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Maricopa High School

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Maricopa High School's athletic teams could be in 5A for the 2016-17 school year based on realignment. Photo by William Lange

The Arizona Interscholastic Association is getting rid of Division I through Division VI and the single sport appeal process. It is bringing back the “A” class system and forcing each school to appeal as a whole.

The AIA will be introducing 1A through 6A conferences and restructuring divisions across the state to place schools in competitive regions based on student enrollment and geographic location. The cutoff point for most schools will be 1,000 students. Any school below 1,000 students will be placed in 1A through 3A, and any school above will be place in 4A through 6A accordingly.

With nearly 2,000 students, Maricopa High School will likely step up to the 5A division.

“I think what they’re going to do is take the top schools above 1,000. Right now, I believe it’s 128,” Maricopa Unified School District Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said. “They’re asking for our numbers as of Oct. 1, and I believe we were at 1,950. What that’s going to do is place us in the 5A category.”

The other major change in the realignment makes schools that wish to appeal out of their conference change all of the sports programs instead of appealing each sport individually. This is meant to avoid situations like Maricopa faces now where certain sports are in Division II and others are in Division III.

“I hope we’re going to have five to six teams per region,” Cisterna said. “That’ll be the same region for all sports, and that’ll be nice. We might even have a name again where you can say you are the ‘so and so’ region champs. Every sport will play in the 5A category. What that will allow us to do as athletic directors is to schedule some freedom games that allow us to continue with rivalries or schools that are close by.”

Since Maricopa has been successful at the Division II and III levels, it is unlikely they could successfully appeal down to 4A. According to Cisterna, this may not be a bad thing.
See 2015-16 Conference alignment and enrollment numbers

“I think this community is ready to compete with the larger schools,” he said. “Our athletes are buying in and I think our coaches are starting to accept that we’re not a small school anymore. We’re growing. Personally, I’m up for the challenge, and I know our coaches are.

“I know we’ll probably have a couple of bumps, but we’ll compete. I know we will.”

For the coaches, the new conference alignment will present new challenges and news obstacles. For MHS football head coach, it will give his players a great chance for exposure. It will also allow Maricopa to seek new levels of success and competition.

“I’ve thought about it a lot, and 5A, I’m excited for it,” McDonald said. “It’s obviously going to be a step up, but I think that we have some kids coming through this program that are pretty good football players, so it’ll allow them to challenge their talents and challenge us as a program.”

Melvin Mitchell, who is taking over as head coach of the girls basketball team that won the state championship in Division II, is waiting to see the impact. He already has concerns, given the low number of students that typically come out for girls basketball in Maricopa.

Last year’s freshman team of girls ended the season with just five players. This year, they could start with seven.

“Other schools definitely have more athletes to choose from,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think the realignment really makes sense in terms of student enrollment.”

He has no doubt in his team or his program.

“In terms of athletics, I feel as though we can compete with anyone,” Mitchell said. “We love the level of competition we have, and this move could affect that. We won’t really know until it happens.”

For MHS volleyball head coach Lashieka Holley, going to the 5A conference would be similar to the schedule the volleyball team played before appealing down to Division III this season.

“I don’t think it will affect us,” Holley said. “I think after moving down from (Division) II last year we’re more aligned with the teams that we should be. The skill level is more equal. And just knowing what we have coming up on our younger teams, I think we’ll be OK.”

The initial placement for Maricopa will take place on Oct. 12. This will be the first time schools get to see what conference they have been placed in. Athletic directors will then have until Oct. 20 to appeal. A second round of conference placements will be released on Nov. 2. The final decision for conference placement will take place on Nov. 16.

Between Nov. 17 and 25, newly formed conference committees will meet to generate region placement. The regions will be announced on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. Schools will have just two days to submit appeals, and the final decision for region placement will be Dec. 7.

Conference committees will meet again on Dec. 9 to start generating football schedules. By Feb. 17, 2016, all schedules should be built for AIA member schools.

“Realistically, looking at the criteria, we’re probably just going to stay 5A,” Cisterna said. “Just because of the success we had last year and the success we’re continuing to have.”

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The MHS Orchestra was "Excellent" at the ABODA Fall Festival. Submitted photo

The Maricopa High School Orchestra earned an “Excellent” rating Oct. 3 at the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors Association (ABODA) Fall Festival.

“The highlight of the day was a wonderful clinic with retired Texas music educator and noted clinician Ruth Kurtis. The orchestra worked with Ms. Kurtis on understanding more about the historical and cultural underpinnings of their music as well as some fun ways to improve finger placement and technique,”  MHS Director of Instrumental Music Ivan Pour said.

The orchestra will next perform at the MHS Music Program “Pass in Review” Concert on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center. Admission is free.

Maricopa High School Orchestra. Submitted photo
Maricopa High School Orchestra. Submitted photo

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Johnny Johnson Jr. is fourth in the state in reception yardage. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams [5-0 (2-0)] are looking to keep their undefeated season alive against the McClintock High School Chargers [2-3 (1-1)] on the road in Tempe Friday night.

With the first half of the season in the books, the Rams have used a balanced offense and stubborn defense to remain unbeaten. Their early domination has catapulted them to the No. 5 ranking in the initial Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Power Rankings. If the Rams can stay in a similar or better position in the rankings, they will be one of the top seeds in the AIA Division III state playoffs and be awarded a home game for the first round.

“I don’t know if they’re aware of [the rankings],” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “We just need to take care of business one week at a time and we can’t focus on that. It’s fantastic we were fifth, but that can all change in a hurry, so the focus needs to be on what we can control. We need to focus on winning every Friday. That’s all we can control.”

The Rams want to stay balanced on offense as they have all year. Senior quarterback Aaron Owens, who currently ranks second in Division III Section I with 68 completions on 102 attempts for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns, is expected to be behind center, and the recent emergence of the team’s running game (which has featured eight different ball carriers this season) is also expected to be a major factor in the Rams’ potent offense.

For McClintock to have any chance of upsetting Maricopa they’ll have to slow down senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. Johnson currently has the fourth most receiving yards in the state with 613 yards on 34 receptions. He also plays a major role on Maricopa’s defense and special teams. He ranks fifth in the state with four interceptions, and he’s a threat to return any kick for a touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams want to maintain their momentum after a dominant performance against Tempe High School last Friday. McClintock’s offense has been sporadic throughout the year, but they have shown the ability to break big plays and rack up points. The Rams will look to their defensive line to win the battle in the trenches and slow down the athletic Chargers.

“They’re a lot like Tempe,” McDonald said. “They’ve got some athletes on the perimeter. They have a first-year head coach, and he’s doing a good job. They play physical and they play hard. They play for each other, and if they come out and play physical, we’ll be in for a tough game.”

For the Chargers, a win over a top five team could turn their season around. McClintock enters this week ranked 28 in the initial Power Rankings, but they’ll be looking to showcase their potential and make a statement at home.

The game will kick off Friday night at 7 p.m. at McClintock High School. The stadium is located in the northeast section of the high school’s campus at 1830 E. Del Rio Drive, Tempe.

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The Maricopa High School boys’ golf team has seen steady improvement over the first half of the season.

“A couple of the younger guys have stepped forward not having played a lot of golf,” MHS boys’ golf head coach Tanner Carpenter said. “We haven’t won any matches yet, but we’ve been right there and close.”

Sophomore Mitchell Karpes has asserted himself as the team’s top player, working his way up from third in the rotation. The Mountain Pointe High School transfer’s long drives and accurate short game give him a chance against any opponent the team faces.

“The kids come out every day and work hard,” Carpenter said. “When they’re hitting one shot that’s not working for them, they’ll try to adjust something. They’re working hard to make adjustments.”

Carpenter’s expectations were met sooner than he expected. The Rams claimed their first victory of the season Sept. 22 over Vista Grande High School (Casa Grande). The team will look to carry that momentum into the second half of the season.

The boys play today at 3 p.m. at Ken McDonald Golf Course against McClintock and Mesa.

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Nikolai White (55) forces a fumble in the end zone. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams defense tormented the Tempe High School Buffaloes offense in route to a 33-7 victory Friday night.

