The standards for athletic programs in Ahwatukee seem to be getting higher by the season.
And there might not have ever been a better athletic season than the fall session that just wrapped up.
There were inspiring stories like the one of Desert Vista football player Will Barfield Jr., playing in honor of his fallen father and the quick rise of Mountain Pointe’s Frances Olguin returning to the cross country state championships after taking a break from running while battling cancer.
Then there was the level of competition on the field, court and in the pool to make the fall of 2013 something to remember.
Three area teams won state titles, while four individuals were also able to win state championships to make this one of the most successful starts to the high school sports calendar.
Here is a look at how it all came together:
The Desert Vista girls team won its first state title with unyielding depth to knock of Xavier, which had won 14 straight big-school titles.
“It sinks in at different times,” Thunder coach Shawn O’Connell said about a month after the historical win. “I’ll be driving and it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, we won state.’ For a year I put myself in (Xavier’s) shoes while watching them do it. I always wondered if we’d ever do that. I always thought we could after watching track, cross country and football do it. Just sure if we’d ever pull it off.”
The Thunder only had one individual state champion — junior Cecelia Kowalski won the 200 freestyle — on the way to placing competitors all throughout the top eight to knock off the Gators.
The Thunder boys finished third, while Mountain Pointe girls finished 28th overall and the boys were 20th.
The Mountain Pointe squad finished second in the team event, but the Pride guaranteed themselves an individual champion when Vi Koka and Kiyoko Hashimoto both advanced to the title match.
The duo won the doubles titles as sophomores and finished second (Hashimoto) and third in singles action as junior before facing off for the individual title this year.
Hashimoto won 11-3, 11-4 to win the program’s fifth singles title and first since 2006.
“It was hard,” said Hashimoto, who has beaten Koka all three times they’ve met in competition. “When my coach came over to talk to me in between sets, he was like, ‘How are you doing?’ And I told him, ‘It’s hard.’ I mean, it was really tough.”
Mountain Pointe's Ben Harden won the Division I individual state title, while the Desert Vista boys team fell short of winning the state title after being one top of the contenders all year long.
Harden shot a 71-67--138 to win by three strokes at Aguila Golf Course in Laveen.
“I don’t want to say I’m shocked, but I’m better, right now, than I thought I was going to be,” Harden said. “I’ve just gotten better and better since my freshman year and this year I’ve kind of peaked and played really good.”
Dani Jones couldn’t see what everyone else had for years. Ever since entering the Thunder cross country and track programs, it was believed she’d win at least one cross country title.
It came to fruition this year as the junior helped Desert Vista to its first big-school title in 13 years as the Thunder win the Division I championship, ending Xavier’s six-year run as champion, as she distanced the field rather easily.
Jones won with a time of 18 minutes and 00.79 seconds on the 3.1-mile course to best her sister, Baylee, by nearly nine seconds (she was runner-up with a time of 18:10.88).
“I guess I never really thought about winning a state title until track season,” the elder Jones said. “When I got done with track (after winning two titles) I figured I had a chance to win it.”
The Jones sisters were backed by Madi Bucci (16th, 19:22.76), Amanda Davis (20th, 19:29.88) and Sabrina Camino (21st, 19:34.46).
The Desert Vista boys were unable to defend their title, but weren’t far off as the Thunder finished second to Corona del Sol.
Mountain Pointe won the first state title in the program’s history after beating Hamilton 42-19 to give the Pride community the trophy it has been so close to winning four of the last five seasons under Norris Vaughan.
But it took this special group to finally get it after finishing as runner-up last season and falling in the state semifinals in 2009 and 2010.
“I can’t even describe it, all of those four years coming to end with all of my guys,” Trevino said. “I can’t even describe it.”
All three teams made the state tournament, but Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe and Horizon Honors all were knocked out in the quarterfinals.
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