Goals flowed the way snow does in an avalanche.
Gilbert Highland scored 112 goals on its way to a 22-2 season and the Division I championship last season.
Forward Ashley Hatch blazed through defenses to score 33 goals. Her younger sister Brianna sliced through for 20 goals. Bre McCarter chipped in 18 more. Paige Morris totaled 13 goals. And midfielder Jaden DeGracie, maybe the most dangerous of them all, had a hand — and foot — in 41 of those goals in the form of assists.
All five players (along with five other starters) return this season for Highland. But the high-flying offense isn’t want gave Highland the title last season and what makes the team the favorite to repeat this season. It’s the team’s defense. The team’s balance.
Highland allowed just 15 goals last season. Highland returns four-year starer Caroline Stosz to its defensive back line and talented goalkeepers in starter Ashley March and two capable backups.
“It’s a stable of goalkeepers looking to impress again after a 2011 season with 14 shutouts,” Highland coach Jonathan Berzins.
Highland’s defense allows its attack to place constant pressure on the opposing team.
“Our strengths are our set pieces, transition and ability to break down teams,” Berzins said.
The rest of last season’s Division I tournament final four figures to challenge for the state title again. State runner-up Chandler Hamilton welcomes back seven starters, including dangerous striker Kylie Miniefield. Phoenix Xavier Prep is another well-balanced team that returns eight starters, including the team’s top scorer (forward Michaela Dooley), top distributor (midfielder Nichole Walts) and top defender (Kellie Peay). The top player among Phoenix Pinnacle’s eight returning starters is among the top players in the country for her age — junior forward Jorian Baucom, a U.S. youth national team standout.
Division II defending champion Tucson Catalina Foothills will miss 2012 Big Schools Player of the Year Jenna Glad, a do-everything midfielder who graduated. But it does return 16 players, many of whom saw significant minutes last season.
“We lost a great class of seniors and the younger kids will have to fill those shoes,” said Catalina Foothills coach Charlie Kendrick, the reigning Big Schools Coach of the Year. “The goal of the team will be to win the state championship and if we work hard this year and improve, we hope to be in the mix again.”
Catalina Foothills will be pushed by a Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge team that also graduated several stars but still has enough talent to contend.
In Division III, defending champion Goodyear Estrella Foothills returns 12 players but will be without 2012 Small Schools Player of the Year Kelsie Roberts and goalkeeper Rachel Cardwell. State runner-up Tucson Palo Verde and 51-goals scorer Jasmine Stokes will contend again as will Buckeye Verrado.
Players to watch
Randi Allen, Jr., MF/D, Gilbert Higley
Jessica Barton, Sr., MF, Surprise Willow Canyon
Jorian Baucom, Jr., F, Phoenix Pinnacle
Elena Bauer, Sr., MF, Tucson Rincon
Mackenzie Brown, So., F, Flagstaff Coconino
Kelsey Cartwright, Sr., MF, Tempe Corona del Sol
Katie Clemmons, Sr., D, Scottsdale Chaparral
Shannon Costello, Sr., MF, Gilbert Campo Verde
Jemma Cota, Sr., MF, Gilbert
Chloe Cox, Sr., MF, Tucson Catalina
Anyssa Dagnino, Sr., F, Tucson Sahuaro
