So far the 2016-17 school year has been an amazing one for prep sports. There have been great games, great performances and great stories. With the Fall Sports season officially completed and the spring season just begun, we take a final look at the teams and athletes that made the fall so special.
The Marana football team not only went to the post season for the first time in almost a decade, they won their first playoff game since the 80’s and their first regional/sectional title since the 1970’s.
After just missing the playoffs the year before, the Tigers’ chances looked slim as they opened the season 0-2. Little did we know then, but those two teams, Cienega and Ironwood Ridge, would finish the season ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the state. From there the Tigers rattled off 8 wins in a row. They outscored their final eight regular season opponents 358-116.
That alone would have been enough, but add to the fact the tragedy of the passing of quarterback Connor Leaven’s father. Less than 48 hours after learning of his father’s passing, Leavens led the Tigers to a 52-14 win over Poston Butte, throwing for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns.
TEAM(S) OF THE FALL
Ironwood Ridge and CDO volleyball. Both the Nighthawks and the Dorados had amazing seasons. The teams went to the semi-finals of their respective state tournaments.
CDO went 25-14 overall, after winning just 13 the year before and were 13-4 overall. The 8th ranked Dorados won their region before making their deep postseason run.
While the Nighthawks’ overall record was not overly impressive, 22-19, they not only played in some of the toughest tournaments in the state, but travelled to California
to play some of the toughest opponents the Golden State had to offer.
Their regular season was something else. The Nighthawks went 13-4 in games that counted towards the postseason, finishing second in one of the toughest regions in the state. The 5A Southern had four teams ranked in the top-15 and three in the top-7.
MALE ATHLETE OF THE FALL
Push Ridge’s Will Newman won a pair of state titles at the Division III Swimming and Diving Championships, finishing first in both the 200 Individual Medley and the 100 Backstroke.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE FALL
Ironwood Ridge swimmer Hannah Houlton finished 4th in the 100 Freestyle and 6th in the 100 Backstroke at the Division II Swimming and Diving Championships.
GAME OF THE FALL
Ironwood Ridge vs. CDO – Girls Volleyball
A rivalry game that lived up to its hype. Ironwood Ridge edged the Dorados 3-2, but four of the five sets were decided by five points or less and two were decided by just two points. The match opened up as close as it could, with teach team taking a set 25-23. Ironwood Ridge trailed 2-1 before taking the final two sets to sneak out the win.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Jennifer Ball – Marana Girls Volleyball
Such a tough category to choose as there were many great coaching jobs this season, but Ball gets the edge. In her first season as head coach of the Marana volleyball team Ball took the Tigers to their first postseason appearance in at least a decade. She inherited a team that went just 1-21 the year before and had won just 3 games in the past two seasons, and help lead them to a 21-12 record and a spot in the postseason.
All five area football teams, Marana, CDO, Push Ridge, Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View, qualified for the state playoffs. It was close in volleyball, as the four area big schools qualified for the postseason, but Pusch Ridge just missed out, finishing the season ranked 18, two spots away from the final playoff spot.
Ironwood Ridge girls volleyball Head Coach Bill Lang won his 400th game with a 3-1 win over Rincon/University back in September.