary coach Gary Ernst. The team returns several key players, including center Jackson Bowers. However, with Mountain View’s football program still in the playoffs, the Toros may be without their big man. Mountain View’s wrestling team returns several key contributors, including junior Daniel Miranda who won the 120-pound title last year.
The Red Mountain basketball team clinched a spot in the playoffs last season and hopes to build upon that behind junior guard Braedon Moore, who shined for the Mountain Lions in the summer. Both of Red Mountain’s soccer programs are fresh off playoff berths and return key players to make yet another run at the postseason.
Talbot Cummard returns for a Mesa program that experienced heartbreak in the first round of the playoffs last season, losing to rival Mountain View. A slew of top wrestlers return for the Jackrabbits, including Aaliayah Bonds for the girls and Joseph Jarman for the boys. This season will be the last for coach David DiDomenico, who last year coached his 250th win.
Rachel Early and Jaden Leslie led the Dobson girls’ basketball program to the semifinals last season, capping off one of the best seasons in team history. Now with both graduated, the Mustangs will lean upon sophomore Ahdiayh Chee for scoring. She was third on the team last season as a freshman behind Early and Leslie.
Westwood’s girls’ basketball program fell in the quarterfinals to Dobson, ending yet another successful season for the Warriors. Nyese Jones, Nikkianna Kinsel and Kristine Scabby, three of the four leading scorers for the team last season, all return for a year that should be filled with more success for Westwood.
Desert Ridge’s girls’ soccer program has several key veteran leaders this season that should make for a successful year for the Jaguars. Amanda Bix returns as a senior and she is joined by Eastern Washington commit Jada Cross and several other seniors. A senior-heavy squad in 2020-21, the Desert Ridge boys’ basketball team will rebuild with a slew of junior talent after making the postseason a year ago.
The Eastmark girls’ soccer program broke through to the playoffs last season, winning the play-in game before falling in the first round of the 3A Conference tournament. The team’s leading scorers – McKenzie Jost, Paisely Leitzell and Mireya Sauceda – were all freshman last season. The Firebirds were without a senior on the team last season and will be one of the favorites heading into 2021-22.