Category Archives: high school sports

The elite meet this week at the Basketball Challenge

Several of the elite high school basketball teams in Arizona will be featured this week at the Basketball Challenge at Mountain View High School, 2700 E. Brown Road in Mesa. The five day tournament, hosted by the Mesa Public Schools and the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, features 16 teams, including four from out of state.  The participating Arizona schools include three defending state champions, Tucson Amphitheater, host Mesa Mountain View and Westwind Prep from Phoenix.  Other local schools include Phoenix Arcadia, Scottsdale Chaparral, Tempe Corona del Sol,  Phoenix Desert Vista, Mesa Dobson, Scottsdale Horizon, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Phoenix Pinnacle and Mesa Red Mountain.

The tournament will feature eight games each day from Tuesday, December 27 through Friday, December 30.  The first game each day will be at 9 a.m. and the last game will start at 8:30 p.m.  Two games are scheduled for Saturday, December 31.  A full schedule for the tournament can be found here.

Two of Thursday’s games, the 7 p.m. game between South Sioux City, Nebraska and Corona del Sol and the 8:30 p.m. game between Mountain View and Desert Vista, will be televised on Cox Cable Channel 7.

Tickets for the tournament are $10 for each day and $30 for the entire tournament.


Sports around the Valley: weekend update

Mercury opening weekend

The Phoenix Mercury look to start the first home stand of the 2011 season off right against the visiting San Antonio Silver Stars in the home opener tonight at US Airways Center. The first 6,000 fans will receive a free T-shirt commemorating the WNBA’s 15th season of existence. Then, on Sunday, the Mercury will host the Indiana Fever at 3pm.

The Mercury are two-time national champions, winning titles in 2007 and 2009. Forward Penny Taylor has already made a splash, averaging 15.5 points per game through two games. A native Australian, Taylor was a member of the national squad who took gold at the 2006 Sydney Olympics.

Star point guard Diana Taurasi was held to just nine points by Seattle in a 71-78 loss on June 4, but returned to her characteristic self June 10 in a 84-98 loss to to the Los Angeles on June 10, scoring a game high 31 points.

“I’m excited about it,” head coach Corey Gaines said in a phone interview about returning to familiar territory. As a team, Gaines feels, “We’re jelling.” Tipoff tonight is at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased at the arena or

Contact/Tackle Football Camps at Phoenix Christian High School

This weekend, Phoenix Christian High School will host a football camp that will teach the basic technique of football tackling to Valley athletes from grades 3-9.

The offseason is the best time to improve, and Phoenix Christian High head coach Brandon Harris and Phoenix Christian Junior High head coach Coach Mo Streety will instruct on blocking, tackling and other necessary skills on the gridiron. This weekend’s camp is the first of three that Phoenix Christian High will host this summer.  Coach Harris is entering his first year as head coach; Coach Mo has brought success to NFL players and Valley high school athletes alike.

Participants should wear comfortable athletic shorts and a T-shirt, and bring both running shoes and cleats. The cost for the two-day camp (6pm July 18-19) is $25 per athlete. Sessions will also run on the 20th and the 27th-29th as well as July 11th-13th & 25th-27th, all at 7pm. Camps will also be held during the first two weeks of August, times TBA. For details, contact Brandon Harris at 602-265-4707 or by email at Phoenix Christian High School is located at 1751 W. Indian School Road in Phoenix. Download the release waiver here.

Diamondbacks host Sox for three-game series

The Chicago White Sox are coming to town this weekend for a three-game series. The Diamondbacks will look to make up lost ground after losing a three-game stand against San Francisco, and every game will count as the two teams are battling for first place in the NL West.

First pitch @ 6:40pm
Projected starters:
ARZ: Daniel Hudson (7-5, 3.82 ERA), RHP
SFO: Edwin Jackson (4-5, 4.39 ERA), RHP

First pitch @ 5:15pm
Projected starters:
ARZ: Zach Duke (1-1, 4.56 ERA), LHP
SFO: John Danks (2-8), 4.54 ERA), LHP

First pitch @ 1:10pm
Projected starters:
ARZ: Josh Collmenter (4-2, 1.86 ERA), RHP
SFO: Philip Humber (6-3, 2.95 ERA), RHP

Robert T. Balint

An NFL-style combine for student athletes

Photo courtesy of Future Pro Combines.

