The 2008 fall ball season started out with some exciting news. The Corona del Sol Aztecs would be moving up to DI and they were also scheduled to play in their first out of league tournament. The nucleus for the Aztecs was now Seniors & Juniors so there was a lot of anticipation for the year.
As in the past, the pre-season predictions had the Aztecs on the bottom of their conference, a position that they were used to from their move up to DII. Once again the Aztecs would use this as motivation to show the league they were ready for DI.
The Aztecs traveled out to Palm Desert, CA to play in the La Quinta Desert Tournament in January. The Aztecs won the High School Championship by defeating teams from Temecula, Sonoma, Tucson and La Quinta. It was a good weekend of lacrosse for the players and we are pretty sure that the parents had fun also!
The new league divisional alignments for DI gave the Aztecs a dose of reality with their schedule. There would not be any DII games for the Aztecs; they would be playing a 13 game DI schedule that featured a home & away series with the other four DI teams in the South Conference and 1 game each with the 5 teams in the North Conference.
They started with games against the North Conference and picked up their first DI win with a 13-4 victory over Highland, the team that won the DII title two years ago before moving up. That win was followed up by its version of rivalry games with 2 of its next three games would be against Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista.
The Aztecs played a good game and gave it big time effort but couldn’t penetrate the Mountain Pointe defense to finish with a 10-9 loss. The Desert Vista game was a break out game for the Aztecs and showed them that they could play with anyone in the DI level. They were behind 10-5 at halftime and were flat. But a “spirited” half time speech from Captain Zeric Butters light a fire under them and they scored 11 second half goals to pull out a 16-13 win at Pecos Park. Playing one of his best all around games, Senior Middie Jordy Patterson scored 8 goals and 2 assists to lead the Aztecs.
They started their home & away series in the conference that featured wins against Chaparral, Saguaro, Chandler and two wins against Gilbert. This gave the Aztecs an 8-5 record and tied for #5 in the six team play-offs.
Making the playoffs for the third consecutive year, their first round game was against the #3 seed, Mountain Pointe Pride. The Aztecs gave them a game but once again the Pride pulled out the victory with an 11-7 win. With many of the Aztecs returning I’m sure that this play-off game taught them about playing in big games.
The Aztecs were represented by DI All-Stars Will Allen (20g/6a), 1st Time All Star Defenseman Brock Ehrhart and Jr. Goalie Zeric Butters (67% save percentage).
Leading the team all season was Sr. Middie Jordy Patterson who led the league in regular season scoring and finished with 60 goals and 24 assists. But more impactful might have been his league leading ground ball tally of 114 that gave the Aztecs many possessions during the season. Jordy was also 1st Team DI All-State and was the Arizona Offensive Player of the Year.
The Aztecs were losing to graduation a group of Seniors that had been with the team for many years including Jordy Patterson, middie Jared Wellman, middie Iggy Bernardi, defenseman Ryan Gardner, middie Colin “Dobson” Mothershead, defenseman Logan Ryan and that little freshman they threw into the canal four years earlier, Attackman Spencer Nelms.
The Aztecs were returning their largest class of players for their senior year and we started seeing the names of underclassmen showing up on the field like Cody Wagner, Ryan “Twin” Thibault, Austin “Twin” Thibault, Sam Merrill & Ryan “Rizzle” Berns. Finishing the season with a play-off loss is always tough but the returning players were already looking forward to the next season.
The 2007 was promising for the Aztecs since they were returning almost the entire squad from the prior year’s playoff team. They returned all of their scoring from the prior year but lost all three close defensemen to graduation.
Once again the league scheduling had them playing three games versus DI competition but this year it was in the middle of the season. The Aztecs opened up with 4 wins versus DII competition and were getting ready for their 3 DI games.
They went 0-3 versus the DI competition of Brophy College Prep, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista, but the games were more competitive than they had been in the past and gave them valuable experience against the best teams in the league.
The Aztecs finished with 3 wins against DII teams including a close 9-8 victory over Hamilton, to finish with a perfect 9-0 record in the division and 9-3 overall.
The playoffs started with a semi-final game versus the #4 seeded Pinnacle Patriots. Both teams played well in this game but the Aztecs prevailed 10-8 behind goals from Jr. Middie Jordy Patterson (3g/1a), Soph Attack Will Allen (2g/2a), Jr. Attack Spencer Nelms (2g/1a) and Soph Attack Matt Prausa (2g). Zeric Butters played big in the cage making 21 saves on 29 shots by the Patriots. The defense also played well stopping many multi-minute man down penalties.
This put the Aztecs in the finals against the Hamilton Huskies. To make a long story short, the Huskies won the game inside the last two minutes by picking up a rebound from a shot and making the winning goal. It was a tough defeat for this group of players but sometimes a team learns to win from losing and that was the case with the memory of this game.
The Aztecs were represented in the AYLL All-Star game by Jr. Middie Jordy Patterson (49g/21a), Soph Attack Will Allen (20g/14a), Jr. Attack Spencer Nelms (22g/8a), Soph Attack Matt Prausa (20g/9a), Soph Middie Dylan Dunlap (18g/5a), Jr. Middie Josh Arviso (15g/8a), Jr. Middie Jared Wellman (8g/2a) and Soph Goalie Zeric Butters (68% save percentage). Note that all of the all-stars were underclassmen.
Earning 1st Team DII All-State were Middie Jordy Patterson, Attack Will Allen and Goalie Zeric Butters.
It was another year of improvement for the Aztecs and even though they fell short in the championship game they were now ready to move up and face the best teams in the state next year.
