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Danae Ruiz of Maricopa scored her 1,000th college career point this season at ERAU and was named to an NAIA All-America team. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Danae Ruiz was nonplussed when a teammate’s mother spread the word Ruiz had been named to a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) 2019 Division II Women’s Basketball All-America team.

“I wasn’t prepared for that,” said Ruiz, a junior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.

A 2016 graduate of Maricopa High School, she was a founding member of the ERAU women’s team. Now she is the first athlete from the women’s or men’s basketball teams to gain the NAIA nationwide honor. A guard, she was named to the NAIA Third Team.

An annual leading scorer for the Eagles since her freshman year, Ruiz had a drama-filled season. She came out of the chute cold and couldn’t quite get her game together. Then she lost her starting spot.

“It was a rough, bumpy road,” she said.

Teams put more pressure on Ruiz than ever before, even staying in her face beyond the arc. New head coach Michael Trujillo decided she would fare better coming off the bench. She had to learn to take that in stride and just think about the playing minutes and not the starts.

“Mentally, I had to grow. Physically, I had to grow,” she said. “And I had to find a creative way of doing things.”

Despite starting only five of the 28 games this season, Ruiz led the Eagles scoring with 12.4 points per game, a total of 348. She let opponents come at her, resulting in 107 points from the free-throw line.

It was her trademark way of getting back up and fighting, something she has been doing since at least freshman year of high school. Before the family returned to Maricopa, she had a basketball coach telling her she would never play college ball or even be an impact player on high school varsity.

“I like to prove people wrong for some reason,” Ruiz said. “When we came back to Maricopa, I had a coach who believed in me and helped me develop my shot.”

By her junior year at MHS, Kati Burrows was the coach for a single season and guided Ruiz and the Rams to the state title. She also instilled a high-level work ethic that continued the next season under coach Melvin Mitchell and helped prepare Ruiz for the style of ball she would play at ERAU.

She also credits her parents for “always encouraging me to keep going” in very different ways. Anna is the softie while Gabe pushes her to toughen up.

This year Ruiz was again named All-California Pacific Conference First Team. For the first time, she was named Cal Pac Player of the Year. During the season, she scored her 1,000th college point. She is also on the ERAU Honor Roll as a forensic psychology major.

Her college preparations had her enrolled in a variety of advanced-placement classes at MHS. At ERAU, she found the coursework a little easier than expected and found a way to balance classes and the travel demands of women’s basketball. She was even on track to graduate early but took on two minors to extend her time.

The Eagles have become a sisterhood, Ruiz said, and she has been pushed into a leadership role, making sure the other women on the team are organized and on the same page. Those were not skills she had expected to acquire but are now part of her toolbox.

While she has been on the path to a career in forensic psychology since day one at ERAU, she is also looking for post-college basketball opportunities overseas.

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Photo by Kyle Norby

Living up to their billing, the Sequoia Pathway girls’ basketball team won their play-in game easily Thursday in Canyon Athletic Association competition. The Pumas, ranked fifth in Division II, defeated South Ridge, 56-23, at home. That puts them in the quarterfinals to play No. 4 Jefferson Prep on Monday at Powerhouse Hoops in Phoenix. Game time is 5:30 p.m.

Jayla Johnson leads the Rams past Independence. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Overcoming a cold start, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team won its play-in contest against Independence, 54-41.

The Rams scored just six points in the first quarter, but team defense kept them close to the Patriots until the shooting started to coming together.

“Our defense was our offense tonight,” MHS head coach RaShawn Calvert said. “As much as we could create and keep our intensity up and stay positive even though things weren’t falling for us, our defense brought us the energy and carried over and created some points for us.”

Senior Jayla Johnson led the Maricopa scoring with 19 points, eight of her team’s 15 points in the second quarter as the Rams moved past the Patriots for good. Independence was ranked 24th to Maricopa’s ninth.

The Rams got scoring out of nine players.

“It was a decent prep. Every game, I think, is a prep,” Calvert said. “Every team has something different to offer. We’re all fighting for the same thing. Whether it’s the last team in the state or the first team in the state, everyone’s coming with their best play, their best players, everything that they’ve got.”

MHS had sloppy moments, and Calvert said that just wouldn’t do deeper in the playoff bracket.

“We’ve just got to know the little mistakes we made here isn’t going to make the cut for the playoffs,” she said. “We’ve got to clean it up and get prepared for what’s next for us.”

Though injured late in the game, senior Italy Brookshire scored 10 points. Brooke Smith had six point, Jade Placer five. Shakira Gillespie and Destinee Chavis scored four apiece. Tayler Coleman had three, Kat Gores two, and Jene Brown one.