The Rams ended the game with an offensive flurry, but it was the defense that set the tone for the game. During the first half, Maricopa’s offense was nearly non-existent. The team struggled to move the ball on the ground, and senior quarterback Aaron Owens was out of sync with his receivers.

However, the defense came into this with memories of Tempe “dancing” on Maricopa’s midfield M, and they took out a year’s worth of frustration on the Buffaloes.

In the first half, the Rams defense caused two turnovers and forced three punts on Tempe’s five offensive possessions. The Rams defensive line was able to penetrate the oversized Buffaloes and wreak havoc in the backfield. The defensive pressure was enough to shut down the Buffaloes running game completely and cause junior quarterback Damian Triana to fumble the ball in his own end zone. The Rams recovered the fumble for a touchdown, and the six points would be the only points scored from either team in the first half.

“[Tempe] had a lot of problems offensively tonight,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “We really got them out of rhythm and caused a lot of silly penalties. I think that really had to do with our defense playing really well. They tried to find an identity tonight, and we didn’t let them do that.”

The third quarter remained a defensive battle, but senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. returned a Tempe punt for a touchdown and give the Rams a 13-0 lead.

Tempe climbed back into the game after an ill-advised play from Aaron Owens led to a fumble and a Buffaloes touchdown. However, that would be the last time Maricopa would show weakness.

In the fourth quarter, Owens exploded for three touchdowns. He broke away for a 45-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and he added two touchdown passes as the game winded down. He finished the game completing 15 passes on 24 attempts for 155 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He also had 6 rushes for 27 yards and a touchdown. The Rams also totaled 155 yards rushing.

Despite giving up a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, Maricopa’s defense stayed resilient and shut down the Buffaloes’ balanced attack. By the end of the game, the defense had three interceptions, one fumble recovery and two forced turnovers on downs.

“We’ve got a really good defensive line coach,” McDonald said. “On top of that, we feel really comfortable with a six- or seven-man rotation. So as the game goes on, we’re rotating bodies in and out on the defensive line and they’re staying fresh. I think down the stretch, teams have guys going both ways and we’re subbing guys out, we have a platoon on the line.”

After last year’s close defeat and postgame antics, this victory meant a lot the team and to the coaching staff.

“This win is very satisfying,” McDonald said. “We’re halfway through the season now and we’re starting really good. Our offense didn’t show up for the first half and we’re still winning games… Our kids have confidence. We came out and we out-hit them. Our kids have a swag to them, and they’re starting to feel the momentum.”

For the players, the game was a chance to get revenge on a team they felt heavily disrespected them on their home field.

“It was very important (to beat Tempe),” Aaron Owens said. “After last year what they did with the last play call of the game and what they did after the game on our ‘M’; it was a revenge game for us, and we came out here and dominated. It felt really good. It’s our house and we have to defend it.”

With the win Friday night, the Rams move to 5-0 on the season and 2-0 in section play.

The Rams will be back on the road next week as they travel to Tempe to take on the McClintock High School Chargers. The team will return to Maricopa the following week to host the Arcadia High School Titans in a game that could have serious playoff implications.




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Senior Cierra Cureton delivers an ace during Maricopa High School's victory over Vista Grande High School Tuesday night. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School volleyball team remains in playoff position at the midway point of the season after another up-and-down week of play.

The Rams fell to Valley Christian High School on the road on Monday, but rebounded against section opponent Vista Grande on Tuesday. In both games, Maricopa was competitive, but the Rams shined against the Spartans on Tuesday and used their superior size to control the match.

“It was a little slow, but we pulled out the win,” MHS volleyball Head Coach Lashieka Holley said. “They didn’t play at their level, and they should’ve been
working on some things. We were counting on this win, but after [Monday’s] loss, I’m proud in how they came back and fought to ensure they got the win.”

In the match against Valley Christian, the Trojans were able to take advantage of Maricopa mistakes and snatch a victory in straight sets. The Trojans are currently ranked in the top 10 for Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III volleyball, but the Rams showed tremendous heart and skill throughout the match.

“[Against Valley Christian] the team just made more mistakes than they did,” Holley said. “All sets were really close and we should’ve pulled it out. We seemed to get to 20 and we’d just get stuck. We keep letting teams come back on us for some reason and we need to learn to finish.”

On Thursday, Maricopa fell to Phoenix Country Day School at home. This was just their second home loss of the year, but it was a game the team was expected to win. The Eagles shocked the Rams on their home court and took the match in straight sets.

The Rams overall record at the midway point will drop to 7-7. However, the team is still ranked in the top 32 in the state, and that would qualify them for the AIA Division III State Tournament.

“We definitely have to bring it,” Holley said. “We have to come prepared and if we show up and play [like we can] we won’t have any worries.”

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Andrew Earle and the Rams line are ready to clear a path against Tempe Friday night. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams will host the Tempe High School Buffaloes in an emotional section clash Friday night.

Last year, Tempe won a close game 49-41 over Maricopa at Rams Field in the opening game of the 2014 season. Close losses are part of a learning process for young teams, but watching members of the Buffaloes team dance on the “M” at midfield after the game upset many of the players.

That includes 12 seniors on the 2015 roster who played in the game last year, and they haven’t forgotten the insulting gesture.

“They’ve had this game circled on the calendar after what transpired last year, so they’re looking forward to it,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “It was a very tight game that went back and forth. We came up on the short end of the stick and there were some post-game things that transpired on our field, and our players remember it.”

On offense, the Rams will look to continue the balanced attack that has been so effective to start the year.

A high ankle sprain to sophomore running back Cameron Sanders could still be an issue, but the emergence of junior running back Maverick Agram last week against Apache Junction gives the offense plenty of confidence in both the passing and rushing attack.

The key for the offense will be the front line opening holes for running backs and providing senior quarterback Aaron Owens time to pass the ball. Tempe’s defensive line is expected to be larger than the Rams front five, but the experience of the Maricopa line could be the difference in the trenches.

“They have a line that’s bigger than us, but this is a big game for our kids,” McDonald said. “We’re very similar teams with similar styles. They have athletes just like we do.”

For the defense, the key will be slowing down the Buffaloes passing game. Tempe Junior quarterback Damian Triana is a dual-threat player who leads his team in both passing and rushing yards. The Rams defense will look to disrupt his rhythm and prevent him from reaching senior wide receiver Bilal Muhammad, who has hauled in 17 passes and three touchdowns so far this season.

“The quarterback is a good athlete, and Bilal Muhammad is a good player, too,” McDonald said. “They’ve got plenty of athletes. They have some pieces that can hurt you.”

Friday night’s game will be the first Rams home game since the season opener nearly a month ago. Maricopa is one of just five unbeaten teams left in Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III football. The Rams want to reach the halfway point of their season with a 5-0 overall record and a 2-0 record in section play.

Tempe, on the other hand, has started the season just 1-3. However, just like Apache Junction High School last week, the Buffaloes will be playing with renewed life as they enter section play for the first time this season.

“This week we need to stay focused at practice,” senior all-purpose player Isaiah Pedro said. “This one is going to be an emotional game. We’ll take it to heart, but we’re going to go out there and do our job and hopefully we’ll get the win.”

Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Rams Field on the high school campus at 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave. in Maricopa. Halftime will be the official launch of events for Homecoming, which is Oct. 23. 

The Rams celebrate their fourth win in a row. Photo by William Lange
The Rams celebrate their fourth win in a row. Photo by William Lange

Parents crowd the front door of Maricopa High School to get an update on a bomb threat Wednesday. Photo by Adam Wolfe

An anonymous male caller threatening to “blow this thing up” was enough to lockdown and evacuate Maricopa High School Wednesday morning. The school was searched, but nothing suspicious was found.

“The Maricopa Police Department did an excellent job of searching the school and making sure there was no substance to the threat,” Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut said.

The call came into the reception desk at the high school around 9 a.m., according to Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricardo Alvarado. School Resource Officer Chris Evans notified MPD, which met with MUSD officials.

Following protocol, administrators locked down the campus and discussed with MPD the best place to take the students.

“When we arrived on scene we met with MUSD personnel from the district office and [high school] administration,” Alvarado said. “They determined that the safest course of action would be to evacuate the school. An area was located for us to evacuate, and we did a protective sweep to make sure that area was safe and secure for students to be moved.”

At around 11 a.m. students were taken to the football field. At noon, the lockdown ended, and the school resumed its normal schedule. However, hundreds of parents waited in the parking lot during the situation, with many electing to take their children home.

Several parents questioned why they were not notified about the situation until after 10 a.m. They were also concerned that “first lunch” was skipped and the evacuation continued into “second lunch.”

“Students began eating lunch at noon as soon as the police gave the all clear,” MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “If the lockdown had lasted much longer we would have begun evacuating all students to a relocation center.”

Parents mingle in front of MHS after a reported bomb threat. Photo by Adam Wolfe

Maricopa High School reported receiving a bomb threat this morning at 9 a.m. Information was sent out to parents at 10 a.m.

“There was a bomb threat,” Maricopa Police spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said. “The high school has been locked down. At this time, it is just the high school. Police are on the scene.”

Gates were locked, and no one was allowed in or out of the campus, though some parents gathered in the parking lot.

Around 11 a.m. students were ushered to the football field.

InMaricopa will report information as it becomes available.

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The Maricopa High School volleyball team fell to Florence High School in straight sets, but head coach Lashieka Holley was happy with her team’s improved defense.

Florence entered Thursday’s game ranked third in Maxpreps.com’s poll of Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III volleyball. The Gophers looked to be the dominant team with powerful striking and quick footwork. However, the feisty Rams defense frustrated the Gophers front line with consistent blocks and digs.

“They did great,” Holley said. “They did everything I needed them to do. For us to show up like that gives me hope for the rest of the season. Florence is No. 1 in our division, so they put up a good show.”

The stingy Maricopa defense took a visible toll on the Florence players. The Gophers have tremendous power in their spikes, but their game plan was forced to adjust their hits to taps over the blockers instead of powerful slams. The Rams successful blocks and returns also obviously frustrated Florence head coach Casey Simon as well. Throughout the match, he was seen pacing up and down his bench, constantly correcting his team, and consistently shouting, “No more errors” to his players.

“He got pretty heated,” Holley said. “[The Rams successful play] gave him fits, and I haven’t seen him react like that in years.”

The Rams eventually fell in straight sets by scores of 25-21, 25-18 and 26-24. Maricopa rallied from a significant hole in each set, but Florence pulled away. Despite the loss, Holley was encouraged by the improvement she saw from the Rams’ four set loss to Casa Grande High School on Tuesday.

“After Tuesday night, we couldn’t get a block to save our life,” Holley said. “They were a small team and it made no sense, so at yesterday’s practice, all we did for two and a half hours was block, block, block, block, block.” The Rams fell to the Casa Grande Cougars by scores of 21-25, 20-25, 25-22, and 20-25.

Holley said Maricopa hadn’t lost to Casa Grande in a few years, so it was a disappointing defeat. The Cougars were able to walk away with a win over their rival, while the Rams were forced to see what corrections they needed to make as a team moving forward.

“We need to continue to work on our unity as a team,” Holley said. “I think that was the difference on Tuesday. Casa played as a team, and we didn’t show up and play as a team at all. So our focus is to get that dynamic as a team going since our schedule only gets tougher.”

Before the letdown in Casa Grande on Tuesday, Maricopa competed in the Greenway Invitational Tournament in Phoenix over the weekend. The Rams first match of the tournament was against the top ranked team in Division III, the Greenway Demons. The Rams were blown out in the first set 21-4. However, the team rallied in the second set and lost a nail biter by a score of 25-21. The Demons went on to win the tournament on their home floor and remained undefeated on the year.

Maricopa faced Division I power Sunrise Mountain High School (Peoria) in their second match. Again, the Rams were outmatched, but a tremendous performance against a significantly larger school inspired the Rams for the rest of the tournament.

The Rams took down the Moon Valley High School (Phoenix) Rockets and the Alhambra High School (Avondale) Lions in straight sets to finish sixth in the tournament. The Rams are ranked 15th in the Maxpreps.com rankings of Division III and hold an overall record of 6 wins and 5 losses. The team will travel to Chandler to take on the 13th ranked Valley Christian High School Trojans Monday night before returning home on Tuesday to host the Vista Grande High School Spartans. The Rams will finish out a busy week on Thursday at home against the Phoenix Country Day School Eagles.

“Florence should be our toughest match until we hit playoffs, but everything is going to be tougher for us going forward,” Holley said. “If they play like they did [against Florence] going forward and I can keep them consistent like that, we’ll have a good shot.”

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Junior running back Maverick Agram ran away from Apache Junction's defense Friday netting 146 yards and four touchdowns in the Rams' 60-34 win. Photo by William Lange

Junior running back Maverick Agram led an explosive offense rushing for 146 yards and four touchdowns in Maricopa High School’s 60-34 win over Apache Junction High School on the road Friday. 

The Rams (4-0, 1-0) played without injured starting running back Cameron Sanders and defensive back Jalen Lee. Like they have all year, the Rams turned to their bench and relied on their depth to overcome the injuries.

The defense got off to a slow start and gave up some big plays in the first half, but halftime adjustments helped Maricopa slow down Apache Junction’s (0-4, 0-1) powerful running game enough to take control.

The standout performance of the night came from Agram, whose nickname is “Mighty Mouse,” who took full advantage of his opportunity. 

“Maverick is a kid that has been a scout (junior varsity) guy,” MHS head coach Chris McDonald said. “He just kept running so hard that we [wanted to give him a chance]. We told Cameron [Sanders] the last thing he wanted to do as a player was open the door for another player, and that’s what happened.”

The offense was firing on all cylinders from the start. After the defense forced a punt in Apache Junction’s opening drive, the Rams offense struck quickly when senior quarterback Aaron Owens connected with senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. for a 57-yard touchdown. Maricopa settled for a 6-0 lead after the extra point hit the cross bar.

The defense stifled the Prospectors’ offense and put the ball back in Owens’ hands. Much like the Rams first drive, the offense struck quickly and Owens connected with senior all-purpose player Isaiah Pedro for a 33-yard touchdown pass and 13-0 lead.

Apache Junction showed they wouldn’t go down easy as senior wide receiver Tanner Garcia took the kickoff nearly the entire length of the field for a touchdown. The Prospectors converted a two-point conversion and cut the lead to five points.

Maricopa’s next drive foreshadowed the rest of the game. The Rams countered Apache Junction’s score and halted the Prospectors’ momentum. Agram powered through the Apache Junction defense for his first touchdown of the season, and the Rams led 20-8.

The game’s physicality increased, and after a short shoving match, Maricopa sophomore wide receiver Longman Pyne was called for a personal foul and removed from the game. In an odd moment on the next drive, Pyne re-entered the game, but the referees quickly sent him off the field.

Due to the penalty, Pyne will be suspended for the Rams’ next game against Tempe High School.


The Rams defense forced three turnovers in the first half, but they also gave Apache Junction the opportunity for big plays. The Prospectors missed a few chances, and the teams traded two more touchdowns as the Rams took a 34-22 halftime lead.

“We had to step it up in the first half, but we didn’t,” Pedro said. “In the second half, coach had to nip it in the bud that we had to play better. The game was going to rely on the defensive backs and the defensive line making tackles, and fortunately we were able to do that.”

A fumble by the Rams on their second play of the third quarter led to an Apache Junction touchdown, cutting the deficit to six points.

Maricopa responded with a touchdown of their own before Apache Junction scored for the final time.

The Rams defense stepped up in the second half and held Apache Junction to just 12 points, and Maricopa’s high-powered offense scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“I knew we were going to get their best shot,” McDonald said. “I was disappointed we let them back in the game after the kick return. I think offensively we came out and got up on them real early, which is what we wanted to do. Then we had a special teams breakdown that let them back in the game and gave them momentum.”

The offense exploded for nearly 500 yards of total offense. Owens completed 12 of 24 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

Pedro excelled on both sides of the ball. He hauled in five catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns and made six tackles and two interceptions. 

