Arizona high-school soccer teams are holding final practices in preparation for the next two weeks of state playoffs. While first-round upsets are always expected, the Division I girls’ bracket appears to be a mine field for the higher seeds.
Three low-seed teams could be poised to get the upset train out of the station.
Sandra Day O’Connor High School will travel from its home in the far northwest corner of Phoenix to the East Valley where the Eagles will take on Perry High. O’Connor is a No. 14 seed, while Perry comes to the party seeded No. 3.
Perry, which is 11-5-2 overall and has seven section wins, is on a nine-game winning streak. So it’s understandable that they would be seeded above O’Connor, which rolled through December undefeated but has lost three out of its last seven games.
But those three losses were all in section play and were against three of the top five seeds in the playoffs. The losses are balanced with 16 wins this season.
It will take a solid offensive effort against Perry, but O’Connor can score. The Eagles averaged just under four goals per game during the regular season, and scored five or more goals against nine different teams.
They’re under the direction of a new coach this year, but Harry Damos came from club ball where he has been coaching many of the top O’Connor players long before they reached high school. He knows the players and what they’re capable of doing – and should be able to get the most out of his line-up when it matters most, in the state tournament.
O’Connor has won four of its last five games and scored six goals in the season finale against Liberty High, so the team is feeling confident and should be ready for Perry.
And then there’s the match-up between No. 11 seed Highland High School and No. 6 Basha High. This is a battle between East Valley teams that will likely be closer than the seedings would indicate, and could easily take the lower-seeded Highland into next Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Basha has been solid all season long. After losing their opener to Mountain View High School, the Bears lost just once more the rest of the way, losing to Perry, 3-1, to begin their January schedule. They average almost three goals a game and hold opponents to .419. And they spread the scoring around, with 19 different players contributing goals this season – but it’s the senior forward, Jazmarie Mader, that has contributed 11 to lead the way in that category.
They are a formidable opponent – but not unbeatable. And Highland might be just the team to bounce them from the state tournament.
Highland, which won the Tempe Diablos Tournament over the holidays, is a top-five team in the power rankings and have lost just three games all season. Led by a talented junior class, the Hawks average almost two scores a game, while holding opponents to under one per game. They are led by a talented junior, midfielder and team captain Brianna Hatch, who has seven goals on the year.
The Hawks have a new coach, but Andy Barber knows how to get the most from his players after building Red Mountain High School into a consistent state contender.
It would be easy for Basha to get caught looking past this one, since Highland has lost its last four games. But those losses were to top-ranked Pinnacle High and three other top teams in Division I who have combined for 41 wins this season.
This could be the game that Highland uses to break out of the streak. And the fact that they’ve had to close out their schedule against really good teams has only prepared them better for the playoffs.
And, finally, keep an eye on the match-up between No. 7 Hamilton High and No. 10 Corona del Sol High School.
While Hamilton’s 14 wins on the season overshadows the 9-6-3 record the Aztecs bring to the playoffs, each team has just two losses in section play.
The Huskies have a formidable attack that is centered around a trio of juniors who have accounted for 32 of the team’s 43 goals this season. The forwards, Jamie Salas and McKaya Brown, lead with 11 goals each and midfielder Kylie Minifield has 10.
But Corona, while not as potent an offensive team, wins with a defense that allows fewer than one goal a game and records more than eight saves per outing. It’s a young team that spreads the scoring around, making it difficult to key on one individual; seven different players have scored for the Aztecs this season.
Corona is coming off a 0-0 tie with a good Ironwood Ridge High School team and have held their opponents scoreless in six of their last seven games.
This one favors Hamilton, but also has “upset” written all over it.