The girls now wait to find out their opponent in Round 1 of the 5A state bracket, which is played Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the high seed.

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The Pumas fight for the ball at home in the play-in tournament. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Sequoia Pathway boys’ basketball pulled out a win over Bella Vista College Prep in the Canyon Athletic Association’s play-in, 58-53, moving onto the second round. The Pumas trailed until the fourth quarter, but key shots and turnovers salted away the victory. Pathway, which was ranked 16th, next plays top seed Eduprize-Gilbert on Friday.

On Senior Night, Maricopa High School girls basketball senior Italy Brookshire, Jene Brown, Jayla Johnson, Destinee Chavis, Jade Placer and Divere Brown joined coach RaShawn Culvert in celebrating a winning year and their 19th victory with two games left in the regular season. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

It’s been a winning season that is just turning tougher as the playoffs approach.

Ranked eighth in Arizona’s 5A conference, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team has two games left to play with the state bracket on the line. Their final opponents of the regular season, Casteel and Gilbert, have both defeated the Rams this year.

“It’s going well, but we’ve got more goals we want to reach,” head coach RaShawn Calvert said. “We’ve got to take them one at a time and hopefully come away with the win and then lead into the playoffs.”

Teams ranked in the top eight at the end of the season automatically qualify for the state bracket. Teams ranked nine through 24 must go through the play-in tournament to earn a place. The Rams are 19-5 overall.

“They came in with goals they wanted to set, goals they wanted to reach,” Calvert said. “Regardless of changes with new people, for the most part it’s been the same group. We just had to figure out a way to get as far as we wanted to get.”

They are third in the 5A San Tan Region behind Gilbert and Casteel. Gilbert is ranked second in 5A statewide. Tuesday, Maricopa won its final home game, a 46-33 victory over Higley.

Calvert said team chemistry has improved throughout the season.

“Just playing together offensively, knowing each other, I think that’s improved the most,” she said. “New players, new coach at the same time, you got to get to know them, they got to get to know me. But chemistry has gone really well and has improved, I’d say, every single game.”

Of the five teams that have defeated the Rams this year, three were 5A teams, one was 3A Chinle, and O’Connor is in 6A. All but one have winning records, the outlier being 5-19 Campo Verde, which faced the Rams when they were dealing with injuries.

Consistency has been a sticking point for Maricopa.

“Whether it’s defensively or executing our plays, we’ve got to get more consistent, especially against the tougher teams,” Calvert said. “That’s what it’s going to come down to if we want to get the win.”

The girls next play Casteel (13-10) on the road Friday at 7 p.m. The Colts previously defeated the Rams, 43-28. Maricopa ends the regular season Feb. 5 at Gilbert (18-5), which earlier defeated the Rams, 73-40. How the Rams perform in their final two games will impact their ranking and the state bracket.

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A diverse collection of sports stories in Maricopa were interesting for different reasons in 2018. Some were about the new and shiny, others about overcoming challenges while the top story was flat-out victory.

Brandon Harris and RaShawn Calvert are among Maricopa Unified’s new coaches hired this year.

5. New coaches and athletic directors were hired this year at Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway Academy. At MHS, Brandon Harris became the varsity football head coach while RaShawn Calvert was hired as girls’ basketball head coach and Laura Logan launched the swim team. Former boys’ basketball coach Jake Neill returned as AD. At Sequoia Pathway, Glen Hale took over the football and boys’ basketball teams and was named AD.

4. Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, one of the top-rated golf courses in the state, was inundated with floodwaters from Vekol Wash in October, causing the course to close for nearly a month. General Manager Brady Wilson and his staff soldiered on, keeping the pro shop and restaurant open while water was pumped off the fairways.

Brady Wilson faced flooding challenges as general manager of Ak-Chin Southern Dunes.

3. In Arizona Interscholastic Association competition, MHS football earned a spot in the playoffs out of arguably the toughest section in the state. Sequoia Pathway’s varsity football team finished second in the Canyon Athletic Association’s open division, and the Puma volleyball team reached the final four with two players named all-state.

2. Even readers who don’t usually follow high school sports took interest in this year’s Homecoming game at MHS after a fracas between head coaches capped off the Rams’ 55-0 win. Central suspended its coach long-term, Maricopa’s Harris sat out a game, and both teams were given warnings by AIA.

Photo by Jeffrey Hazlett

  1. The MHS 4×100-meter boys’ relay team won the state gold medal in Division II in May, running the fastest circuit of any team of any division in the Arizona Track & Field Championships in 2018. Longman Pyne, Jacob Cowing, P.J. Austin and Frank Jones ran their lap in 41.51, breaking their previous school record by nearly 2 seconds.

