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Wednesday 08/20/2014
DV has mixed resullts in scrimmage

Before heading to Las Vegas for a good weekend of football, I took the time Wednesday to stop by Desert Vista for the Thunder’s football scrimmage.

As much as I wanted to see how Desert Vista looks about week away from its first game, it was more about seeing how a three-team scrimmage worked.

Basically each team went on offense then rotated to defense and then the third team’s offense came on the field and rotated through.

So Desert Vista’s offense went against Chandler’s defense and the Thunder’s defense took on Desert Ridge followed by Desert Ridge defense squaring off against the Chandler offense.

The Thunder defense got the short end of the deal there as the Jaguars run – at times – a version of the Wing-T with an unbalanced line.

It’s a tough deal when the personnel has a full week to game plan for it let alone a mid-week scrimmage.

The Jaguars, who made the state semis last year, took advantage and scored on their first two possessions including a 45-yard run on their first play from scrimmage.

The Thunder offense, other the other hand, looked pretty solid as they found the end zone multiple times.

“The offense looked good and found a rhythm,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “We have some work to do on defense and we will get it straightened out.”

Of course it is a scrimmage so coverages are bland and the intensity isn’t quite the same but it was good to see some action before the real stuff on Friday night.

Two things were clear:

* Senior T.J. Robert is going to be a big-time playmaker; he made a great catch in the seam for a score and made a lot of defenders miss on the edge with some slick moves.

* Senior Cade van Raaphorst is going to be just fine at right outside linebacker. He forced a rush to his side to the sideline by fighting off a block and pushed the ball carrier to the boundary, and then on the very next play he made a tackle on the other sideline with persistent pursuit.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 9:59 pm. Updated: 10:10 pm. | Tags: Desert Vista Football , Chandler Football , Desert Ridge Football , Tj Roberts , Cade Van Raaphorst

Tuesday 08/19/2014
GCU to announce new wrestling coach this week

Keith Baker was put in a position he never expected at this stage in Grand Canyon’s move into the Division I classification.

GCU’s athletic director is in the process of hiring a new wrestling coach, with the announcement coming this week, after head coach R.C. LaHaye and assistant Larry Willbanks were dismissed for violation of institutional policy on July 10.

LaHaye started the program in 2007 and took the Lopes national contender in Division II before winning the National Collegiate Wrestling Association title last season.

Baker, of course, wouldn’t comment on the dismissal. The reasoning behind it is known within the wrestling community, but until I have it confirmed officially I won’t print it here.

With that said Baker had to do what was needed to correct the situation.

“I did not expect to be in this situation at this time, but we have to respond to the situation and we thought in the best interest of the student athlete we needed to move forward,” Baker said.

And moving forward they are as GCU is expected to announce the new coach in the coming days.

Reports by The Open Mat's Jason Bryant have it being Jon Sioredas, an assistant at Tennessee Chattanooga.

“We started with the resume process and narrowed it down,” he said. “We have a recommendation going forward and hope to make an announcement by the end of the week.”

The wrestling program is arguably the most successful in the GCU athletic department, but it is still three years away before competing at the Division I level so the Lopes are caught in that “NCAA netherworld of not really having a classification.”

Wrestling has a bit of an advantage in that nearly all recruits get red-shirted and spend five years in the program, meaning the next recruiting class (2015-16) can potentially compete at the Division I level for three seasons.

Until then the Lopes will continue to compete in the NCWA and have a similar schedule to last season when they took on programs like Utah Valley and Northern Colorado while mixing in smaller programs like Embry-Riddle and Colorado Mesa.

“In that respect, I think wrestling has a bit of jump on some of our other sports,” Baker said. “I think there is a great opportunity here because the foundation of success is already there. It has been one of our top sports and that should continue.”

The team’s roster hasn’t been updated since the end of last season so it will be interesting to see how it changes once the transition is made to the new coaching staff.

LaHaye did a good of spreading the wealth of his scholarships as he targeted some of the state’s most successful wrestlers while adding accomplished competitors from the bordering states as well.

His last recruiting class might have been his best in securing Trey Ronayne from Chandler Basha, Gabe Gonzalez and William Olivas from Tucson Sunnyside and Yuma Cibola’s Pierre Gaud along with four-time Washington state champion Bobby Reece and California wrestlers Derrick Jones and Uzo Owuama.

