Another year is in the books.
As many start planning out their resolutions and outlook for the new year, the staff here at Varsity Xtra have decided to put together a lit of the top stories from the year that was.
From triumph to betrayal and anger, this past year was one to remember for sports in the East Valley.
Here’s a look at some of the top headlines from 2019. Click the headline to read each story.
Marcus and Isaac MacDonald captured the hearts of the Gilbert High School community for their constant support of all Tiger sports programs. The twins, who are both autistic, spent each winter season as managers for the Gilbert basketball program. Every night, the two would sit at the end of the bench cheering on the Tigers. But on Feb. 1, senior night, the two dressed out for the first time as Gilbert took on Higley. But the special night didn't end there for the MacDonald twins. Both Isaac and Marcus checked into the game late in the fourth quarter. Both scored points. It was the perfect ending to senior night for a Gilbert Tigers team that went on to capture the 5A championship.
The entire Mountain Pointe community was blindsided in September when it was revealed girls head basketball coach Justin Hager had been sharing game strategy for the Pride football and boys basketball programs with opponents for three years. Hager was terminated in October by the Tempe Union High School governing board after an investigation into an anonymous email address was linked to Hager, who was also an assistant coach for the varsity football program. Hager had previously attempted to resign from his position, but it was denied by the board to pursue full termination.
History was made in early December as Chandler claimed the first-ever Open Division state championship with a win over six-time defending 4A champion Saguaro. The title was also the fourth straight for the Wolves, who won the last three 6A championships heading into the history-making contest with Saguaro. Chandler jumped out to an early 21-0 lead in the first quarter before the Sabercats clawed their way back into it to make it interesting down the stretch. But Chandler ultimately prevailed 42-35.
The high school football community, specifically at Mountain Pointe and McClintock, were struck with tragedy in December as legendary coach Karl Kiefer passed away at 83 years old. Kiefer led the Chargers to three state titles during his tenure as coach. His passing came on the 30th anniversary of McClintock's 1989 championship, the last title Kiefer won with the Chargers before leaving to start the Mountain Pointe program. A celebration of Kiefer's life is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 11 at Mountain Pointe at 2 p.m.
Yes, you read that headline right. Horizon and Nogales met in the 5A baseball championship last May at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The game was scheduled to take place ahead of the 6A title game, which helped fill the stands as both Hamilton and Corona del Sol players and fans waited for the 5A game to end. However, what they thought would be a short wait turned into several hours as inning after inning Horizon and Nogales remained tied. It wasn't until the 16th inning, nearly 6 hours into the game, Horizon was able to break the lead thanks to an RBI-single by Nick Gore followed by two more runs. The Huskies went on to beat Nogales 6-4 in the longest championship baseball game in Arizona history.
After finishing the 2018 season with just three wins, Hamilton players took it upon themselves to prove they still had what it takes to compete with the best in the state. They did that, and more, as the Huskies nearly knocked off Chandler in the regular-season finale before advancing to the Open Division semifinals, where they led most of the way before Saguaro rallied back to win. Hamilton finished as one of the top four teams in the state. And while the Huskies fell short of their ultimate goal, they proved Hamilton football is back.
Basha High's volleyball team found itself in a two-game hole against top-ranked Perry in the 6A state title game in November at Arizona State University. However, they never folded. Instead, the Bears went on to force a decisive fifth set. That's when senior Jaelyn Hodge took over. She finished with 33 kills in the match to help lift Basha to a 6A state-championship win.
East Valley native Henry Ward had spent his whole life running, but not in the way most would see. He constantly ran from solving his alcohol problems. At one point, it nearly cost him his marriage. Rock Bottom. He sought help for his addiction, and eventually found that running was his cure. He began running marathons some time later and eventually pushed himself even more. In February, Ward ran the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon four times, or a "quad" in the running community. It took him just over 24 hours and resulted in days of recovery and pain. But seeing where he came from, it was well worth it.
Mesquite defeating Desert Edge in the 4A championship game was one of the more surprising upsets of the 2019 season. The Wildcats had never been to a championship game in program history, and last year finished 5-5 under former coach Chad DeGrenier. Scott Hare, who had served the last three years as athletic director, stepped down to return to the sidelines. He recruited his brother and father to help coach, and in just one season, the trip led the Wildcats to their best season ever.
Kevin Fairchild was already widely regarded as one of the top track and field athletes in Arizona when he entered the state meet for javelin last May. He had just won gold back in 2018, setting records along the way. This year, however, he was challenged by Mountain Pointe junior Alex Ramirez, who broke the record for longest throw earlier in the season. Fairchild, however, made a statement right away and ended the competition with gold around his neck once again after throwing 199-feet.
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