Fellow two-way player Johnson Jr. complemented two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and seven tackles with six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown.

The return of senior center and team captain Nikolai White brought stability back to the offensive line. The undersized Rams dominated the Prospectors front line, leading to 260 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 36 carries.

“We’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re beating who’s on our schedule,” McDonald said.

The Rams will try to avenge a 49-41 loss at home to Tempe High Friday when they host the Buffaloes at 7 p.m. Friday.

“This week we just need to stay focused at practice,” Pedro said. “This one is going to be an emotional game. You take it to heart, but we’re just going to go out there and do our job, and hopefully we’ll get the win.”

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MHS junior John Blodgett has been a leader for the successful Rams cross country team this season. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School boys and girls cross country teams have seen success early in the season and look to be contenders to qualify for the state meet.

The boys’ team has won three meets so far this season, and runners such as junior team captain John Blodgett, sophomore Sam Coles and sophomore Jesse Gaines are serious contenders as they improve throughout the year.

“We’re having a very good season so far,” MHS cross country Head Coach Heather Abel said. “Our boys have won [three meets] and we’ve had lots of kids get personal records, so we’re actually running very well right now. Our boys’ team is a lot more competitive than it was last year, and the girls’ team, since we didn’t have one last year, is doing very well. Better than I expected actually.”

The boys’ team has followed Blodgett’s lead and put in extra effort and work throughout the summer and early season. The bond between the runners is clear at practice, and they use their cohesiveness to help each other in meets.

“The team is a lot bigger than last year,” Blodgett said. “It’s pretty good to see everybody [setting personal records] and coming out for the first time. We have a couple of veterans, but everyone is just having a good time.”

On the girls’ side, just having the ability to field a team is an improvement. Like the boys, the athletes on the girl’s team put in extra work over the summer, and the team is seeing tremendous results in the first half of the season.

The standout performer is Jada Wright. Injuries have only allowed her to run in two meets so far this season, but she has been in medal position for both.

“Jada was a track star and she is a senior this year unfortunately, but she’s doing very well,” Abel said. “I think she is one of the candidates that could individually qualify for state.”

If Wright can stay healthy, she could turn some heads at the state meet.

“As far as cross country in general, it’s my first year, so I don’t expect to be the state champ, but I still want to get up to that level,” Wright said. “I still want to go to state in general.”

Both teams seem to believe they can improve and make a run at state. They will get their next chance to prove they belong with the sport’s elite on Wednesday, Sept. 23 in Apache Junction.

“I think if we put in the effort we could sure have a shot,” Blodgett said. “You know, anything can happen.”

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MHS senior center Nikolai White is set to be back on the field after injury knocked him out of two games. Photo by William Lange

After starting the season with three straight out-of-conference wins, the Maricopa High School football team will travel to Apache Junction High School Friday night to open up section play against the Prospectors.

After an impressive start to the season, both Maxpreps.com and The Arizona Republic have ranked the Rams as the 10th best team in Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Division III football. Maricopa has been able to find success by imposing their will on defense and spreading the field with their powerful offense. Injuries to key players have been an issue, but it hasn’t slowed down the team’s progress.

Apache Junction, on the other hand, has struggled to start the year. Historically, the Prospectors have been a competitive team with great size. In recent years, the team has struggled, but they still seem to be just a few pieces away from being a contender. Injuries have hurt Apache Junction in non-section play, but a powerful running game and large offensive and defensive lines make them a tough matchup for the Rams.

Despite Maricopa’s early success and Apache Junction’s early struggles, MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald knows it can all change in an instant once section play starts.

“They pose a lot of threats,” McDonald said. “I know they’re [winless], but they really aren’t that bad of a team. They’re very physical and they’ve had some injuries that have hurt them at some pretty important positions. But it’s the first section game, so it’s kind of a renewed life for any team that’s struggled in the offseason. Really everything hinges on section play, so I’m sure they’re going to hit the reset button and give us their best shot.”

For the Rams defense, which has only allowed 14 points over the last two games, the key will be to shut down the Prospectors running game. Maricopa will have to use their speed to infiltrate the gaps against a much larger Apache Junction team.

The Prospectors have two running backs that are 6-foot-2 and weigh over 180 pounds, and they are protected by a front line with each member being larger than 6 feet tall and weighing over 250 pounds. Maricopa will look to hit the running backs in the backfield before they can build up momentum and use their size as an advantage.

“They have certain individuals that are bigger than us,” McDonald said. “They have two platoons so they have kids that don’t go both ways and they’ll be rested. They’re big kids and they’re scrappy. They’re going to play hard and they’ll hit. They’re very physical.”

In the early part of the season, the Rams have struggled a bit containing talented running backs. In week one, Agua Fria High School senior running back Chris Cofield had over 200 rushing yards. The last two weeks have seen drastic improvements, but Maricopa’s defense has still shown vulnerability to big plays.

Last week against Rincon High School, the Rams shut out the Rangers, but senior running back Dahrian Harris-Mesh still broke through for nearly 100 rushing yards. McDonald and the coaching staff will look to address their vulnerability to the running game heading into Friday night.

“We have to stop the run,” McDonald said. “If we can stop the run we’ll be OK. We need to make them one-dimensional, so we want to get our safeties involved in the run support and fill in the allies. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”

On offense, the Rams should receive a boost with team captain and senior center Nikolai White returning from an ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last two weeks. White’s return will provide the offensive line a bit more consistency than they’ve had over the last two games.

The offense will also see a return of senior quarterback Aaron Owens. Though it is still unknown why Owens missed last week’s game against Rincon, the “team issue” has been resolved and he is expected to start behind center Friday night.

However, after throwing for 336 yards and four touchdowns against Rincon, senior quarterback Isaiah Pedro is also expected to play behind center in various offensive packages throughout the night.

“They’ll both be rotating,” McDonald said. “They both do some good things, so we’ll have some certain packages we’ll run with Pedro in there and go from there.”

Maricopa will look to maintain the balanced offensive attack they have developed throughout the year. Apache Junction’s defense has been vulnerable to big plays and rushing yards early on.

The Prospectors have allowed a 100 yard rusher from each team they’ve played so far, and have given up 122 points over their first three games. However, Maricopa’s leading rusher, sophomore Cameron Sanders, is nursing a high ankle sprain, so the Rams will look to exploit Apache Junction’s defense wherever they can.

“As a coach, I like to keep it balanced,” McDonald said. “My job as an offensive coach is to move the chains, so I’m going to do whatever works. I’m going to take what they’re giving us and not run it into their teeth just to be balanced.”

The game will kickoff at 7 p.m. at Apache Junction High School. The stadium is located on campus at 2525 S. Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction.

The Homecoming Committee met Monday night to discuss changes to Homecoming Week festivities. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School Homecoming Committee has elected to conduct a Homecoming festival featuring celebrations of the past, an alumni football game and a bonfire over a parade.

The committee is calling the festival “Ram Fest 2015.” The festival was chosen instead of a parade due to available space. Since the school can’t shut down a major highway such as State Route 347 for a parade, the festival allows the school to celebrate its past and present in one central location.

The committee hopes to rent out the open space at Copper Sky Regional Park for the event. “There will be a walking parade at some point during the festival with the football team, band, homecoming court and cheerleaders,” MHS Resource Officer Chris Evans said in the meeting. “Anybody else who wants to join can join in. The whole thing will go from the south end of the parking lot from the dog park to the baseball field.”

Ram Fest 2015 will kick off with the Homecoming festival in the regional park by the lake. The crowd is then expected to migrate over to the football fields, where the alumni game will start at 7 p.m. Once the game ends, the football team is expected to lead the walking parade over to the bonfire area for the lighting ceremony. The Homecoming Committee hopes to bring a bit more organization and tradition to the event in comparison to last year.

“We can get everyone hyped up and then have the cheerleaders and the band start a snake walk and follow the (football) team,” Maricopa Rotary Club Vice President Alma Farrell said. “I think that’ll get everyone riled up to go to the bonfire.”