In other words, you can bet the house that the new coach is walking into a well-stocked wrestling room. It will be interesting to see how the new coach does well moving forward.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 11:26 am. Updated: 11:54 am. | Tags: Gcu Wrestling , Keith Baker , Rc Lahaye , Larry Willbanks

Thursday 08/14/2014
DV to induct five into Hall of Fame

Desert Vista's third athletic Hall of Fame class was released Thursday by athletic director T.J. Snyder.

The ceremony will take place before the Oct. 24 football game against Corona del Sol.

The members of the 2014 enshrinement class are:

Alexis Welch

Volleyball / Track and Field

Class of 2001

Anna Gott

Volleyball

Class of 2009

Haley Paul

Cross Country / Track and Field

Class of 2004

Allante Battle

Football

Class of 1999

Derek Kennard Jr.

Football

Class of 2000

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Thursday, August 14, 2014 11:03 am. Updated: 3:49 pm. | Tags: Desert Vista Hall Of Fame , Allante Battle , Derek Kennard , Haley Paul , Anna Gott , Alexis Welch

Monday 08/11/2014
MLB strike leaves a lot to ponder 20 years later

Twenty years ago today – Aug. 11, 1994 – baseball came to a stop.

A work stoppage ended play before the season was eventually canceled Sept. 14. The impact might not have been felt here considering Phoenix wasn’t awarded a franchise until 1995.

I was in my home state of Ohio 20 years ago and it believe me when I tell you it was a harsh reality in northeast Ohio.

The Indians were in a pennant race for the first time since 1954 and the city of Cleveland was caught up in it. Games at the brand new Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) were thrilling, they seemed to have a walk-off wins every other game and we were about to experience postseason baseball for the first time.

The strike – the eighth in 23 years - came with the Indians in second place in the AL Central at 66-47. Up to that point (I was 23) I had only seen one winning record in my lifetime so this just unreal. It was the first year of the three divisions per league and the Indians were in second place behind the Chicago White Sox but first in the wild card.

Then it ended.

So much was lost and not just in Cleveland.

Montreal had the best record in baseball at 74-40. If they go on to the playoffs and maybe win it all, does the city still have a franchise after the windfall of postseason cash?

At least the Indians got a bit of a reprieve (but never the world title) by making the World Series in 1995 and 1997, while the Expos never regained form before the franchise eventually migrated to Washington.

The late, great Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 at the time. It would have been a treat to watch the best hitter of my lifetime make a charge at .400.

Matt Williams and Ken Griffey Jr. had 43 and 40 home runs, respectively, in about 110 games meaning they could have made a run at Roger Maris’s 61 long before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went toe-to-toe (or PED-to-PED if you prefer) in 1998.

It was a terrific season and everyone knew it would eventually be remembered more about Donald Fehr than the fearsome hitters that summer.

I felt cheated.

I had a 20-game package despite still being in college. And I went as often as I could when I didn’t have tickets. Here I was getting to see a good baseball team in my hometown for the first time and truly seeing how a winning team could transform a city.

And just like that because the two sides dissolved the season instead of putting their differences aside for the good of the game it was gone.

We’ll never know how the end of the ’94 season would have ended, but in my mind Gwynn hit .403 after going 4-for-5 in the final game and the Indians beat the Expos in six games for the franchise’s first World Series since 1948.

It’s either that or live vicariously through the movie Major League.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Monday, August 11, 2014 3:51 pm. | Tags: Major League Baseball , 1994 Strike , Matt Williams , Tony Gwynn , Cleveland Indians

Sunday 08/10/2014
Little league team from Taiwan coming to Chandler

The Chandler National Little League missed out on its chance to qualify for the Little League World Series but the players will still get a taste of the international play that comes with qualification.

Working with the local Taiwanese Community, the Arizona Governor’s Office and Taiwan Chamber of Commerce, Chandler has organized a goodwill tour and cultural exchange involving the Mayor of Tainan City, Taiwan and Tainan’s championship little league team.

The visit will include exhibition games and baseball skills training involving the Tainan Little League Team (11 & 12 year olds) and Chandler National Little League Majors Team on Tuesday and Thursday at Snedigar Sportsplex, which is located at 4500 S. Basha Road.

Chandler National went 1-3 in the West Region in San Bernardino to miss out on its chance to play in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., after winning the District 13 title and the Arizona state tournament.

