Every once in awhile, a big-school boys soccer team like Chandler will sneak up on the rest of the state and win it all.
But Division I championships in Arizona usually run through one of two schools: Chandler Hamilton or Phoenix Brophy Prep.
Before Chandler beat Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor last year for its first state boys soccer championship, the biggest-division final had either Hamilton or Brophy, or both, in it from 2010 to 2014.
Brophy Prep won titles in 2011, ’13 and ’14 and was runner-up in ’12. Hamilton took home a championship in 2012 and was state runner-up in ’14, ’11 and ’10.
It made sense that Hamilton coach Nicholas Markette and Brophy coach Noah Lewkowitz agreed to meet in a “friendly” a week before the season opener.
Both teams appear headed to another state championship collision course, although they realize the competition is getting stronger out there. It’s not just Brophy and Hamilton stashing hardware.
Tempe Corona del Sol, a young team that made a late run last season, got better with the addition of John Rea, who had 14 goals as a sophomore on Brophy’s 2013 state championship team and played at Montverde Academy in Florida as a junior.
Gilbert Highland is expected to be the strongest it has been since its 2009 state championship season.
“You have to be in position to be on the stage and then have things fall your way,” Markette said. “Nobody makes it without a couple of breaks. If we get healthy, we look like a dangerous team.”
Midfielders Sean Holland and Adrian Moran have been nursing injuries, but should be ready to return early in the season.
Hamilton picked up a big addition with junior midfielder Josh Drack deciding to play high school soccer for the first time after spending last year at Real Salt Lake, a developmental academy in Casa Grande.
“It’s a new experience,” Drack said. “We have a lot of talent. I just have to be a leader with my actions.”
Lewkowitz feels the last several years parity in the state has gotten better.
“More teams are good,” he said. “That’s good for soccer.”
Brophy has a mix of seniors with 12 sophomores.
Holland hopes to be holding up a trophy at the end. He calls Hamilton athletic and strong.
“There are a lot of players that I wouldn’t guess would be as technical as they are, so the skill level is pretty high,” Holland said. “I think that will really help us. And there’s good chemistry, too. A lot of the kids are good friends.”
Mesa coach Thomas Hagen has seen the quality of high school soccer grow in the state with every it becoming more wide open.
“Chandler was a seven seed last year, and I don’t think people thought they could win the whole thing,” Hagen said. “Programs like Brophy and Hamilton will just reload like always and it’s tough for teams like Gilbert, Mesa or (Mesa) Desert Ridge to continually compete and beat those teams. Every year, you have a team like Chandler last year who comes out of nowhere to get the job done, but it’s not easy against the likes of the powerhouses.
“If I’m a betting man, you’re looking at Brophy or Hamilton again going deep in the playoffs if not winning the whole thing.”
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Notable: Chandler Hamilton has had a couple of key players injured during preseason, but they should be back early in the season. With the addition of midfielder Josh Drack, playing his first high school season, Hamilton should be well-equipped to put itself in position to reach the state final. Phoenix Brophy Prep has a strong sophomore class with 12 possibly seeing action this season. Senior forward John Rea, who scored 14 goals as a sophomore on Brophy’s state championship team two years ago, makes Tempe Corona del Sol a contender, after he spent last year at Montverde Academy in Florida. Desert Ridge returns enough quality players to believe it can be the first team in school history to make the boys state soccer playoffs. Phoenix Alhambra lost key players that got the top seed in the Division I playoffs last year, but should only reload after moving down to Division II. Yuma Catholic is the favorite in Division III after returning Small School Player of the Year Jorge Perez, who has 77 career goals.
2014-15 state champions: Chandler (Division I), Queen Creek (Division II), Yuma Catholic (Division III).
Teams to watch: Hamilton, Brophy, Corona del Sol, Highland, Sandra Day O’Connor, Queen Creek, Alhambra, Yuma Catholic, Scottsdale Coronado, Phoenix Cortez, Paradise Valley, Glendale Ironwood, Tucson Salpointe, Tucson, Phoenix Trevor Browne, Flagstaff, Glendale Copper Canyon, San Luis, Tempe, Notre Dame Prep, Catalina Foothills.
Players to watch: John Rea, Corona del Sol, F, Sr.; Josh Drack, Hamilton, MF, Jr.; Jorge Perez, Yuma Catholic, F, Sr.; James Holmes, Ironwood, F/MF, Sr.; Jonathan Peralta, Tempe, MF, Jr.
Mark on the calendar: Moon Valley Invitational, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, at Pioneer Park, in Peoria; Brandon Bean Tournament, Nov. 30-Dec. 4, various sites in Southern Arizona; Coyote Classic, Dec. 4-9, at Gilbert Campo Verde; Arizona Soccer Showcase, Dec. 28-30, at Reach 11 Sports Complex.
State tournament dates: Division I, Feb. 3-13, championship at Gilbert Campo Verde; Division II, Feb. 3-13, championship at Campo Verde; Division III, Feb. 3-12, championship at Gilbert Williams Field; Division IV, Feb. 3-12, championship at Williams Field.
Reach Obert at email@example.com or 602-460-1710. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.
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