The second year for the program brought on a lot of change. The group of Seniors that helped start the club on campus and establish the team on the field had moved on. In came a group of freshman from the Warriors that just finished up their State Championship season. The club also grew with some new to the sport freshman that would start contributing on the field right away.
The team picked up a new Head Coach when Craig Fertelmes moved up from Tucson and we were able to take him away from the Sabercats.
The team also grew by entering the AYLL with a Varsity DII team and a JV program. The team still consisted mostly of freshmen and sophomores but they were ready for the challenge of playing the other varsity teams. How would they do? Not well if you listened to the experts after the Westside Lax pre-season poll had the Aztec ranked 10th, out of 10 teams.
The way the league scheduled games was for the DII teams to open with three games against DI opponents, which resulted in loses to DV, Chaparral and Mountain Pointe. Nobody expects to lose games but the Aztecs knew they would be tough games and used them to get acclimated to the size and speed of the varsity game.
The Division schedule started on a sour note when the Aztec traveled to Notre Dame Prep and were shut out 8-0. Unfazed by that loss the Aztecs would pick up their first varsity win the next week vs. Red Mountain and finish the season with a 5-4 conference record (5-7 overall) to surprise all the critics by making the playoffs in their first varsity season.
The young Aztecs got their first taste of playoff ball and would be matched up against NDP, who beat them soundly in their first DII game of the season. The Aztecs came out fired up, jumped on the Saints and never let up to cruise to an 11-5 Quarter-Final win.
In the Semi’s the Aztec were matched against the #1 ranked and undefeated Tucson Extreme, a team that three weeks earlier had defeated the Aztecs at Hanger Park, 11-4. The Aztecs played up and controlled the Extreme for most of the game but ultimately lost when the Extreme scored the go ahead goal in the last minute of play. The Aztecs had nothing to be ashamed of and if you believe that you can learn to win from losing, then this was that type of game.
The Aztec were led by Soph Middie Jordy Patterson (40g/11a) who earned 1st Team All-State Honors. The leading scorers were Soph Middie Josh Arviso (15g/6a), Fr. Attack Will Allen (11g/7a) and Fr. Attack Matt Prausa (11g/6a). And getting up off the ground enough to score 14 goals was Soph. Attack Spencer Nelms. The defense was led by Sr. Adam Sell who earned Honorable Mention All-State Honors and Fr. Goalie Zeric Butters who earned 2nd Team All-State Honors. Zeric finished the season with 231 save on 346 shots, both of which were league highs.
The plan to start a new lacrosse team at Corona actually started at the end of the 2004 school year when a then Junior, Jonny Valentine, decided that he wanted to play lacrosse while at Corona before he left. He was in contact with one of the Warrior Middle School coaches, Mark Burnside, and together they put the plan in place to start the club for the 2005 AYLL season.
They had 7 of the Warriors moving up to High School that could play but that is hardly enough to start a full team. Due to the league rules, they would be competing in the JV Division but the competition would still be stiff.
In the fall, Jonny went to work recruiting new players for the first Fall Ball Clinic and was joined by new players such as Nate Detharidge, John Hodgson, Wyatt Wilkinson, Nate Mullins, Adam Sell, Cody Moreash, Pete Guth, EJ Cunningham and Greg Keller. A transfer from Tucson, Jay Allen, gave them some experience down on the offensive end. Even though they were all new to the sport they provided the drive and leadership to work toward being a competitive team.
They were joined by the first group of Warriors to enter Corona. The group, led by standout Jordy Patterson (MS 1st Team All State Midfielder), included Josh Arviso, Chris Tremmel, Chris Stark, Caleb Dokken & Iggy Bernardi. All of these players had a couple years of experience but it was a big jump from the middle school league to the high school league.
A challenge that many teams face is in goal. This group of players did not include an experienced goalie, and none of them had the, ahhh , interest, to step into the cage. They recruited an ex-soccer goalie named Erik Munkachy to be their goalie which is a daunting task on a team with a group of rookie defensemen.
After a lot of work in the fall they were ready for their first game on January 22nd. If my memory serves me correctly, I don't even think that they had their uniforms in yet and they were wearing pinnies for the first game. But that didn't deter them and they prevailed with a 12-6 win down in Tucson over the Sabercats.
Under the guidance of Coaches Mark Burnside, Al Patterson and Karl Tunberg, the experienced freshmen gained confidence and the first year players all gained experience. By the end of the season they had developed into a quality team unit that could have challenged some of the varsity teams.
The "First Aztecs" finished their season under the lights on April 8th when they defeated Desert Mountain JV 8-7 in a thrilling game that gave the JV State Championship to the Aztecs. The evening was capped off with the upper classmen chasing down freshman Spencer Nelms and throwing him in the canal behind the field at Pecos.
The team was led in scoring by Freshman Middie Jordy Patterson (51 goals / 18 assists). Also scoring goals were Freshman Middie Josh Arviso (22/7) and Junior Attack Jay Allen (21/1). Jonny Valentine (9g/2a) also contributed from his Midfield position as did Greg Keller (9g/4a) who developed a whicked outside shot by the end of the season.
The key to the team’s success was the development of the defense. Goalie Erik Munkachy was stellar in goal with a 67% save percentage and made many of the opposing coaches shake their head in amazement at the 1st year goalie. Defenseman Wyatt Wilkinson, Nate Mullins & EJ Cunningham all provided solid on ball coverage and were backed up by the physical presence of Adam Sell.
By any measurement - # of players, sportsmanship or wins, this season was success. This group of players gave the foundation for the team to build on.