Future Pro Five Star Combines, designed to connect high school football players with college coaches, will be hosting a MEGAFEST Expo Five Star Combine tomorrow and Sunday (May 21-22) at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

The event is sponsored by Foothills Sports Medicine and Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST®).

Current and former NFL players, high school coaches and speed, strength and agility trainers will be training and testing future pro student athletes in a two day, NFL-style combine and camp.

Future Pro also is hosting a one-day Youth Football Clinic for boys and girls in grades 3-8 and a two-day Cheer Camp for boys and girls in grades K-12. The football clinic will include instruction about the fundamentals of competitive football and an introduction to combine training by professional athletes; the cheer camp will be instructed by professional cheerleaders.

Foothills Sports Medicine and FAST will provide certified athletic trainers and physical therapists for the two-day combine to assess and treat any injuries. Certified strength and conditioning specialists will guide athletes to achieve the results they need.

Student athletes in grades 8-12 are invited to compete with the best-rated high school athletes in the two day NFL-style combine. FAST ® will be hosting an “I AM FAST” station, testing the top athletes in speed, agility and strength.

“We educate our athletes on how to reach their maximum performance by targeting improvements in balance, power and quickness, strength and stamina, and neuromuscular coordination,” says Ahwatukee FAST Director Jeff Bloom, ATC/L, CSCS.

Log on to to register.

Chaparral girls win state lacrosse title

The state champion Chaparral Firebirds.

The Chaparral Firebirds won their second straight state lacrosse championship Friday night, prevailing 14-13 in overtime over the previously top-ranked Horizon Huskies. For the girls who played and the overflow crowd at the Reach 11 sports complex who watched, it was a game they will vividly remember the rest of their lives.

While one would expect a great game between the state’s highest scoring teams that featured six of the top seven goal scorers in Arizona, what  transpired exceeded those expectations. It was simply a game where every ground ball, every pass and indeed every square foot of the field was contested by both teams. After Horizon opened the scoring in the first minute, the score was tied eight times over the course of the game.

The most dominant player on the field during the first half was Horizon midfielder Madison Kinzley, who won nine of the first 10 draws of the game.  Horizon also featured a stifling defense and explosive transition game. With the score 5-5, Chaparral scored two goals in the last 19 seconds of the first half. The second goal came after Chaparral senior Alexa Sarussi won the draw and subsequently picked up a loose ball in front of the Horizon goal and scored with six seconds left in the half. It would be the first of two last-second goals for Sarussi during the evening.

Chaparral captains Alexa Sarussi (l) and Makenna Pohle (r) with head coach Jessica Livingston and the state title trophy.

The second half opened with Chaparral scoring two goals in the first minute and 19 seconds, which meant that going back to the end of the first half, Chaparral had scored four goals in only a minute and 38 seconds. Most teams would have folded after getting such a swift four-goal punch to the mouth, but Horizon was not fazed. Indeed, over the next 11 minutes, Horizon answered with five straight goals to take a 10-9 lead. Chaparral’s Makenna Pohle responded with a goal only 10 seconds later to tie the game at 10 all.

With 12 minutes remaining in the second half and the game now tied, the contest transformed into something beyond a lacrosse game. Skill, speed, strength and strategy would no longer be enough for either team to win. The game had simply become a contest of the collective wills of each team, with neither team backing down an inch.

Chaparral scored the next two goals to take a 12-10 lead with 2:26 left. Again, a lesser team may have folded at that point, but Horizon kept coming and with 40 seconds left tied the game at 12-12.

At this point, many of the 400 or so fans were on their feet, pressed against the sidelines, excitedly shouting support for their teams and waiting to run onto the field the moment the game ended. It was everything a state championship game should be. As Horizon won possession of the ball for the game’s final seconds and looked for the winning goal, the crowd was transfixed.

Chaparral Goalie Katherine Marhnes, "K4," after the game.

