We’ve officially put a new calendar up on the wall, with a new year and a clean slate for local teams to make a name for themselves in their respective sports.
Fans were treated to plenty of exciting moments in the 2018 calendar, as far as sports are concerned, with teams of all shapes and sizes finding success on the ice, courts and grassy fields of Southern Arizona.
As for Tucson’s sole professional squad, the Tucson Roadrunners clinch the top seed in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference, winning their first-round playoff series against the San Jose Barracuda before falling to the Texas Stars in the second round.
In high school sports, the Catalina Foothills boys basketball and baseball teams come within an eyelash of state championships, while Canyon del Oro’s softball team did the same. Over in Marana, quarterback Trenton Bourguet rewrote the record books, breaking the 5A career passing touchdowns record, while the Tigers once again reached the playoffs under first-year coach Louie Ramirez.
It was another hot start for the Ironwood Ridge girls soccer team, who dominated their competition, earning at least a tie in all 10 of their non-tournament matches thus far this season.
Elsewhere in north Tucson’s high school scene, there are several high-flying girls basketball teams, with Ironwood Ridge, Marana, Immaculate Heart and Mountain View all vying for postseason berths in their respective divisions.
With everything going on around Tucson, I’m sure we’ll have the honor of watching a host of local athletes, both at the high school, college and professional level reach new heights of success in the new year.
With that in mind, here are some of my bold predictions for the various teams within the Tucson Local Media universe:
1. Ironwood Ridge will win its first girls soccer state championship
The Nighthawks have been kicking at the door of immortality in each of the past three seasons, reaching at least the state quarterfinals under coach Sean Watkins. This year’s team has greater depth and camaraderie than previous squads, so I’ll go ahead and call my shot: The Nighthawks will go undefeated in non-tournament play, beating Perry High School in the 5A state finals to bring home to program’s first state title. The Nighthawks and Pumas met in the finals of last weekend’s Oro Valley Invitational (which we unfortunately missed, due to early holiday deadlines), with the Pumas coming away with a 3-0 win. That loss will ultimately serve the Nighthawks well, as it will serve as a rallying cry for the team’s experienced players. Expect the Nighthawks to dominate their competition from here on out, with a shiny piece of hardware coming back home with them to Oro Valley come late February.
2. The Tucson Roadrunners will win the Calder Cup
The Roadrunners have kept up their lofty level of success from last season, with a 17-9-4 record to-date in the AHL’s Pacific Division. The team has outscored its opponents 103-76 as of print time. They have unmatched offense and goaltending, with veteran Adin Hill returning to the club from Phoenix for the season. I expect Tucson will learn a lot of valuable lessons from last year’s bitter five-game series loss to the Stars, doing what it takes to bring home the city’s first-ever Calder Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the AHL’s playoffs.
3. Catalina Foothills will win the boys basketball
championship in 4A
Doug D’Amore has established one of the most consistent powers in Southern Arizona, with a team that’s been a perennial championship contender over the past few seasons. Last year’s Falcons squad fell in the state semifinals to Salpointe Catholic in double-overtime, 77-71, coming up a tad short in their championship quest. This year’s squad, led by senior guard Carson James and junior sharp-shooter Hayden Moser, has the top-to-bottom talent to go a step beyond. I believe D’Amore’s team will do just that, defeating longtime Phoenix power Shadow Mountain to win the 4A championship, with James taking home the MVP trophy from the contest.
4. Canyon del Oro wins baseball and softball
championships in 4A
This might not be much of a hot take, given the lofty standards of excellence established by CDO’s two hardball programs. That said, I see Kelly Fowler and first-year baseball coach Jason Hisey continuing the Dorados’ success this year, with each team thwarting their competition in 4A. Fowler will have top-class pitcher Amya Legarra back, which will boost their championship potential immensely. Hisey, meanwhile, has a loaded roster of talent, with dynamic players like Enrique ‘Kiko’ Romero, Simon Lytle, Andrew Stucky and Ben Cordova all returning for the Dorados in the spring. Expect big things from both teams this year, with a host of experienced and talented players returning to the Oro Valley powerhouse.
5. Arizona wins the College World Series in baseball, and Women’s College World Series in softball
The Wildcats stick-and-ball sports have come up a tad short in the postseason of-late, with the softball squad coming up on nine years since their last national title, while the baseball team last won it all in 2012. Those droughts come to an end this season, with the softball team knocking off no fewer than two Southeastern Conference powers en route to a title. The baseball team, which has landed several high-level recruiting classes in a row under coach Jay Johnson, will reach similar levels of success. I see former Sahuarita High School flamethrower Ian Mejia being a tour de force for the Wildcats, assuming the number-two spot in the team’s rotation, while third baseman Nick Quintana’s slick fielding and power hitting propels the ‘Cats to Omaha for the first time since 2016. I’ll go ahead and call that the school’s softball team will knock off Florida in the championship series, while the baseball squad will sweep Louisiana State University in the finals.