The committee is also looking to bring vendors into the festival and bring as many MHS alumni into the celebration as possible. Their hope is to tie the school’s storied past into its promising present and celebrate the last 60 years of Rams success. The festival is expected to take place Wednesday, Oct. 21, around 5 p.m. The committee will host an event launch during Maricopa’s next home football game against Tempe High School on Friday, Sept. 25.

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Starting at quarterback Isaiah Pedro threw for 336 yards and rushed for 11 more. Photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

Maricopa High School was missing several regular starters Friday night against Rincon University High School, but the Rams still managed to blow out the Rangers 56 to 0.

The shutout was in large part due to the stellar job the Rams defense did against the Rangers’ running game. Rincon had only seven first downs throughout the night, and, despite entering the red zone twice, never put any points on the board.

“We knew that if we could shut down No. 2, they would have a hard time throwing the ball on us,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “We just mathematically tried to outnumber them in the box.”

The Rams’ offense was without team captain and starting center Nikolai White for the second straight week. White has been bothered by an ankle injury, but hopes to return next week against Apache Junction.

More noticeably, the Rams were missing another key piece of their game plan when starting quarterback and defensive back Aaron Owens didn’t make the trip with the team. McDonald stated they had a “team issue,” but he would not disclose any more information on the matter. It is unclear at this time how long Owens will be absent from the team. Without Owens, the offense didn’t look as crisp as expected for the first quarter.

Senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. did break away for a 48 yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive play, and sophomore running back Cameron Sanders followed suit with a rushing touchdown of his own, but a muffed punt return and failed series kept Rincon in the game for the first 12 minutes. Trailing by just 13 points in the second quarter, Rincon drove the ball into the Maricopa red zone.

The Rams defense held strong at the 5-yard line, and the Rangers were forced to attempt a field goal. The kick was blocked and recovered by Johnson at the Rams’ 2-yard line. Senior quarterback Isaiah Pedro put the team’s slow offensive start behind him and led the team down the field for a touchdown. The series culminated in a 46-yard touchdown pass from Pedro to Johnson.

The Rams took a 21-point lead after junior wide receiver Zachary Bachelder faked an extra point and threw a pass to junior running back Claytin Valenzuela for a two-point conversion. From that point on, the Rams stepped on the gas pedal and didn’t let up. By halftime, the Rams led 35 to 0.

In the second half, Rincon would only have one successful drive. Maricopa’s defense was able to shut down Rincon’s senior running back Dahrian Harris-Mesh, and the Rangers only reached the red zone one time. The drive ended with a turnover on downs. The Rams would add two more touchdowns in the third quarter and another in the fourth.

Due to Arizona Interscholastic Association mercy rules, the clock kept running for nearly the entire second half. The game ended just two hours after it began with the Rams claiming the 56-point shutout victory. Pedro overcame early game struggles and finished with a tremendous night. He completed 13 of 15 pass attempts for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He had 11 rushing yards on three attempts and stellar defensive play throughout the game as well.

“I think I did a good job tonight,” Pedro said. “Our line gave us a lot of time to throw the ball and run the ball as well. Cameron [Sanders] and D’Angelo [Edgerton] played one heck of a game, and all the receivers ran crisp routes all the way around. I just dumped it to them when I could.”

Coach McDonald has praised Pedro as one of his best players since the pre-season. With Owens unavailable for the game, it was an easy choice to start him at quarterback.

“He can come in and we won’t miss a beat,” McDonald said. “Like I’ve said, he the most versatile football player that we have. We can put him anywhere, and I have complete trust in his ability.”

Other standout performances included team captain Johnny Johnson Jr., who caught four passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. He also had three rushes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Junior wide receiver David Owens caught 4 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Jalen Lee only caught one pass, but he wove his way to an 81-yard gain that set up a Maricopa touchdown. The Rams gave many players opportunities to run the ball, but Sanders, a sophomore running back, made the most of his time with the ball. Sanders continued his streak of good performances with 53 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.

Efficiency was the name of the game for Maricopa on offense Friday night. The Rams came with a balanced attack against Rincon. The offense rushed the ball 17 times and nearly matched it with 15 passes. Despite running just 32 plays, the Rams totaled 558 yards and 56 points.

For the second week in a row, the defense was dominant as well. However, the Rams will need to dig deep to keep this momentum as they head into divisional games this week. Next Friday, Maricopa will travel to Apache Junction High School to take on the Prospectors. Apache Junction lost its first three games of the season but has a history of being a competitive team, and the Rams should expect to see much of the same from the Prospectors this year.



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Luis Elizondo saw the Rams' struggles with the kicking game and volunteered his services. Photo by William Lange.

By Adam Wolfe


Senior kicker Luis Elizondo joined the Maricopa High School Rams football team during the second week of the season in order to turn around the team’s lackluster kicking game.

As a junior, Elizondo showed interest in kicking for the Rams, but nothing came of it. As the team gathered for summer workouts, he again elected not to participate. He even chose to stay away during the first few weeks of practices.

Then, as he watched the first game from the stands, he saw four kickoffs go out of bounds and two extra points go wide. In that moment, something reignited his interest in the team, and Elizondo – a young man of few words – approached the coaching staff.

“He’s a kid that expressed interest in kicking for me last year, but all he did was express interest,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “It was a situation where I hadn’t seen him all summer, and I don’t know if he got cold feet because it’s football and it’s new to him, but he came out to the first game and saw what transpired. Then he came to me and expressed interest again.”

Despite the kicking woes for the Rams, Coach McDonald was unwilling to just give a roster spot to Elizondo. He had missed months of work with the team. He would have to earn his spot like everyone else.

“I said, ‘Well, if you’re really serious about this, you have to put in 10 practices before [he could be part of the team],’” McDonald reflected. “I told him to show up at certain times and he showed up and worked his tail off for 10 straight practices. Then he got out there and did what he did.”

Elizondo has continued his work with the team into week three of the season, and McDonald expects him to remain an important part of the kicking game for the remainder of the season.

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By Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School volleyball team has won four matches in a row by straight sets.

Since dropping their first match of the season to Horizon Honors High School, the Rams have dominated their competition. This week, they swept through Catalina Magnet High School and Cholla High Magnet School in straight sets.

According to head coach Lashieka Holley, the team has been playing at a high level this week, but the competition has not been the best. The Rams have been as dominant as they should be, but the true test of how good this team is will be in the upcoming weeks when they take on perennial powers such as Florence and Valley Christian high schools.

“We’re still playing at a (Arizona Interscholastic Association) Division II level, so hopefully we’ll carry that into playing some of the better teams we have coming up,” Holley said. “Everything has been good. They slowed down their pace to [their competition], but they were having some fun. My younger players have stepped up, and around the board they all played well.”

Tuesday night, the Rams dominated Catalina in straight sets by scores of 25-8, 25-13, 25-8. As a team, Maricopa controlled the pace of the game. There were times when the Rams seemed to coast a bit and mistakes were made, but the game never seemed to be in doubt.

Senior Elizabeth Gallon was dominant on both serves and defense. Senior Annalyn Concepcion also shined in multiple positions throughout the match.

Overall, Coach Holley was happy with her team’s performance, but felt they were a bit sloppy in their victory. Had they played to their full potential, Holley believes they wouldn’t have given up nearly as many points to the Trojans.

“They definitely need to work on the basic fundamentals,” Holley said. “Our blocks aren’t there yet. We’re doing a lot of block drills in practice to try to get them to close their blocks. When we see those bigger teams they have strong outside hitters with bigger and taller girls that are more matched to our level. There should be a lot of rallying.”

On Thursday, Maricopa traveled to Tucson to take on the Cholla Chargers. This was the first time the Rams had been on the road since losing to Horizon Honors, and they were able to dispel any worries they couldn’t win outside of Maricopa. The Rams won in straight sets by scores of 25 to 7, 25 to 12 and 25 to 9.

Gallon once again led her team with a standout performance that included eight kills and four blocks. Senior outside hitter Lillian Clay also stepped up in what was only her second match of season. She finished with five kills on the night. Rounding out the top performers was junior Morgan Peters. She kept the Chargers on their heels with 10 aces on the night.

