Nestled in to the base of the San Tan Mountains lies Casteel High School, the newest member to an expanding Chandler Unified School District.
The doors opened in 2015-2016 to seventh-ninth graders. In year two the halls now contain a sophomore class and are competing in varsity sports. With no upperclassmen competition, it can be difficult and the learning curve is steep.
Nobody tell that to the Colts.
The varsity football team went 9-2 and lost in first round to a state powerhouse program in Yuma Catholic.
The boys soccer teams inexperienced lineup is improving while competing against teams with seniors and junior classes filling out most of the roster. A third-minute goal from Casen Simonton wasn’t enough as Valley Christian netted a 4-2 victory on Tuesday.
The Trojans ability to respond was too much for the young Colts. Chase Sanchez scored in the 11th, 31st, and 54th minutes to put it out of reach.
Coach Matt Wiehl felt he likes where his Trojans sit.
"We talked about starting 2017 off on the right note. Chase has provided some senior leadership as we prepare for (region) play that's going to benefit us," stated Wiehl.
The Trojans have a loaded senior class including 11 of the 16 on the roster. Wiehl has his team believing in Final Four or bust.
Despite having the opposite situation coach Ron Tanner's Colts (3-3) put up a fight. A 66th minute strike from Ryan Cook pulled it within 3-2. Less than a minute later, their confidence took a hit as the Trojans’ Jay Stutzman replied.
In the girls varsity soccer game it was a different story. Freshman Samantha Anger and Ariana Gonzalez each scored twice and the host Colts defeated Valley Christian 4-0.
Anger has 17 goals in her first six matches. The story so far this season, as emphasized by head coach Jason Hammonds, has been defense however.
"Our defense has played well. Samantha is in that position because of our defending. We've allowed one goal in six games. It's remarkable. We've had two girls in there to get some experience," commented Hammonds.
The Colts are learning on the fly. Tuesdays win was their most impressive as far as competition goes. The Trojans (8-4-1) had been scoring at a four goals per game rate. They didn't record many chances Tuesday.
Anger’s management of the ball and ability to burst by the defense was big. Hammonds couldn’t praise her enough.
"She combined with Ariana are going to be great for us; they'll improve, too," added the ecstatic Coach.
But that's not where the surprise success ends.
Inside the recently dedicated Frank Fletcher Gymnasium the Casteel boys basketball program met Division IV state champion Yuma Catholic.
Despite a frantic second half, in which the Colts outscored the Shamrocks 30-20, the upset bid fell short 49-47.
The Shamrocks used Jaylen Barnes inside and some clutch free-throws to escape late.
Casteel coach Brett Huston is keen to the youth concept that the entire athletic department has embraced on the journey.
"These young men, and they're just that, are fun to develop. There’s going to be these growing pains. They're 14-15-16 year olds. But we are also winning some and having fun in the process," stated Huston
The Colts (12-6) setback was being outscored 14-6 in the second quarter to place just enough of a halftime deficit to overcome. Chris York, who finished with 18 points, kept Casteel in it as his 3-pointers in the third quarter inched them back in it ever-so-slowly.
The players know what they are up against most nights, but the experience gained know should pay huge dividends in the future whether that is in February or 2018.
“Without upperclassmen leadership can sometimes be lacking, but we have an awesome group of players that all step up and we make each other the best we can be,” sophomore point guard Cooper Christensen said. “Playing so young without juniors and seniors wouldn't be possible without Coach Huston. He helps us see the good in being so young. No excuses just compete every night as if we were juniors and seniors.”
Huston said the key is balancing the youth, and expectations to be competitive from the start is part of growing together.
"The kids are learning. We feel we can win at the same time. Yuma Catholic is a fabulous program. A competitive contest bodes well for our future," added Huston with a grin.
On a campus that still exhibits brick and construction fences it is pretty clear a solid foundation is already in place.