The public is encouraged to attend and Baseball Player University (BPU) will provide a clinic prior to the Aug. 12 game led by former major league and college coach, Jeff Forney.

The clinic and games will be filmed and included on a future episode of BPU TV, www.bputv.com

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Sunday, August 10, 2014 2:43 pm. | Tags: Little League World Series , Chandler National Little League

Thursday 08/07/2014
Unsure what to make of Woods' level of play

The greats have always grabbed my attention.

Whether it was watching Nolan Ryan throwing no-hitters in his 40s, Jack Nicklaus crossing the bridge at St. Andrews for the last time or Peyton Manning throwing 55 touchdowns last season, I’ve always cherished getting a chance to see them do their thing in their final days.

Of course it isn’t just the old guys winding down their career. Today it’s Mike Trout with the Angels, Miguel Cabrera with the Tigers in baseball, Rory McIlroy in golf and Drew Brees of the Saints and Adrian Peterson of the Vikings.

So when I was watching the PGA Championship on Thursday and Tiger Woods opened the first round with a couple of bogeys and finished at 3-over par I was trying to figure out what category he falls into these days.

There was a time I wouldn’t miss a Sunday round with Woods was playing. It was such a treat to watch him finish a round. There was no one else like him. Greatness at its best.

It was just a pleasure to watch.

I’m just not sure what I am watching these days.

Is it him working his way back to a certain level of greatness that defines the second half of his career? He will never reach level of play that allowed him to dominate since the late 1990s, but he could still reach No. 1 in the world and win say 10 more events before heading off to the Senior PGA if he puts it together again.

Or is this the Tiger where he is making the cut but never really in contention we are going to see rest of the way?

I have always hoped he’d make it back to a certain level of greatness since his downfall began after his personal life got out of whack. Then my buddy asked whether I thought Woods would surpass Nicklaus’ record for 18 career majors and for the first time I said no without hesitation.

I’ve always held out hope that he would challenge just because I thought it would be compelling to watch.

Now, I don’t think there is a chance. He may put together four rounds and win another major or maybe even two.

I just don’t think he will win the five needed to surpass Nicklaus. I think the rest of his career will be more like when Tom Watson or Freddy Couples put themselves in contention in recent years only to fall short.

So while he there isn’t a symbolic bridge at Valhalla Golf Club for Woods to cross this week it sure feels like he should because it seems as if he will never be great again.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Thursday, August 7, 2014 6:09 pm. Updated: 7:31 pm. | Tags: Tiger Woods , Pga Championship

College landscape changes for the better

The recent growth in college athletics in the Phoenix area has been a blessing.

Arizona Christian University added football to an already in place sports department, Grand Canyon has moved up to Division I in all of its sports and now Benedictine University is popping up in Mesa.

It’s changed the landscape for area high school kids good enough to continue playing sports at the next level. When I first moved here from Ohio, Arizona was the complete opposite of what I was used to when it came to opportunities for playing at the next level.

In Ohio there are six Division I programs and countless NAIA, Division II and III athletic programs but very few junior colleges whereas Arizona had only three big programs in Arizona State, Arizona and Northern Arizona and a lot of junior colleges.

The Arizona situation left a lot of quality high school athletes with nowhere to go in state to continue playing.

Now with ACU and GCU putting more emphasis on athletics and Benedictine emerging, the athletes of the Valley can see their goal of playing at a four-year institution come to fruition.

Benedictine will have golf, cross country, volleyball and tennis to start its first year and the sports will be considered club teams while seeking membership in multiple national organizations and conferences.

Eventually, the sports department is expected to add men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball and baseball for the 2015-16 school year.

Word is starting to get out about the new opportunity as three area kids – Mountain Pointe’s Justin Hyden and Ben Potter along Desert Vista’s Ryan Witte – are signing on Thursday to play golf for Benedictine.

How cool will it be for these guys, all of whom are transferring from Mesa Community College, to help start a new program as juniors and have a chance to set the foundation for the program for years to come?

It’s a unique and special opportunity.

One that wasn’t even imaginable just a few short years ago.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Thursday, August 7, 2014 8:52 am. Updated: 11:52 am. | Tags: Bendictine University , Grand Canyon , Arizona Christian

Thursday 07/31/2014
Roberts maturing into dual threat

T.J. Roberts is blowing up and growing up.

The Desert Vista senior running back has added a bunch of bulk and has been named one of four team captains as the Thunder enter training camp on Monday.