With seven seconds left,  Horizon’s Maddie Chapman, the state’s leading goal scorer, suddenly broke free with the ball in front of Chaparral’s goal and had a point blank shot from no more than 10 feet away. The only person standing in Chapman’s way was Chaparral’s 4′ 11″ senior goalie, Katherine Marhnes. Known as “K4” to her teammates, because she was one of four Katherines on the team last year, Marhnes had never played lacrosse until last year, when the Chaparral JV team did not have a goalie and she decided to give it a try.

Now in a split second, with the state title on the line and the state’s most menacing scorer all alone in front of her, Marhnes stopped what appeared to be a certain goal and put the game into overtime.

In the overtime, which consists of two three-minute periods, followed by sudden death if necessary, Horizon scored first and Chaparral sophomore Scarlett Sulliman answered with a goal 13 seconds later to tie the score. Then, with only 16.6 seconds left in the second overtime period, Chaparral co-captain Alexa Sarussi scored the game winner on a penalty shot.

It would be cruel and unfair to say that Horizon lost the game. An extraordinarily talented and disciplined team, Horizon gave everything they had to give and were simply behind when time ran out. For both teams, the scoreboard simply did not reflect the character, poise and determination they displayed throughout the game. — Dan Barr

The sign and smiles say it all.

Coming together as a team

In the minutes before the start of Tuesday night’s state high school semifinal girls lacrosse game, the Chaparral Firebirds circled around their coach to hear some final words of strategy and encouragement. After head coach Jessica Livingston said a few words, the Firebirds held their sticks above their heads as team captains Makenna Pohle and Alexa Sarussi led them in a traditional pregame cheer, “Red Hot,” by yelling out the following question:

Chaparral Captains Makenna Pohle (l) and Alexa Sarussi (r) lead their team in the cheer "Red Hot."

“Our team is what?”

The rest of the team responds – “RED HOT!”

Our team is what? RED HOT!

Then all the players shout in unison, without seeming to inhale: “Our team is R-E-D RED H-O-T HOT. Once we start, we can’t be stopped! All right!”

After a split-second pause, Pohle and Sarussi then yell to their red-and-black-uniformed teammates, “When I say Red, you say Black!

“Red!” “Black!”

“Red!” “Black!”

“When I say Fire, you say Birds!”

“Fire!” “Birds!”

“Fire!” “Birds!”

The team then concludes in unison, “Goooooo Firebirds!” before breaking the circle and trotting onto the field to start the game.

“‘Red Hot’ is our ultimate pump-up cheer,” says Livingston. “We use this cheer before we go out on the field.  It brings us together as a team, unites us as one, and gets us focused and pumped before we take the field. Our captains lead the cheer with pride, and in essence their leading the cheer symbolizes their contribution of leading our team all year.  We’ve been doing this cheer for quite some time and the longevity of the cheer shows its importance to the team because it’s not just a cheer, it’s a Chaparral tradition.”

The Xavier College Prep Gators have their own pregame cheer, charmingly titled, “Blood and Pain.” Like the Chaparral cheer, the Xavier cheer starts with two players posing a question to the rest of the team, which is huddled around them.

“Who’s gonna bring that blood and pain?”


“I said…Who’s gonna bring that blood and pain?

GATORS!  Ahhhh, OOOH!”

Xavier's Arden Anderson seeks to score against Horizon in an April 30 game.


So what do these cheers accomplish?

“Xavier’s pregame cheer, ‘Blood and Pain’ serves several purposes,” says coach Caitlin Bebout. “First and foremost, it unites the girls. They all come together in a close huddle with their arms wrapped behind their teammates’ backs. This signifies how they will work together as a team from the very start of the game. Next, the cheer gets them pumped up for the game. Taken partially from the Phoenix Suns’ pregame warm-up, their huddle starts to sway back and forth as they build up their energy. I’m sure on some level, it’s also used to intimidate their competition, but the ultimate goal of this pregame cheer is to unite the players and get them excited for the game.”

Pregame cheers are not just for girls.  Perhaps the world’s most famous pregame cheer is done by New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks.  Since 1888, the All Blacks have performed a traditional Maori ceremonial dance called the “Haka” before every game. Until six years ago, the All Blacks did the Ka Mate, which was composed by a Maori chief in the early 1800s.

