Prep sports: state playoffs offer interesting side stories


The high school state tournaments for the winter sports programs are about to start and, as usual, there are numerous side stories that make the journey through the playoffs much more interesting.  But the average fan isn’t always tuned in to what’s going on behind the curtain.

So here are a few insider tips to tuck away as you watch the games…

If you’re planning on watching some boys’ basketball, there are a couple of teams in Division I that offer some great side stories.  The Corona del Sol team has been steadily rolling over the competition to build a 22-1 record, with its only loss coming at the hands of one of the top teams in California, Sierra Canyon High School, in the Hoophall West tournament right after the holidays.  The Aztecs are undefeated against Arizona teams.

But the real story here is that Tempe’s Corona is on a quest to win a fourth straight state championship.

And when you catch a Corona game, you also get a close look at one of the best freshmen in the nation.  Marvin Bagley III, a 6’10” center that has the skill set of a guard, has been getting college scholarship offers since he was in seventh grade and is generally considered the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018.

The other team to track would be Gilbert’s Perry High School.  The Pumas are 19-4 and have lost just two games since Jan. 1.  But the real draw to this game is their 5’11” combo guard, Markus Howard, who is averaging 31.5 points a game.

Howard is still a sophomore, so he has a couple more years to try to eclipse the state record of 3,154 points before he heads off to college.  He had accumulated 1,368 points going into last night’s game with Corona del Sol and has two more regular-season games left, plus any playoff games.

So he will likely surpass the 738 he scored as a freshman and conceivably be within striking distance of the state record, depending on his production during his junior and senior seasons.  But Arizona State isn’t waiting to see if that happens; the Sun Devils have already pocketed his commitment.

And if you want to see what a 2,000-point scorer looks like, catch a girls’ game that includes Palo Verde High School.  That team’s 5’3″ senior guard, Sydni Stallworth, just passed the 2,000 mark in career points and is averaging 20 points a game this season. The Tucson school is undefeated in section play and has won nine of its last 10 games.

If soccer is your game, there are a couple of boys’ teams that bear watching – if you like lots of scoring.

The Chandler High School Wolves just established the best record in school history by going 13-1-3 after compiling 22 team goals.  And they appear to have a good chance to create a little more history by winning the school’s first-ever boys’ state soccer  title.

And the Wolves’ may have set yet another state mark when senior Don Tchilao scored nine goals against Mesquite High, a feat believed to have established a new state record for single-game scoring.

Liberty High School has their own version of a scoring machine in Gerves Fagan, who has accumulated 28 goals this season all by himself.  The senior midfielder, who also has seven assists, has led the Lions to a 18-4-1 record and a No. 8 ranking in just their second year after moving up from Division II to D-I play.

Extra credit:  There are several rookie coaches in the girls’ game that could actually pick up a state title in their first year.  Jeff Penzone took over the Northwest Christian varsity program this year and has led the Crusaders to a 19-2 record, Dave Lemon moved up from his JV position to take over the varsity at Catalina Foothills and is 14-1-3 in his first season, and Nathan Fairchild slid over from his varsity assistant role into the head coach’s seat at Hamilton High and has the Huskies at 12-3-4.

OK, now you’re armed with more information than you ever thought you’d need… so get out there and enjoy some top-notch high school competition as the playoffs get underway.

Dollar for dollar, high school sports are still the best deal in town.