As the Rams move forward, the competition will get increasingly more difficult. The Rams will be participating Saturday’s Greenway Invitation in Phoenix, and their first matchup will be against the talented Moon Valley High School Rockets. The Rams next regular season match will find them on the road against Casa Grande High School on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

“We’re going to need to condition more so we can go five sets,” Holley said. “We haven’t had to go five sets yet, but we’ll need to pick our pace up and play our game. If we play our game we’ll be fine.”

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The Rams will travel to Tucson Friday prepared to take down the Rincon Rangers. Photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe


The Rincon High School Rangers are coming off their first win of the season, but the Maricopa Rams are still a heavy favorite heading into Friday night’s matchup in Tucson.

The Rams saw their offensive production drop by 50 percent last week. They still managed a win big, but much of the credit goes to the defense and special teams units that dominated most of the game.

This week, the Rams are expected to spread the field a bit more and bring back their balanced attack. For Rincon, the key will be to get their running game going or it could be a long night for the Rangers. After three games, Rincon has been outscored 144 to 40, and they haven’t seen an offense as potentially explosive as Maricopa’s yet.

“I don’t think they can cover us so we’re going to attack them,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “Hopefully our receivers got the memo about blocking for each other. Poor blocks showed on film so we’ve been working on that, but we’re going to spread them out and see what they can do.”

Injuries could present a problem for Maricopa on offense. The Rams could be without starting center and team captain Nikolai White again. He is a game-time decision with a hurt ankle. If he can’t go, it’s likely the Rams will see a lineman rotation similar to what they did against Shadow Mountain High School.

“We’ve got two or three new linemen coming in and playing,” McDonald said. “The chemistry isn’t set. We’re still trying to finalize that chemistry, and we never seem to be able to get over the hump because we always have one guy out or we’re having to put a left guard at right guard and we haven’t had the ability to let kids get comfortable playing one position.”

Maricopa’s line will need to provide more time for senior quarterback Aaron Owens to throw the ball. He was forced to scramble more against Shadow Mountain than he had in the Rams’ previous game against Agua Fria High School. The result was 400 fewer passing yards for Owens.

According to McDonald, getting consistency and chemistry back into the offense is a key for the Rams moving forward. On defense, Maricopa will look to shut down Rincon’s running game. The Rangers haven’t shown much of a passing game in their first three games, so getting pressure on the running backs early in the backfield will be the key.

“They’ve got a pretty good running back, and he’s a bigger kid with a long stride so we need to hit him in the backfield before he gets going,” McDonald said. “If we can get to him, from a defensive standpoint, we should be fine. We’ll be down a couple guys, so we need some other guys to step up like they did in Shadow Mountain.”

The Rams are expected to win Friday night, but despite Rincon only winning two games last year (one by forfeit) and no games in 2013, the Rangers should not be overlooked.

Neither team has had a winning record since 2012, but both teams are looking to break recent trends and turn their programs around.

The game will kickoff at 7 p.m. at Rincon High School’s stadium at 421 N. Arcadia Blvd. in Tucson.

The first high schoolers at MHS started as freshmen in 1955 and graduating in 1959. They had a 50-year class reunion in the current gym in 2009. Courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society/Patricia Brock

By Adam Wolfe

Maricopa High School will be celebrating its 60th anniversary during this year’s Homecoming festivities.

The school, which started with 28 freshmen in 1955, now teaches over 1,800 students. According to “Reflections of a Desert Town” by Patricia Brock, Maricopa students had to drive or take a train or bus to Casa Grande to attend school before the high school was built. Students would often miss school due to poor weather or road conditions, and fed-up parents decided the town needed its own school.


Sophomore, juniors and seniors were bused to Casa Grande.

“Casa Grande High School continued to bus the older students for the next three years. In 1958, it was decided not to bus the Maricopa seniors,” Brock wrote in the book she published in 2007. “This left a few seniors with the option of providing their own transportation to Casa Grande High School, or attending a three-year high school in Maricopa with no hope of graduating until the following year. Some students elected to join the junior class in Maricopa, and others simply did not graduate.”

The first graduating class of Maricopa High School received diplomas in 1959. As the first class, they chose the school colors and mascot and first painted the “M” on Pima Butte.

Since that inaugural class, 56 more graduating classes received diplomas from MHS, and the school, along with the city, has seen tremendous growth. The school remains at its original site, but the buildings have been replaced.

In an effort to honor the past, Merry Grace and other members of the Homecoming Committee are tying in the school’s long history to this year’s celebration.

“Nothing is set in stone yet, but we are going to celebrate the 60th anniversary,” Grace said. “We are hoping to showcase the alumni for the 60th anniversary with a tailgate and a pep rally, possibly have a bonfire and parade as well. We’d like to host a district-wide spirit week so all the schools can get involved, and we will ‘paint the town red’ and have local business decorate their stores in red and black to celebrate the school.”

Grace is hopeful the “Paint the Town Red” event will be celebrated by many local businesses. Mayor Christian Price will proclaim during the Oct. 6 City Council meeting that Oct. 19-24 will be “Paint the Town Red Week” in honor of Homecoming. The business that has the best decorations will be announced before the Oct. 23 football game against Vista Grande High School.

For the second straight year, the Tortosa subdivision and UltraStar Multi-tainment will host a laser tag competition as well. Grace said the plan is to have a showdown between adults and youth.

The Homecoming Committee is still waiting to gain approval for various events throughout the week, but the group hopes to get as much of the community involved as possible.

“The community has really embraced making this a community event and not just a school thing,” Grace said.

To learn more about Homecoming plans or get involved find “Maricopa High School 2015 Homecoming Community Committee” on Facebook.com. The next Homecoming meeting will be on Sept. 14 at MHS in the library at 5 p.m.



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Aaron Owens (#6) will definitely be using his tickets to a Cardinals game this fall.

Maricopa High School quarterback Aaron Owens was “flattered” when he heard he was being honored by the Arizona Cardinals for his performance Sept. 4 against Agua Fria.

Aaron Owens
Aaron Owens

“Just working hard and getting to this point is really a blessing,” he said. Owens’ total of 537 yards was tops in Arizona and second-best in the country last week. That earned him the Wells Fargo Player of the Week honors from the Cardinals. “I didn’t know I was going to throw for that many passing yards,” Owens said. “I have to give it to my line. They did a good job, and the wide receivers made big plays.”

Adam Richman, community relations coordinator for the Cardinals, arrived during lunch Friday with cheerleaders Kristen and Kaileigh bringing a glass trophy and “goodies” for Owens. The goodies included two Cardinal shirts and a hat plus two tickets to a Thursday game Dec. 10 against the Minnesota Vikings. At that game, Owens will be honored on the field by the Birdwell family, Richman said.

Tamara Owens, Aaron’s mother, said she was excited for him when he told about the honor, but now she wants to see him work even harder as the Rams go into their second game, a road contest against Shadow Mountain tonight. Richman said Phoenix sports media and Cardinals staff members choose Arizona’s top high school player and top high school coach every week. He and members of the cheer squad make two trips every Friday for the presentations.

Aaron Owens was second in the nation in passing yards last week. Photo by William Lange

Two Maricopa Rams football players have received national recognition from MaxPreps.com for their performances on the field last week. MaxPreps tracks high school sports across the country, and weekly posts the outstanding stats.

Maricopa High School senior quarterback Aaron Owens was second on the passing-yardage list after the team’s defeat of Agua Fria. Owens was 23 of 28 for 537 yards, six touchdowns in the 53-46 win. He was behind only Alex Huston of Glendale High School in Springfield, Missouri, who had 555 yards passing.

Senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. was fourth in the country in receiving yards. He had nine catches for 283 yards and three touchdowns. View the MaxPrep stats at http://t.maxpreps.com/1KMbEae

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The Maricopa Rams are prepping for their second game without at least one of their captains. Photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School Rams will be facing the Shadow Mountain Matadors without the services of wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr.

Johnson led Maricopa with 287 receiving yards, an interception and four total touchdowns in the team’s opening game against Agua Fria Friday night. However, Johnson was removed from the game by referees early in the fourth quarter after allegedly spiking the ball following an interception he returned for his fourth touchdown of the night.

