What a difference two years makes.

At the end of the 2006-’07 prep soccer season, the Marana Tigers found themselves 2-18 and in the basement of the 4A Sonoran Division.

Something changed in 2007-’08, when Marana went 8-8-4, narrowly missing out on a victory over rival Canyon Del Oro in the regional tournament.

This season, the Tigers are 12-1-1, have won two invitational championships, and are solidly atop the division standings.

For Marana head coach Dan Tarquin, the auspicious start is nothing short of miraculous.

“It’s really way more than we were hoping for,” said Tarquin. “I mean, Marana has never even been in any championship games, let alone winning two in the same season.”

Tarquin said the team’s success was built long before 2009.

“Last January, (after the loss to CDO) we decided to create our own club team,” said Tarquin. “This would enable us to play together nine months of the year, as opposed to just the three of the high school season.”

The players responded to the challenge, said Tarquin.

“Seventeen of the girls in the Marana program have been working together since June,” he said.

“They have worked as hard as I’ve been able to push them, and have really shown the desire and heart to get better. I really have to give them all the credit for working so hard all summer and fall with this season in mind.”

Hard work has been key to the play of some standout Tigers, said Tarquin.

“Forward Ashley Willoughby has 12 goals to date, forward Crystal Leon has seven, midfielder Lauren Garcia has five,” said the coach.

Tarquin also pointed to the contributions of defender Nikki Koeppen, as well as those of midfielder Jade Carr, who leads the division in assists, and goalkeeper Tory Stocker, division leader in saves.

Marana is inching closer to achieving the goals the team set for itself.

“Our main goal was to make the state tournament, but we also had a very important goal of beating CDO,” said Tarquin. “Our last game of the season last year was against the Dorados and we lost 1-0 after playing 0-0 for the first 78 minutes.”

Marana is currently ranked eighth in the state, and will likely be in line for a playoff berth if it keeps winning.

As for CDO, the Tigers face the Dorados at home on Jan. 16, a game that will have implications on both state and division rankings.

While opponents have had a hard enough time with this season’s Tigers, the future is bright, too.

“We’ve got eight starters on our team that are sophomores,” said Tarquin. “So we’re building something here that is going to be around for a while.”

Canyon Del Oro

The 2007-’08 CDO girls finished with a record of 11-8 and a berth in the state tournament, where they lost to Scottsdale Chapparal.

This year’s Dorados looked like they would be making another run at the playoffs, starting out 5-2, but have lost their last three games, including a squeaker loss to Sahuaro in the Tucson Champions Cup invitational. CDO trailed 3-0 in that game, but fought back to 3-2.

Despite the recent skid, the Dorados can point to a stingy defense as one source of hope. Led by senior goalkeeper Liz Wong, who finished with 11 saves in the Sahuaro game, CDO has allowed 11 goals all season. The Dorados are also solid on offense, averaging nearly three per game. Freshman phenom midfielder Kristen Rizzo is third in the division in scoring, and junior forward Amanda Sieferman and sophomore midfielder Ali Payan have proven able to confound opposing defenders with a combination of assists and shots.

The next big divisional challenge for the Dorados will come on Jan. 16, when CDO travels to Marana to face the 12-1-1 Tigers in what has become a heated rivalry matchup.

Ironwood Ridge

Youth has been the name of the game this season for the Nighthawks. The roster lists eight freshmen, five sophomores, five juniors and four seniors.

Even more surprising than the high number of underclassmen is just how successful they have made Ironwood Ridge. The Nighthawks are currently 11-3, and ranked #1 statewide in 5A-II.

Leading the explosive Ironwood Ridge offense are sophomore forward Camie Barbera (third in the 5A-II Southern Division in scoring), and freshman midfielder phenom Michelle Busse, who scored twice in the Tucson Champions Cup invitation last month to give the Nighthawks the tournament title. Busse and Barbera can count on assists from two sophomores, defender Clair Buser and midfielder Elle Sneyd, as well as senior captain  midfielder Christina Farrell. The three rank in the division’s top five in assists. In goal, sophomore keeper Brooke Seavitt has cut down opponents’ scoring chances, ranking third in the division in saves per game.

Ironwood Ridge’s youth movement will have to keep momentum up in the coming weeks, as it faces a tough schedule that includes rival Canyon Del Oro, Rincon, and Tucson High, all ranked in the state top 10 of their respective divisions.

Mountain View

After a 2007-’08 season that saw the Mountain Lions finish 12-6-2 and advance to the semifinals of the state tournament, the 2008-’09 team has struggled, currently 2-5-1 and seventh place in the 5A-II Southern division.

But Mountain View has been competitive with some of the best teams in the state, tying Tucson High 1-1 on Dec. 19, and losing a close 2-1 game to state #1 Ironwood Ridge on Dec. 22.

More good news for the Mountain Lions: goalkeeper Christa Bockisch has been particularly stifling this season. In the loss to Ironwood Ridge, Bockisch notched 12 saves, and in the tie with Tucson High, she had eight.

Helping Mountain View on the offensive side are Nicole Kesterson and Ashley Fall, both of whom managed to score in the Mountain Lions’ games against top-10 opponents. The defense and offense will be tested in the final weeks of the season. The Mountain Lions face four of the five teams ranked in the Arizona top 15, including rematches with both Tucson High and Ironwood Ridge.

Pusch Ridge

The 2007-’08 Lions team made it to the 2A state playoffs last season, but early in 2008-’09, that looked like the distant past.

Then, after opening with a three-game losing streak, Pusch Ridge has found its groove, winning five straight to climb to second in the 2A South Division.

Heading an offense that has proven its ability to score quickly and often is sophomore midfielder Chelsea Ruland. Ruland is a weapon for whom opposing teams have rarely had an answer: in a Dec. 19 game against Florence, Ruland had a hand in nearly the entire offensive performance, exploding for five goals and one assist, and leading the Lions to a 7-0 victory.

Senior and junior midfielders Brianna Pooley and Jackie Host have also been scoring threats, and have an uncanny knack to thread assists to teammates.

Defense has been a cornerstone of the Lions’ success in recent weeks. Pusch Ridge has not allowed a point since November, and the brick-wall play of sophomore goalkeeper Ariana Marcano has been a catalyst for the defense’s dominance.

That dominance will be tested throught the rest of the season, especially when the Lions face division-leading Safford. Pusch Ridge will take on the Bulldogs Jan. 28 in the final game of the season, a game that may have playoff implications.

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