Athletic Directors Jake Neill (left) of Maricopa Unified School District and Glen Hale of Sequoia Pathway see changes ahead.

As Maricopa schools dig into their fall sports, much appears the same on the surface, but there could be changes afoot.

It’s not about personnel, though the athletic departments of Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway hired a couple of varsity coaches each. (For MHS it was baseball coach Brad Vericker and boys’ basketball coach Paul Gretkierewicz; for Pathway, football coach Donnie Margerum and boys’ basketball coach George Courtney.)

“The future’s looking like there is going to be a little bit of change because we’re growing so much,” said Jake Neill, Maricopa Unified School District athletic director. “If there’s a change in the next two-year block we could end up being a 6A school. Very good chance of that actually.”

MUSD reports enrollment to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) in October and then is assigned a conference for a two-year block starting the next school year. However, close on the heels of that, is an election in November. If voters agree to a bond to build a second high school for MUSD, it could trigger a change in district athletics down the road.

Neill said he doesn’t even want to think about that until November, and then will wait to see how things fall out. A second school, for instance, might not have sports initially. Even if it does, it could be years away.

“It really depends on the timing of how everything happens,” Neill said. “What we hope to avoid is turning in our numbers and then split schools and be playing a 6A schedule with two schools of 1,500 kids. We can prepare for that and inform the AIA if that should ever happen.”

For now, the fall season is looking comfortably familiar.

“The good thing is there’s nothing new,” Neill said. “There’s a little bit of consistency from last year to this year. We’re still competing in the always tough 5A San Tan region with the likes of Williams Field, Casteel, Campo Verde, Gilbert High. So, we definitely have our challenges with being in probably the most competitive region in the 5A conference again, but for the most part we’re status quo.”

Maricopa High School’s fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, swimming and boys’ and girls’ golf.

He said MHS is building a reputation for having great student-athletes, and programs are improving. Tying into that is creating strong bonds between middle school and high school programs. Neill said a recent change made to junior high scheduling could foster more of that.

MUSD’s middle schools are joining the Signal Peak Athletic Conference, playing mostly schools in the Casa Grande area rather than Queen Creek and Apache Junction.

“It’s going to benefit the program because our parents can get to their kids’ games on time. Our students and our coaches that are teachers aren’t going to be missing as much class time and instruction time,” Neill said. “When you look at middle-school athletics, it’s not supposed to be taxing on the student. Just traveling as much as we were, it was taxing on the student. We want to make sure we set our kids up to succeed.”

It may also make it easier for high school coaches to be involved with the middle school sports, he said.

“It’s an expectation that our varsity coaches are somehow, someway involved in our middle school athletics, and everyone does a good job with that,” Neill said. “Being seen and talking to kids. Just creating that connection with kids and getting them excited to be a Ram and come to MHS and maybe future high school No. 2.”

At Pathway, which enrolls about 275 high schoolers, Athletic Director Glen Hale also expects his varsity coaches to maintain a strong link to the junior high. That includes instilling this year’s motto, “Expect great things.”

“It encompasses life,” he said. “If they come to practice, if they’re on time, if they work hard, they can expect great things to happen. Grade-wise, if they’re in the classroom and they’re making their grades and doing their homework and they’re working hard, they can expect great things to happen.”

He said that starts with the coaches working hard and doing their jobs, modeling their behavior they want to see in the student-athletes.

“Each coach, as we go to the next level, is going to sacrifice things so we can get better,” Hale said.

The “next level” could mean a change if Hale gets his way. He intends to apply to join the AIA. Pathway is currently in the Canyon Athletic Association, comprised of charter schools.

“We basically want our kids to play higher competition,” he said. “The CAA is really good, but everybody knows the AIA.”

If accepted, it would mean a big shift for the athletes, who would be facing completely new competition. Having watched the kids face AIA teams during summer competitions, Hale said it could help them grow. He also looks forward to adding girls’ soccer to the array of high school offerings.

“We’re homing in on academics, we’re homing in on character, we’re homing in on serving our community and playing at the next level.”

See the upcoming September issue of InMaricopa for more on this year’s teams.