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The varsity basketball teams at Maricopa High School are having opposite fortunes during the young season.

After Thursday’s home loss to Notre Dame Prep 67-39, the boys’ team has a record of 2-7. The girls, on the other hand, defeated Notre Dame 63-51 to move their record to 8-1. The boys host Carl Hayden High School Friday while the girls play CHHS on the road.

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Senior Jene Brown backs Apollo under the goal in Tuesday's win. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Coasting to the finish, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team defeated Apollo Tuesday, 60-49, despite scoring only two points in the fourth quarter.

The Rams threw a little of everything at Apollo. They built a 19-10 score after one quarter to a 41-22 lead at the half. Overall staying aggressive through at least three quarters, the girls combined for a dozen steals.

Sophomore Shakira Gillespie led the Maricopa scoring with 16 points, and senior Jayla Johnson added 15. Senior Jene Brown scored 10, and sophomore Brooke Smith scored nine. Though senior Italy Brookshire scored six, the Rams lost her in the third quarter to a leg injury after a tumble to the hardwood. Maricopa shot 10-for-15 from the free-throw line.

The win put their overall record at 4-1. The Rams next play at Camelback on Thursday.

The girls started the season in the Scorpion Shootout, losing to O’Connor 42-37, but defeating Prescott 39-32, Shadow Ridge 43-25 and Gila Ridge 57-40.

Rashawn Calvert came to Arizona to take over the Maricopa High School girls' varsity basketball team, which starts its season Friday. Photo by Jim Headley


Maricopa High School’s new girls’ basketball coach will surprise you.

Rashawn Calvert has taken over the reins of the Maricopa team this year, but this first-year high school coach sports a master’s degree and even some head coaching experience at the college level.

Calvert, 24, is a physical education teacher at Maricopa High.

“I just moved here from McPherson, Kansas, where I was a grad assistant coach at McPherson College,” she said.

Calvert is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She played four years of basketball at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She transferred to NAIA Division II McPherson College while she obtained a master’s in health science from Fort Hays College.

“I am new, but I think I’m ready,” she said. “As a graduate assistant, I gained a lot more experience than you would expect.”

During her time at McPherson College, Calvert assumed the role of head JV basketball coach and first assistant for their varsity program.

“I had some experience actually coaching as the head varsity coach at the end. I was thrown in to do recruiting and coaching,” Calvert said. “A lot of grad assistants are paperwork and maybe a scouting report. You might help pass a ball now and then. I give a lot of thanks because I have a lot of experience – more than most people at my age.”

She admitted she is a little nervous to lead the team this year but she remains excited by the opportunity at the same time.

“If I didn’t think I was ready, I wouldn’t have applied for it,” she said.

Calvert said she is blessed with six seniors this season, including three returning starters and another senior with playing experience last year. As far as height on the team, Calvert added, “Yes, I have a couple trees this year. It’s exciting to see that we will have some post presence this year.”

As a PE teacher, Calvert said, “I have a lot of athletes that I am using to play basketball. They are hard workers and we get after it.”

The Maricopa team has been in practice three weeks and opens the 2018-19 season with the Scorpion Shootout, a Thanksgiving tournament on Friday against O’Conner at Desert Edge High School at 10:30 a.m.

“We scrimmaged last Thursday, and it went pretty well,” Calvert said.

A total of 14 players are on this year’s Maricopa High team. Last season Maricopa finished at 18-10.

2018-19 Roster
10 Italy Brookshire, Sr.
11 Brooke Smith, Soph.
12 Jayla Johnson, Sr.
13 Divere Brown, Sr.
20 Jene Brown, Sr.
21 Shakira Gillespie, Soph.
22 Tayler Coleman, Jr.
23 Katherine Gores, Fr.
24 Destinee Chavis, Sr.
30 Jade Placer, Sr.
31 Andrea Harker, Jr.
32 Edrianna Harry, Jr.
44 Yasmeen Hanania, Jr.
45 Evone Santiago, Soph.

Nov. 23-24           Scorpion Shootout, Desert Edge HS
Nov. 27                 vs. Apollo, 7 p.m.
Nov. 29                 @Camelback, 7 p.m.
Nov. 30                 vs. North Canyon, 7 p.m.
Dec. 4                    vs. Sierra Linda, 7 p.m.
Dec. 6                   @Notre Dame prep, 7 p.m.
Dec. 7                   @Carl Hayden, 7 p.m.
Dec. 11                  vs. