Gaona in the game

Gaona: Plenty to celebrate during a packed 2013

2013-12-20T00:00:00Z 2013-12-20T00:00:09Z Gaona: Plenty to celebrate during a packed 2013By Daniel Gaona Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Since Jan. 1, Southern Arizona high schools have combined for 16 team state championships.

It was the final one that put the exclamation point on 2013.

Salpointe Catholic’s football team finished off its undefeated season with a win in the Division II state championship game at Arizona Stadium. Last month’s victory cemented the Lancers’ first state title in football.

Salpointe was clearly Tucson’s best this season — although there were plenty of others players, coaches and teams to celebrate.

Here are 13 we’ll remember:

1. Cameron Denson. Just because football season is over doesn’t mean Denson is in hibernation. The Salpointe football star and Arizona Wildcats commit led the Lancers in their 14-0 season and now is trying to help the basketball team reach the state championship game for the second straight year.

2. Alex Verdugo. In possibly the best individual performance of 2013, Verdugo struck out a career-high 18 batters in a state tournament elimination game against Nogales. Since then, the Sahuaro senior has verbally committed to Arizona State, played in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field and only improved his draft stock to make it look like he’s heading straight for professional baseball.

3. Alyssa Thompson. The Salpointe senior, now at Wake Forest, stole the show in her final high school track meet last spring, going out a rare quadruple champion. The highlight came when she came close to breaking the state record in the 300-meter hurdles, which former Canyon del Oro star Jaide Stepter set the year before.

4. Sunnyside wrestling. Second-year coach Anthony Leon got the Blue Devils back on top last February, leading them to their 15th state title in the last 16 years. With individual state champions Gabe Gonzales, Juaquin Olivas and William Olivas back, chances are Sunnyside will repeat as Division I champs in a couple months.

5. Alex Robles. As a senior baseball player at Tucson High last spring, Robles was the ace and cleanup hitter for the Badgers and got them within one win of a trip to the Division I state championship game. He was named our Player of the Year and is a freshman on Austin Peay’s team now.

6. The Bhat sisters. If you need a clutch performance, get ahold of Rachana and Kirtana Bhat. The Catalina Foothills girls tennis duo beat crosstown rivals Marissa Baca and Kelsey Brown of Ironwood Ridge twice in a matter of seven days to capture the Division II doubles title and then the team championship.

7. Ironwood Ridge wrestling. The Nighthawks won their third straight team state title behind Troy Taylor and Matt Filbert, who repeated as individual champions. But I-Ridge graduated all four state champions from last year and is back in the same division with Sunnyside again, so keeping the streak alive will surely be tough.

8. Catalina Foothills swimming. After spending the last two seasons in Division I, Foothills was back down in Division II this fall and swept the state team championships behind Krista Duffield, Bonnie Diamond and Matt Lujan. It marked the 11th time since 2000 the Falcons have swept the titles.

9. Allie Schadler. If the Star had a Rookie of the Year award, Schadler, a Rio Rico freshman, would have won it. She essentially came out of nowhere this fall and dominated the cross country scene. Her remarkable season was capped off with another easy win for the Division III individual state title.

10. Randy Anway. The I-Ridge softball team won four straight state tournament games after falling to the losers bracket and made it to the state finals for the third time since 2008. Even though the Nighthawks lost 7-0 to Peoria Sunrise Mountain, it was a fitting farewell to retiring coach Anway, who started the program and spent 11 years with the team.

11. Catalina Foothills girls soccer. The Falcons won their fourth straight state championship last February and helped Southern Arizona sweep the Division II titles as the Salpointe boys won, too. It was the eighth state title for Foothills overall and seventh under longtime coach Charlie Kendrick.

12. Lyndsay Leikem. Maybe the best girls basketball player in the state last year, Leikem led Flowing Wells to the state finals for the first time since 2008. The 6-foot-1-inch two-time Arizona Daily Star Player of the Year led the Caballeros in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals.

13. Kevin Kuhm. In the biggest turnaround job this year, Kuhm led the Rio Rico football team to its first winning season at 6-5 and took the Hawks to the state playoffs for the first time. They started the season 3-0 after failing to win more than three games in each of the last 14 seasons.

Nighthawks wrestlers win Las Cruces invitational

Four Ironwood Ridge wrestlers including Danny Vega and Tristan Mordecai won individual titles at last weekend’s 22-team Las Cruces Invitational. Vega and Mordecai received outstanding wrestler awards. Bayou Guzman and Vinny Trujillo also won individual crowns and the Nighthawks had seven more wrestlers place in the top five to win the team championship by 38 points, ahead of Rio Rancho (N.M) Cleveland High, New Mexico’s defending state champion.

Schnell headed to youth Olympic qualifier

Tucson High freshman Delaney Schnell is one of four divers who will have a chance to advance to the Youth Olympic Games in China next August. Schnell, who won the Division I diving title this fall, won the girls 10-meter platform at the USA Diving selection trials Monday and will compete in the Youth Olympic qualifier, Feb. 28-March 2 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Pima adds ex-Buena coach Scherling to staff

Ryan Scherling, who coached Sierra Vista Buena to consecutive state playoff appearances in each of the last two seasons, will be the offensive coordinator for Pima College pending board approval. In two seasons with the Colts, Scherling went 14-8 as Buena averaged 39.3 points a game.

Contact high school sports coordinator Daniel Gaona at dgaona@azstarnet.com or 807-7761. On Twitter @DanielGaona13

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