3 area programs overcome odds to win state titles - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

3 area programs overcome odds to win state titles

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Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 1:03 pm | Updated: 9:28 am, Mon Aug 25, 2014.

There are so many variables when it comes to winning a state title in any sport.

Luck, talent, region of the country, referee decisions, momentum, seeding, preparation and timing head just a partial list.

Yet three area teams and their coaches were able to pull it off this fall for the first time in some respects.

The Desert Vista girls cross country team got in started on Nov. 9 and the Thunder girls swim team did the same later in the day, while the Mountain Pointe football made it a trifecta for the area on Nov. 30.

It wasn’t the first for the Thunder or coach Jeff Messer, but it was the first time they pulled off the feat together.

“I have never genuinely reflected upon any distinction between my previous role as a co-head coach and my current role as a head coach,” Messer said. “Ultimately, the process of coaching to the very best of my ability involves a relentless focus on always attempting to serve the very best academic and athletic interests of our student-athletes in addition to the corresponding pursuit of absolute excellence in all that we undertake.”

Messer helped Xavier to six straight titles before taking over a very good program that was left behind by Doug Christofis.

“The Desert Vista High School girls cross-country program is totally blessed by a highly supportive, engaged administration, outstanding parents who are profoundly committed to their daughters, fantastic coaching colleagues (in both the girls and boys programs), and, most importantly, a truly unique group of student-athletes who have collectively embraced the challenge of achieving to the very best of their innate ability,” he said. “Because the multiple program characteristics that I have shared precisely reflect our program, I can say that a confluence of factors did indeed come together this season; those characteristics and factors provided and will continue to provide a foundation for empowering student-athletes to be wonderful citizens, fantastically accomplished students, and relentlessly achieving athletes.”

Pride football coach Norris Vaughan helped the Pride to its first title, but he didn’t say much about what it meant to him at the time because he didn’t want to be the focus.

A couple of days removed and the spotlight no longer bright, Vaughan was willing to talk about what it meant to him and his family to finally win a state title in his 29th year as a head coach.

“I didn’t want to be forthcoming and take anything away from what the team accomplished,” he said. “It’s not about me, but the truth is it means a lot to us.

“But it’s not a defining moment.”

That’s because he believes winning a state title, as proud as he is to help to win one, doesn’t define the quality of a coach and his staff.

“I know some great coaches who have done it for 20 years and never won a title,” Vaughan said. “And I know some coaches who won a couple of state titles who aren’t close to being as good of a coach as those other guys.

“There is so much that goes into it that winning one or not winning one doesn’t tell the whole story.”

It wasn’t the first state title for Vaughan as he won state in basketball and baseball in Georgia, but it did resonate the most.

“It’s football,” Vaughan said after the Pride beat Hamilton. “Everything compared to football is second. I love them all, but football is different.”

The swim title for the Thunder and Shawn O’Connell was a first for both.

“It was such a nerve wracking and stressful weekend,” O’Connell said. “I’ve gone into state before knowing we had a team that would finish second, third or fourth, but this was the first time I knew we could challenge Xavier.”

The Thunder depth came through and Desert Vista overcame the odds to win it all.

“It didn’t fall into place perfectly,” said O’Connell, who finished as the state runner-up in Alaska twice. “We had a lot of things go our way, but some of the things we expected didn’t and that’s when our depth really paid off when (individuals) got ninth instead of 16 for extra points.

“It really made all the difference and it’s amazing how all the little things that add up to winning a state title have to come together.”

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

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
  • Sports writer
  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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