“He is upbeat every day and he sets the tempo,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “He is one of those kids who makes everyone around him better because of the energy he brings.”

Roberts has added 15 pounds and looks terrific. I am being told he hasn’t lost any speed.

The 5-foot-11 and 188-pounder has increased his bench to 315 pounds, can squat 565, box squat 785, deadlift 485 and clean/jerk 315 (up from 235 last year).

Expect him dwarf last year’s stats when he led the team in rushing with 339 yards and rushing touchdowns with four. He also had 12 catches for 120 yards a score.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Thursday, July 31, 2014 12:55 pm. Updated: 11:48 am. | Tags: Desert Vista Football , Tj Roberts

Wednesday 07/30/2014
DV's Clarke ends fast recruitment with commitment

Brandon Clarke isn’t one of those basketball recruits that started getting noticed early in his career after a big showing at a club tournament or on the AAU circuit.

The Desert Vista senior grew into a Division I recruit and most the attention from college scouts didn’t happen until this summer.

And just days before the start of his senior school year begins, Clarke found a destination as he committed to San Jose State this week.

“I really didn't start getting DI looks until this summer, but I ended up getting a lot of looks from colleges,” Clarke said. “And it's awesome knowing that all my hard work has finally paid off.”

The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocked shots and 2.0 steals last season for the Thunder. He shot 59 percent (66 of 112) from the field and 71 percent of his free throws (36 of 51).

Clarke chose San Jose St. over Santa Clara and Northeastern. The Spartans went 7-24, including a 1-17 record in the Mountain West, last season under Dave Wojcik. The only Arizona product currently on the roster is Tempe’s Jordan Baker.

“I chose them because I love the area, the campus, and the coaches there seemed right for me,” Clarke said.

Getting the decision made and done with will allow him to play with an ease of mind this winter.

“I committed now to help relieve pressure and so I can have a more relaxing senior year,” he said.

The Thunder are coming off a 16-12 season and will enter next year with big expectations under new coach Tony Darden as Clarke mixes well with senior Quincy Taylor and sophomore Caleb Simmons.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter at JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 3:07 pm. Updated: 6:04 pm. | Tags: Brandon Clarke , Desert Vista Boys Basketball , San Jose State

Tuesday 07/29/2014
Mountain Pointe cracks preseason top 25 national rankings

Mountain Pointe will begin the year the same way the Pride ended last football season.

Nationally ranked.

The USA Today preseason Top 25 was released on Tuesday and Mountain Pointe came in at No. 21.

It is a great thing for the players; something they will always be able to say about their playing careers for the rest of their story telling lives.

I would love to be able to claim something like that these days. Closest thing I had is I got my butt kicked on the wrestling mat by a future Olympic Trial member.

I digress.

I just feel like national rankings are a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

I guarantee if the Pride had lost in the semifinals or even the finals in 2013, Mountain Pointe, which had never been nationally ranked until last season, wouldn’t even sniff the top 50 to begin this year.

But they ran the table, knocking of two perennial nationally-ranked programs - Bishop Gorman and Hamilton - a total of three times so Mountain Pointe found a spot on the national radar.

All national rankings are in my mind are nutty and this is coming from a guy who once had an AP vote for the college football. It’s a nice honor, but it is just kind of silly simply because no one can know unless there is an actual meeting on the field.

It’s far too subjective and there are too many variables to truly know if a team from Arizona can match up with a team from Ohio.

This is hardly a newsflash. Many in my profession and most coaches feel the same way. But readers love lists, love rankings and love predictions. It makes for an easy read and creates a lot of interest.

So national rankings exist.

It is great for the program, the school, the community, the district and even the state to have a local team in the nation’s top 25.

I have no issue with that. Milk it for what is worth. Run with it and enjoy each week the Pride, which should also get some national recognition from MaxPreps, remains nationally ranked.

Just understand there really isn’t much merit to any of them.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

Posted in Ahwatukee sports on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 11:35 pm. Updated: 4:02 pm. | Tags: Usatoday , Mountain Pointe Football

MP talent contest - WRs

Isaiah Banks and company flips out to win it all

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MP talent contest - WRs

Isaiah Banks and company flips out to win it all

MP talent contest - LB

Epic fail on this attempt

MP talent contest - OL

Xavier Cuevas represents the boys in the trenches rather gracefully

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