In 2005, a new Haka, the Kapa O Pango, was written for the All Blacks.  The composer of the new Haka, Derek Lardelli, has said that its purpose is “about building spiritual, physical and intellectual capacity prior to doing something very important.” Lardelli added, “It’s about building the person’s confidence inwardly, their spiritual side, and then making that spiritual side connect through the soul and coming out through the eyes and the gestures and the hands. So it’s a preparation of your physical side as well as your spiritual side.”

Nor are male pregame cheers confined to New Zealand. Locally, the Mesa High School football team does their own haka before each game.

So how effective was “Red Hot” for the Firebirds in Tuesday’s semifinal game? Pretty effective, it seems.  After leading her teammates in the cheer, Makenna Pohle scored the first of her five goals of the evening less than a minute into the game and helped lead the Firebirds to a 20-13 victory over Pinnacle High School.

After the Firebirds lined up to shake hands with the Pinnacle players, they walked to the center of the field, laid down their sticks, put their arms around each other and formed a circle, swaying back and forth to do their postgame cheer, which starts in a whisper.


A little bit louder now


I still can’t hear you…


What, what?


A little bit louder now


I still can’t hear you…


What, what?”

So with the game over, what is the purpose of a postgame cheer? Coach Livingston explains.

“This brings us together as a team at the end,” Livingston says. “We either win or lose as a team and not as individuals. Coming together as one at the end of the game reminds us of this. No matter how great or how frustrating the game may have been, we have shared the emotion together. It’s really not even about winning or losing, instead it’s about being a family. We leave it all on the field and since we are in a circle for this cheer, we can look into each other’s eyes and it brings us back to what’s most important — each other.”

Makenna Pohle, Alexa Sarussi and the other Chaparral seniors will do “Red Hot” one last time this Friday night, when they face the Horizon Huskies for the state title at 8 p.m. on Field 16 at the Reach 11 Sports Complex, 2425 East Deer Valley Rd., in Phoenix.  It will be a rematch of last year’s state title game, which Chaparral won 21-4.  This year, however, Horizon, which easily prevailed over Corona del Sol 21-8 in Tuesday’s other semifinal game, enters the championship game as the number one seed, while Chaparral is the ranked second in the state.

While Friday night’s championship game promises to be highly competitive, with its result in doubt until the end, there little doubt that for the seniors, Friday night’s team cheers will carry a little extra energy and emotion. — Dan Barr

Postscript — On May 13, Chaparral won the state championship in a highly competitive game, defeating Horizon 14-13 in overtime.  To read more about that game, click here.

Track meet tension — and joy

Saguaro's Katie Drake (center) takes the baton from teammate Katie Alhadeff for the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay at Friday's Scottsdale City track meet. The team from Chaparral (left) is about to make the exchange while a runner from Desert Mountain (right) awaits her teammate.

Watching a high school track meet in the early evening this time of year is a relaxing and stress-free activity — unless your child is competing in the meet.  On Friday night, I went over to Chaparral High School to watch the Scottsdale City Track Meet, which is held annually for the five Scottsdale Unified School District Schools — Arcadia, Chaparral, Coronado, Desert Mountain and Saguaro.

In particular, I wanted to see Saguaro’s Katie Drake run the 100-, 200- and 400- meter races and the 4×100 relay. Katie is the daughter of Raising Arizona Kids Senior Account Executive Susie Drake and her husband, Scott.

Katie, now a junior, has been running since she was 7 years old.  “I started running because my mom thought I would like it,” Katie said Friday, “and then I grew to love it.”

Katie’s parents made their best effort to remain calm during the meet, but whenever Katie was on the track that facade fell away. There were emotional ups and downs as Katie finished second in the 100 meters, ran the winning anchor leg in the 4×100 relay (after overcoming a difficult baton exchange) and then ran out of gas in the 400 meters, where she had the lead in the last 100 meters but finished fourth.

Katie had plenty of gas left for her last race, however, as she finished first with a time of 27:39. As Katie crossed the finished line, Susie thrust her arms in the air with joy and quickly walked down the stands to congratulate her daughter.

After the last race, I asked Katie what it was like to run four races in a period of about two hours, including running the 400 meters within 10 minutes of finishing the 4×100 relay. “It was horrible!” Katie said while beaming and holding her first place medal. As you can see from the photo I took a moment later, it couldn’t have been too bad.