MHS Varsity Football
W 33-22               at McClintock
Aug. 30                7 p.m. vs. Millennium
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. Apollo
Sept. 13                7 p.m. vs. South Mountain (Homecoming)
Sept. 20                7 p.m. at Central
Sept. 27                7 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. vs. Williams Field (Senior Night)
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at Casteel
Nov. 1                   7 p.m. at Gilbert

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Football
Aug. 30                7 p.m. vs. Canyon State Academy
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. South Pointe
Sept. 19                6:15 p.m. at Canyon State Academy
Sept. 27                7 p.m. vs. San Tan Charter
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs ASU Prep
Oct. 11                  7 p.m. at South Pointe
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. at San Tan Charter
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at ASU Prep

MHS Varsity Volleyball
Sept. 3                  6 p.m. at Camelback
Sept. 4                  6 p.m. vs. Fairfax
Sept. 5                  6 p.m. vs. Verrado
Sept. 10                6 p.m. at Paradise Valley
Sept. 12                6 p.m. vs. North Canyon
Sept. 16                6 p.m. at Campo Verde
Sept. 17                6 p.m. vs. Ironwood
Sept. 24                6 p.m. at Williams Field
Sept. 25                6 p.m. at Centennial
Sept. 26                6 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 1                    6 p.m. vs. Casteel
Oct. 3                    6 p.m. vs. Gilbert
Oct. 15                  6 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 17                  6 p.m. vs. Williams Field
Oct. 22                  6 p.m. vs. Higley (Senior Night)
Oct. 24                  6 p.m. at Casteel
Oct. 29                  6 p.m. at Gilbert

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Volleyball
W, 3-0                  vs. Basis-Peoria
W, 3-0                  at Basis-Chandler
W, 3-0                  vs. Phoenix College Prep
Sept. 3                  6 p.m. vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 5                  7 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 11                5:30 p.m. at Sequoia Charter
Sept. 12                7 p.m. vs. Mission Heights
Sept. 17                4 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 19                7 p.m. vs. EVAC
Sept. 24                6:30 p.m. at Mission Heights
Sept. 26                7 p.m. vs. Heritage-Mesa
Oct. 1                    4 p.m. at South Ridge
Oct. 3                    7 p.m. vs. Desert Heights

MHS Swimming
Sept. 5                  4 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 12                4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Sept. 24                4 p.m.                   at Saguaro
Oct. 3                    4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 10                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 17                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 23                  9:30 a.m.             at Apache Junction
Nov. 2-3               TBA                        State Championship

MHS Cross Country
Sept. 4                  4:30 p.m.             at Vista Grande
Sept. 7                  7 a.m.                    at Chandler Invite
Sept. 14                7 a.m.                    at Fountain Hills Invitational
Sept. 14                7:30 a.m.             at Ojo Rojo Invitational
Sept. 27                TBA                        Nike Desert Twilight
Oct. 12                  TBA                        O’Connor Invitational
Oct. 26                  TBA                        Eye of the Tiger Invite
Nov. 8                   TBA                        State Sectionals

Sequoia Pathway Boys’ Soccer
Aug. 29                6 p.m.                   vs. Imagine Prep-Coolidge
Aug. 30                5 p.m.                   at Basis-S
Sept. 2                  5 p.m.                   vs. Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 5                  4:30 p.m.             at Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 11                6:15 p.m.             at BASIS-Chandler
Sept. 23                4 p.m.                   vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 25                4 p.m.                   vs. Sequoia Charter
Oct. 1                    4 p.m.                   vs. Canyon State
Oct. 15                  4:30 p.m.             at ASU Prep Polytechnic

MHS Boys’ Golf
Aug. 22                 3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Aug. 27                 2 p.m.                   at Ken McDonald Golf Course
Sept. 3                  2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Sept. 10                3:30 p.m.             at Arcadia
Sept. 12                3:30 p.m.             at Tempe
Sept. 17                3 p.m.                   at Westwood
Sept. 24                3:30 p.m.             at Ocotillo Golf Course
Oct. 1                    2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Oct. 15                  3 p.m.                   at McCormick Ranch Golf Course

MHS Girls’ Golf (Developmental)
Sept. 4                  3 p.m.                   at Western Skies Golf Club
Sept. 12                3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Sept. 16                2 p.m.                   at Marcos de Niza
Sept. 18                3 p.m.                   at Granite Falls South Course
Sept. 25                3 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 30                3 p.m.                   at Apache Creek Golf Course
Oct. 2                    2 p.m.                   at The Duke at Rancho El Dorado
Oct. 4                    1 p.m.                   at Girls Golf Developmental Invitational – Encanto 9