Football: DI State Championship

Pride head coach Norris Vaughan hand off the championship trophy to Natrell Curtis (75) after winning the Division I Football Championships between Mountain Pointe Pride and Hamilton Huskies at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 30 2013.

David Jolkovski/AFN

It was an incredible sports year for the Ahwatukee programs.

Maybe the best ever.

Four programs won state titles, several others finished second and countless of individuals either set school records or won a state championship or both.

Sometimes all of the winning ran together. It was just a blur, and everything seemed to parlay into the next big thing.

It made it hard to narrow the 2013-14 school year into the top 10 moments, but the AFN tried anyway.

Here it goes:

1. Mountain Pointe wins first state football title: The rumble started in preseason when Natrell Curtis promised to win a ring, then the Pride never trailed in beating Bishop Gorman to start the year, and then handled Hamilton a few weeks later. They became the proverbial favorites and were never really challenged in winning the school’s first title. It was also the first for coach Norris Vaughan after more than 200 career wins. The defense was fast and instinctive while the offense did damage however it wanted to before finishing it off with a 42-19 win over perennial champion Hamilton.

2. Desert Vista knocking off Xavier for swimming title: No one saw it coming – unless maybe they attended the dual meet. The Thunder girls knocked Xavier off the top of the podium for their first state title. The Gators had won 24 of the last 25 state titles and appeared to be the favorite again, but Desert Vista beat them in the regular season to set the tone. The Thunder had only one individual champion — Cecelia Kowalski in the 200 freestyle, and she tied Brianna Leverenz of Tucson Rincon with a time of 1:50.48 — but depth gave Desert Vista the title.

3. Desert Vista girls hoops cutting down the nets: A year after the coach was fired mid-season, the Thunder girls became a family with a chip on their shoulders. They were the favorites nearly from the start, became nationally ranked before a loss in the sectional semifinals stole some confidence. It did, however, refocus J’ontar Coleman’s group as the trio of Emily Wolph, Sabrina Haines and Kristin Anigwe pushed the Thunder to its first-ever state title, beating Westview 53-37 in the championship game.

4. DV runs away with cross country title: Jeff Messer came in with a championship pedigree and a thinking man’s approach to distance running. The Thunder program had been on the cusp of a Division I state title for years. The young talent mixed perfectly with the Messer’s coaching style to win their first state title – 60 to 70 over Xavier – since 2000 and third overall.

5. Paul Lucas’ year: It started with a sweep around the left side on the first play of the football season for a touchdown, and continued through May when the Pride junior set the state standard this year in the 100, 200, 400 and long jump. He ran for 1,008 yards on 105 carries with 12 touchdowns, hit the weight room and came out in a blaze during the track season. He looked to be in prime position to win four golds at the Division I state track before a hamstring strain limited him to two events and two golds.

6. Jalen Brown graduating early, picking Oregon: In the summer leading up to Jalen Brown’s freshman year, Pride coach Norris Vaughan said by the time he was done Brown would be one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits. And he was right. Brown broke just about every single wide receiver record in school history, added a state record and also set the school record for interceptions. Rarely did he make the wrong move. The same applied to the classroom, where not only did he have one of the school’s top grade-point averages, he did enough to graduate in December. It led to Brown announcing his decision to head to Oregon in November in order to compete in the Ducks’ spring ball.

7. Thunder track finishing 2nd in boys and girls: There were a few seniors who earned medals mixed in, but for the most part the Desert Vista programs challenged for a double state title run with mostly underclassmen. It means the spring of 2015 might end with the Thunder being sized up for championship rings.

8. Pride knocking off Gorman: Mountain Pointe football took being on a big stage in stride. They completely handled a nationally-respected program like Bishop Gorman on the latter’s home field before a national TV audience, as players like Wesley Payne, Paul Lucas and Timmy Hernandez had break-out games in the 28-21 win to open the season in the Sollenberger Classic.

9. DV winning state lacrosse title: Club sport or not, the domination the Thunder showed in winning the Arizona state title has to be recognized. Plus when a player like Anthony Abbadessa has nearly the whole crowd – the DV side anyway – chanting ‘Abba, Abba, Abba’ that’s pretty special after he scored four goals in the title game and about 70 on the season.

10. Mountain Pointe’s transition period continuing: After replacing seven coaches and an athletic director a year ago, there will be a new wrestling coach, two new soccer coaches, a new badminton coach and one or two new swim coaches in 2014-15. When next year begins, 12 of the programs will be headed by coaches in their first or second year at Mountain Pointe.

Others: MP badminton doubling up in the singles finals; MP student body getting a technical for the Pride basketball team via their antics against Desert Vista; Desert Vista’s Dani Jones’ incredible running season; MP’s Natrell Curtis switching college choice from Washington to Oklahoma; Desert Vista’s Tristan Ezell overcoming “the demons” in his head to win Flowing Wells title.

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

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