Katie Drake flanked by her parents, Susie and Scott, after winning the 200 meters .

As I started to leave the meet, I came upon Mary K. Reinhart, who was there to watch her daughter Emily, a Chaparral sophomore, compete in the last event of the evening: the girls’ pole vault. A year ago, Mary K. wrote in this blog about watching Emily try a new sport as a freshman.

“Emily is still working on getting over the bar in competition,” Mary K. wrote at that time. As we waited for the pole vault to begin, Mary K. wondered aloud whether here attendance this evening was “bad luck” for Emily. “Her event is usually the first one of the meet, so I never get to see it because of work,” said Mary K., who is one of the top political reporters in the state at The Arizona Republic.

As everyone in the crowd, and indeed many of the other competitors of the five schools, watched the final event of the evening, Emily proved that her mom’s attendance did not spell doom for her. A lot had happened in the past year. Emily may have been “still working on getting over the bar in competition” a year ago, but on this evening she won the Scottsdale City meet.

“Wow,” said her mom quietly. “Wow.” — Dan Barr

North Valley athlete defies stereotypes

Neal Walters (right) with Pinnacle High School Head Coach Dana Zupke. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Pinnacle High School senior Neal Walters says he learned a lot of “life lessons” from his football coach, Dana Zupke. “He taught me about sitting close to the front of class, about paying attention and not being a stereotypical football player,” Walters says.

Stereotypical Walters is not.

Walters is about to graduate with a 4.33 GPA. He is a member of the National Honor Society and an official Pinnacle High School Mentor. He is also an active volunteer with the Salvation Army, Big Buddies, Feeding the Homeless, St. Mary’s Food Bank and Kitchen on the Street.

“I try to be a part of the community in any way I can,” Walters says.

As for football, Walters played tight end, defensive end and long snapper for the Pinnacle Pioneers.  In addition to being a team captain,  Walters was a first team selection in the All Desert Valley Region as both tight end and defensive end. He was also chosen as a Cox Communications Scholar Athlete of the Week and a first team National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete.

“Neal Walters exemplifies what a student athlete should be,” says Zupke. “He has set high standards for himself not only on the field, but also in the classroom. He is a leader by example as well as vocally.”

Walters credits Zupke with another important lesson that applies beyond the football field. “He told us that you get from football what you put into it, so I decided to put in a lot,” says Walters, who will continue his football career this fall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Another Pinnacle teacher who had a huge influence on Walters was chemistry teacher Kelly Tommasino. “I first met Mrs. Tommasino when she was my junior year honors chemistry teacher. She had so much influence on me that I decided not to take a half-day my senior year, but to take AP chemistry as an elective instead,” Walter says. “What makes Mrs. Tommasino so special is her willingness to be available and help me with whatever questions I had. This past semester, I had a free first hour of school, but I used it instead to get daily tutoring from Mrs. Tommasino during her only prep period of the day. This caring attitude meant a lot to me and I now see the difference in people’s lives that results from taking a little extra time to help someone.”

Walters was selected recently as the Phoenix City Council winner for 2011 Outstanding Young Man/Woman program for District 2. As a district winner, he is one of eight male finalists who were chosen from 140 applicants for the 2011 Outstanding Young Man of the Year Award, which will be chosen Monday night, April 25 at Hilton Garden Inn, 4000 N. Central Ave. Eight girls are finalists as well for the Outstanding Young Woman of the Year Award.

Each of the eight district winners will receive a $250 scholarship. The two overall winners selected Monday night will each receive an additional $2,000 scholarship.

Not surprisingly, Walters has a few plans beyond college and football.  Here’s what he wrote as the last paragraph of his essay applying for the Outstanding Young Man of the Year Award:

“In 10 years, I see myself in Washington D.C. I plan on double majoring in politics and international relations and then going on to law school. I have always had a strong interest in government and feel that I can contribute to the betterment of the country. It’s my dream to be a U.S. Senator and having a strong background in government is essential to the base of your political mindset. I think someone diverse, intelligent and down-to-earth such as myself could do wonders in the Capitol.”

The two Arizona seats in the U.S. Senate will come up for election in 2040 and 2042. I think I know who one of the candidates may be. — Dan Barr