A year after the news off the court was sometimes more prevalent than what happened on it, it will be refreshing to focus on the wins and losses this girls basketball season.
And there should be plenty of winning.
Desert Vista enters the season as a Division I favorite and considered the team to beat by many, while Mountain Pointe brings back plenty of the prominent players that went 26-6 and made the third round of the tournament before losing to Highland a year ago.
Horizon Honors might have lesser expectations, but the Eagles have the talent to turn around last year’s foibles.
Horizon Honors finished with a five-game losing streak and ended the year at 11-15. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles reverse that record and approach the 15-win mark.
The Eagles, who open the season on Dec. 3 at Combs, will be led by senior co-captains Rachel Irons, who has been a starter since a sophomore, and Bethany Tsai, a transfer from Dobson who sat out last season per Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) rules.
The Eagles will also look to sophomores Emily Rush and Rachel Van Gorp to contribute offensively, while defensively, the Eagles are led by junior Emily Purucker.
It adds up to a Horizon Honors team that should make a run at its first season over .500 since 2010.
“Our senior leadership is incredibly important,” Eagles coach Nate Agostini said. “After our two seniors, we have one contributing junior and mostly sophomores so we are going to be young.
“My expectations are to qualify for sectional tournament and go from there. If we play hard and take care of the ball we will be able to do that.”
The Thunder, who open the season on Monday in the Marcos de Niza tournament, had an under whelming season record-wise (18-11) considering the talent, but misuse of players, injuries, facing No. 1 St. Mary’s early in the postseason and a mid-season coaching change didn’t help the cause.
Things should be much more calm internally with J’ontar Coleman taking over full time, but remain hectic on the court as the Thunder will use full-court defense and an up-tempo to fluster opponents.
“We have a deep team this season,” said Coleman, who went 6-4 after taking over the program on Jan. 13. “We are going to be a well-balanced team. We will play with a lot of passion and intensity on both ends of the floor.”
Senior guard and Santa Clara recruit Emily Wolph (14.5 points, 2.3 steals, 2.0 assists) will control the back court, while junior post Kristine Anigwe (12.4, 10.7 rebounds) will be a tough match up. Mesa Mountain View recruit Sabrina Haines (11.9 points, 2.1 assists) will provide a third scoring touch with Janae Martin (4.5 points, 2.6 assists, 2.3 steals) and Alexis Barfield (3.9) providing athleticism and defensive pressure.
“We have a lot of scorers,” he said. “We will score in bunches.”
The Pride is coming off one of the best season in the program’s history and this team can be just as good.
The hopes of the season have been tempered by the loss of point guard Ashle Burns to at least January due to an ACL tear, but Mountain Pointe, which has won 93 games over the last five seasons, will make due.
It starts with senior Kaylah Lupoe being a force on the block as she continues to progress since starting as a freshman. The Hampton University recruit is coming off a season that saw her average 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.1 blocks, with all of those numbers to get even better.
Her partner in crime will be senior guard Maddy Sulka and her all-around game after averaging 9.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
The offense is going to need help replacing 1,000-point scorer Caitlyn Hetrick, but sophomore Tilasha Okey will take on a more prominent role after showing flashes of taking over games last year.
Mountain Pointe, which opens the season on Monday in the Highland tournament, will make due with their experience, size and chemistry to be one of the better Division I teams again this season.
“We are very excited and looking to advance on last season’s quarterfinal finish,” said sixth-year coach Trevor Neider. “We are expecting a big season.”
Junior Morgan Greene and senior Dennay King will also be part of the rotation to start the season, while Desert Vista transfer Deijon Williams and senior Madyson Carlin, who missed last year because of medical reasons, will be among those providing depth.