According to Arizona Interscholastic Association, the excessive celebration warrants a one-game suspension. The loss of Johnson takes away a deep threat on offense and one of the team’s top defensive backs on defense.

“Not having Johnny Johnson for this game obviously puts us at more of a disadvantage than we could be,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “We’re not at full strength without an impact player like him, so somebody else will have to step up and fill the role. [Shadow Mountain] likes to throw more than they like to run, so it hurts us even more since we’re losing one of our best cover guys.”

Seniors Aaron Owens and Isaiah Pedro will be asked to cover Johnson’s position on defense, but the duo could have their hands full with senior wide receiver Jake Welsheimer. The standout senior for the Matadors has 12 receptions for 262 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

During last week’s game against Browne High School, Welsheimer caught six passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Shadow Mountain is a pass-heavy team, and the potent aerial attack is sure to test the Rams secondary.

SMHS junior quarterback Darion Spottsville has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes on the season, and hasn’t thrown an interception in 45 attempts. In last week’s win over Browne, Spottsville completed 10 passes out of 17 attempts for 266 yards and five touchdowns.

As good as the passing game is for Shadow Mountain; their running game has been a weakness early in the season. Despite beating Browne 49-6 over the weekend, running backs produced only 26 yards on 16 carries. In their season opening game against Nogales, the Matadors pieced together just five yards on 13 carries en route to a 31-18 defeat.

For the Rams, it will be important for the defense to put pressure on Spottsville and contain Welsheimer. Coming off a performance where they gave up over 200 rushing yards to Agua Fria, the Rams will look for improvements along the front line.

“The thing that we need to address is the rushing yards. We gave up way too many,” McDonald said. “Going into the game we knew they would be bigger than us by a lot, but in the scheme of things, when you look at a team like Agua Fria that ran as a spread offense, no huddle, we gave up 350 total yards. The defense really wasn’t the issue. Take away the kick returns and the scoop and score on the 5-yard line and it’s not even a game. The defense didn’t give up 46 points. They played well enough for that game not to be a game.”

Last week, the Rams’ offense showcased a balanced attack against Agua Fria. Aaron Owens completed 23 of 28 passes for 537 yards and six touchdowns, and the running game produced 133 yards on 35 carries. The offense was so dominant that Owens was named the Arizona Cardinals state Player of the Week, and Owens and Johnson were both named American Family Insurance All-USA Arizona Performers of the Week.

Maricopa should expect a tougher time moving the ball against Shadow Mountain this week. The Matadors have given up 529 total yards in their first two games, and the majority of that came when Nogales shredded the Matadors defense for 323 rushing yards in their opener.

The loss of Johnson will adjust the Rams’ game plan, and the passing attack will look to Pedro, junior David Owens and sophomore Longman Pyne to fill the gap left by Johnson’s suspension. The team will also look to the running game to provide relief and balance once again.

“We’re going to get in a lot of three wide receiver and two running back sets and maybe get in an extra fullback and run,” McDonald said. “We’ll still spread them out, but we’re going to go right at them. I think our line can do that.”

The Rams offense may take another blow this week as senior center and team captain Nikolai White is dealing with some health issues. His status is uncertain at this time and he will be a game-time decision.

Despite the personnel setbacks, McDonald still believes he has enough talent on his team to compensate for the potential injuries.

“We can spread you out horizontally and if you take that away we’ll hit you vertically,” McDonald said. “We have enough guys on this roster that if you get them the ball in space, they’ll do some damage. We just need some guys to step up this week.”

The game will kick off at 7 p.m. at Shadow Mountain High School’s stadium is on campus, 2902 E Shea Blvd., Phoenix.



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Coach Chris McDonald says he is proud of the way the Rams have dealt with adversity this week. InMaricopa photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School Rams football team has dealt with tragedy, extreme heat and sporadic rain in the week leading up to their first game, but despite all the obstacles, head coach Chris McDonald feels his team will show up focused and determined against the Owls of Agua Fria High School (Avondale).

The largest threat the Owls present to the Rams is their size advantage.

“They’re bigger than we are up front, so that’ll be the first and foremost threat,” McDonald said. “We’re going to try to use our speed. I think we have more team speed, so hopefully we can counteract their power with our speed. Then we’ll be able to infiltrate gaps by being quicker.”

Similar to last year’s Maricopa team, the Owls were an offensively potent team that struggled on defense. Maricopa will look to exploit the gaps in the defense, but at the same time, be aware of an improved unit that features ball-hawking senior safety Jaylon Green.

“No. 3 (Green) is their best all-around football player,” McDonald said. “He’s their free safety and he’s one of their slot receivers. He’s arguably the best athlete on the field. He’s a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball.”

In the 2014 season, Green led Agua Fria in receiving yards on offense and interceptions on defense. He also returns kicks and had nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards last year.

Another threat to the Rams defense is senior running back Chris Cofield. Last year, Cofield finished with a team-high seven rushing touchdowns and over 500 yards. According to McDonald, he is “fast and physical” and the defense will need to stop him from reaching the open field.

On the Rams side of the football, they’ll look to their explosive offense led by seniors Aaron Owens and Isaiah Pedro to set the tempo for the game. The Rams return four starters on the offensive line from the 2014 season, and if the scrimmage against Notre Dame Prep is any indication, they should have no problem opening holes for running backs to get through.

However, their receiving core featuring team co-captain Johnny Johnson Jr. and junior David Owens will need to step up their aggression for Maricopa to reach their full potential.

“I thought we were more physical (in the scrimmage) than [Notre Dame Prep] was, which was good to see,” McDonald said. “I just think our experience should be a strength this year. We have a core group of seniors that are returning and a lot of two-way players that know what to expect.”

The experience will be largely beneficial on offense. On defense, though, there are still some question marks. The team showed great defensive speed and aggression in the scrimmage last week, but once the first string players came off the field, the team was susceptible to big plays.

If they show up with the same aggression as they did in the scrimmage, the defense should be able to use their speed to overcome the size and power of the Agua Fria front line.

The last obstacle the Rams defense, and team as a whole, will have to cope with is the loss of senior linebacker Nate Ford. The morning after last week’s scrimmage, Ford passed away in a traffic accident. The aftermath has been felt by the team and community alike.

Last Friday’s practice was canceled after the accident, and the team has been honoring Ford each day at practice by bringing out his helmet, pads and practice jersey. So far, the tragedy has been fueling the team. At practice, they play for purpose. Each sprint and each play is executed for their friend who can no longer be with them. The team has handled the situation with strength and class, said Coach McDonald, who believes that drive will carry through Friday night as well.

“I told the kids after practice today that I was proud of them so far with how they’ve gone about their business,” McDonald said. “There’s no manual on how to handle something like this. So we’ve had a short week due to the circumstances. We got rained out Tuesday, so we haven’t had a lot of practices, but the tempo was real good in the practices we have had, and these players have had a spark.”

The Rams have decided to make Nate Ford the fourth team captain for Friday’s game. His number will be represented at the coin toss with the captains, and his jersey and equipment will be given a spot on the bench with his teammates.

There have been plenty of events throughout the week to provide excuses for the Rams, but the players haven’t taken them. They appear focused and determined to make a statement Friday.

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Senior Annalyn Concepcion works on the basics as the team prepares for the upcoming season. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By Adam Wolfe

Practice has officially begun for the Maricopa High School volleyball team, and despite being a fairly young team, they have high hopes for their season.

Maricopa volleyball hasn’t qualified for the state playoffs in three decades. Talented players have come through, but no team has been able to piece together a playoff run since the 1980s. This year’s girls believe they can change that.

They will be somewhat inexperienced, but dropping from Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II to Division III combined with the tremendous amount of talent they have will provide them with a great opportunity to challenge for a playoff spot.

“We have a new coach and it’s a lot of change,” senior middle blocker Elizabeth Gallon said. “It’s still the same program, but it’s a new one at the same time. It’s going to be a lot of changes, I guess; new changes that will benefit us.”

Embracing change starts with the coach and trickles down to the players. The positive focus of Holley appears to be reaching the players. The athletes are viewing each challenge as a step to their goals instead of an obstacle.