Katherine Davidson, Sr., D, Flagstaff
Anne Day, Jr., MF, Gilbert Higley
Jaden DeGracie, Sr., MF, Gilbert Highland
Sam DeMarco, Sr., GK, Gilbert Perry
Courtney Dockery, So., F, Tanque Verde
Michaela Dooley, Sr., F, Phoenix Xavier Prep
Jennifer Douthitt, Sr., F/D, Glendale Cactus
Alyssa Emig, Jr., MF, Buckeye Verrado
Morgan Frank, Sr., MF/F, Yuma Catholic
Angelica Gonzalez, Sr., GK, Tucson Palo Verde
Olivia Gran, Sr., F, Scottsdale Desert Mountain
Nikki Griffith, Sr., MF, Glendale Cactus
Ashley Hatch, Sr., F, Gilbert Highland
Bliss Hickman, Jr., D, Goodyear Estrella Foothills
Taylor Huff, Jr., MF, Goodyear Estrella Foothills
Jessica Ingstrum, Sr., D, Chandler Seton Catholic
Megan Irgens, Jr., F, Bullhead City Mohave
Madison Irwin, Sr., F, Tucson Catalina
Evelyn John, Jr., F/MF, Glendale Copper Canyon
Rachel Jones, Jr., D, Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep
Justene Kesterson, Sr., F/MF, Marana Mountain View
Missy Kettelkamp, Sr., D, Phoenix Pinnacle
Maddie Kmetko, Jr., MF, Phoenix Pinnacle
Taylor Kruse, Jr., MF, Tucson Palo Verde
Amanda Lane, So., D, Phoenix Xavier Prep
Taylor Layton, Sr., F, Avondale Agua Fria
Shannon Lewis, Jr., D, Avondale Westview
Jessica Lynn, Sr., D, Queen Creek
Jazmarie Mader, Sr., F, Chandler Basha
Ashley March, Sr., GK, Gilbert Highland
Madalyn Markham, So., F, Prescott
Jessica Mazza, So., D, Tanque Verde
Taylor McClelland, So., F, Sahuarita
Meg McDowell, Jr., MF, Gilbert Campo Verde
Amber Measley, Jr., MF, Tucson Catalina Foothills
Cassie Miller, Sr., GK, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows
Kylie Miniefield, So., F, Chandler Hamilton
Paige Morris, Sr., D, Gilbert Highland
Danielle Muniz, Sr., MF/D, Scottsdale Chaparral
Kemrie Nash, Sr., GK, Peoria Sunrise Mountain
Jessica Nelson, So., F/D, Tucson Ironwood Ridge
Irma Nino, Sr., MF, Scottsdale Coronado
Breanna Olsen, Sr., MF, Gilbert Campo Verde
Andrea Ortiz, Jr., MF/D, Glendale Sandra Day O’Connor
Adrianna Orozco, So., MF, Buckeye Verrado
Kellie Peay, Jr., D, Phoenix Xavier Prep
Brittany Perez, Sr., MF, Scottsdale Saguaro
Hannah Peterson, Jr., F, Mesa Dobson
Kelsey Reade, Sr., F/D, Chandler Valley Christian
Madison Reisdorf, Sr., F, Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep
Rachel Ressler, Sr., F, Phoenix Desert Vista
Alexis Roberts, Sr., F, Chandler
Maya Salas, Jr., F, Mesa Mountain View
Breanna Sage, Sr., GK, Tempe McClintock
Sydney Schroeder, Sr., MF, Mesa Red Mountain
Holli Schuitema, Jr., MF, Phoenix Northwest Christian
Shannon Shields, Sr., F/MF, Tucson Sabino
Jasmine Simmons, Jr., F, Tucson Sahuaro
Emily Slick, Jr., D, Goodyear Estrella Foothills
Kahri Smith, Jr., GK, Fountain Hills
Kelly Smith, Jr., F, Goodyear Verrado
Madison Smith, Sr., F, Gilbert Williams Field
Lindy Snyder, Sr., MF, Gilbert Highland
Jasmine Stokes, Sr., F, Tucson Palo Verde
Asia Suarez, Sr., MF, Sierra Vista Buena
Kylee Taylor, Jr., MF/F, Glendale Raymond S. Kellis
Liz Valenzuela, Sr., MF, Tucson Salpointe Catholic
Reggie Van Devender, So., F, Chandler Seton Catholic
Nichole Walts, Jr., MF, Phoenix Xavier Prep
Kelly Watson, Sr., MF, Phoenix Desert Vista
Katy Yanconne, Sr., D, Phoenix North Canyon
Chanel Yarbrough, Sr., D, Glendale Raymond S. Kellis
Alexa Yardley, So., F, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows
Yesenia Zavala, Sr., MF/F/D, Glendale Apollo