“We do have a new coach, but I’m really excited because she is really determined and focused for us to do well this year,” senior libero Annalyn Concepcion said. “Personally I just really want to enjoy this year. It’s my last year here and I expect it to be really fun and for us to work really hard.”

The team will open their season on Aug. 26 with a scrimmage against Marana Mountain View at 5 p.m. in Tucson. Their first regular season game will be the following Monday at 5 p.m. at Horizon Honors High School, and their first home game is Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. against Kofa High School.

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The MHS volleyball team wants to build on a winning season. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By Adam Wolfe

Despite losing four starters from last year’s team, first-year head coach Lashieka Holley has high hopes for her team.

The 2015 version of the Maricopa High School Rams volleyball team will have only two returning starters, but Holley believes the foundation laid by last year’s senior class will be a boost to this year’s squad.

Half of the six seniors on the 2014 team – Taylor Holz, Kourtney Brown and Katelin Jensen – joined their former teammate, 2013 graduate Briauna “Breezy” Tutwiler, at Southern Connecticut State University.

“We lost a big group of seniors last year, with four of them being starters,” Holley said. “The graduating class of 2015 set a strong foundation for the future of MHS volleyball. We are only returning two starters from the 2014 team, [which] finished with the best record yet for MHS at 10-7.”

According to Holley, the team will depend heavily on three-year starter Liz Gallon. Gallon, who plays middle hitter, was named Second Team All-Section in 2013, and All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2014.

“Gallon was one of the leading blockers in the section and division both her sophomore and junior year,” Holley said. “Helping Liz this season will be returning junior setter Morgan Peters, who will step into the starting setter position, and senior [middle blocker] Annalyn Concepcion. All three will play a huge role in helping this team accomplish their main goal of making it to the playoffs for the first time since the ‘80s.”

If the 2015 team is to succeed, they will need to cope with a tremendous amount of change. This season will feature a new coach, a new section and a new division. Due to division expansion, Maricopa will no longer be competing in Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II. Instead, volleyball will compete in Division III.

“This is a move that we are very excited about as it will put us more evenly matched with the schools that we play,” Holley said. “Our new section includes Horizon, Apache Junction, Chandler Prep, Tempe Prep and Florence, just to name a few. The varsity team will also be competing in the Florence Tournament as well as the Greenway Tournament.”

The division change could prove to be beneficial for the team, but losing five-year head coach Julia Jefferson will be tough to overcome. Jefferson vacated her head coaching position after accepting another job.

“[Jefferson’s] decision to leave was hard for her, but one that was made in the best interest of herself and her daughters’ futures,” Holley said. “I am excited to be named the head coach for the 2015 season and the challenges we will endure. I have worked with Coach Julia for the past four years and feel very confident that we will keep building on the foundation that was created here at MHS and that this team will make it to the playoffs.”

Like many teams at Maricopa High School, the 2015 Volleyball Rams will be young.

“We have a lot going for us this season, but only hard work, dedication and commitment will determine our end results,” Holley said.

Maricopa High School Volleyball
Aug. 26     at Marana Mtn. View (scrimmage)    5 p.m.
Aug. 31     at Horizon Honors                           5 p.m.
Sept. 1      vs. Kofa                                            6 p.m.
Sept. 3      vs. Flowing Wells                            6 p.m.
Sept. 8      vs. Catalina Magnet                         6 p.m.
Sept. 10    at Cholla High Magnet                    6 p.m.
Sept. 15    at Casa Grande                                6 p.m.
Sept. 17    vs. Florence                                    6 p.m.
Sept. 21    at Valley Christian                          6 p.m.
Sept. 22    vs. Vista Grande                              6 p.m.
Sept. 24    vs. Phoenix Country Day School     6 p.m.
Oct. 1        at Poston Butte                              6 p.m.
Oct. 6        at Veritas Preparatory Academy     6 p.m.
Oct. 15      vs. Chandler Preparatory Academy6 p.m.
Oct. 20      at Fountain Hills                            6 p.m.
Oct. 22      at Gila Ridge                                  6 p.m.
Oct. 27      at Tempe Preparatory Academy     6 p.m.
Oct. 29      vs. Apache Junction (Senior Night) 6 p.m.

By Adam Wolfe

The summer season might be at its peak, but summer vacation is coming to a close as all schools within the Maricopa Unified School District will start classes on Monday.

For some, the new school year will bring fresh starts in new schools, and for others, it will provide a much needed return to a regimented schedule. Parents may finally have time to relax and enjoy the quiet, while others may return to work. Either way, the time has come to bring back the sack lunches, replenish the notebook stash and return to school.

There have been some changes in leadership in the district. Former Desert Wind Middle School Principal Renita Myers is now principal of Maricopa High School. Former MHS Principal June Celaya takes Myers’ place at DWMS. Brand new to the district is Loraine Conley, new principal at Santa Cruz Elementary.

For families who have recently moved to the area or forgotten to register their children in classes, MUSD registration is still available.

“All Maricopa parents and guardians are invited to enroll their children in MUSD for 2015-16, and it is not too late to register,” MUSD superintendent Steve Chestnut said in a statement. “Registration forms and information can be found on the school district website at www.musd20.org.”

Parents and guardians can either go to the website and click on the “Registration” tab at the top of the page or pick up the registration forms and information from their neighborhood school.

In order to register, parents and guardians will need to provide the school with their student’s birth certificate, immunization record, picture ID of parent or guardian registering the student, proof of residency (utility bill, rental agreement, etc.), and records, transcript and withdrawal slip from the student’s previous school.

Sequoia Pathway Charter School also begins classes on Monday at 7:45 a.m.

Legacy Traditional School gets out of the chute before everyone, starting Thursday, July 30.

Leading Edge Academy begins Aug. 4.

Camino Montessori starts class on Aug. 10.

MUSD Schools:

Maricopa High School

  • Grades 9 – 12
  • 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave. Maricopa, AZ 85139
  • (520) 568-8100
  • Principal: Renita Myers – rmyers@musd20.org
  • In class 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Desert Wind Middle School

  • Grades 7 – 8
  • 35565 W. Honeycutt Road Maricopa, AZ 85138
  • (520) 568-7110
  • Principal: June Celaya – jcelaya@musd20.org
  • In class 9:10 a.m. – 4:10 p.m.

Maricopa Wells Middle School

  • Grades 7 – 8
  • 45725 W. Honeycutt Ave. Maricopa, AZ 85139
  • (521) 568-7100
  • Principal: Rick Abel – rabel@musd20.org
  • In class 9:10 a.m. – 4:10 p.m.

Butterfield Elementary School

  • Grades K – 6
  • 43800 W. Honeycutt Road Maricopa, AZ 85138
  • (520) 568-6100
  • Principal: Janel Hildick – jhildick@musd20.org
  • In class 8:35 a.m. – 3:35 p.m.

Maricopa Elementary School

  • Grades K – 6
  • 18150 N. Alterra Parkway Maricopa, AZ 85139
  • (520) 568-5160
  • Principal: Jennifer Robinson – jrobinson@musd20.org
  • In class 8:10 a.m. – 3:10 p.m.

Pima Butte Elementary School

  • Grades K – 6
  • 42202 W. Rancho El Dorado Maricopa, AZ 85138
  • (520) 568-7150
  • Principal: Randy Lazar – rlazar@musd20.org
  • In class 8:35 a.m. – 3:35 p.m.

Saddleback Elementary School

  • Grades K – 6
  • 18600 N. Porter Road Maricopa, AZ 85138
  • (520) 568-6110
  • Principal: Felicia Williams – fwilliams@musd20.org
  • In class 8:10 a.m. – 3:10 p.m.

Santa Cruz Elementary School

  • Grades K – 6
  • 19845 N. Costa Del Sol Maricopa, AZ 85238
  • (520) 568-5170
  • Principal: Loraine Conley – lconley@musd20.org
  • In class 8:35 a.m. – 3:35 p.m.

Santa Rosa Elementary School

  • Grades K – 6
  • 21400 N. Santa Rosa Dr. Maricopa, AZ 85138
  • (520) 568-6150
  • Principal: Eva Safranek – esafranek@musd20.org
  • In class 8:35 a.m. – 3:35 p.m.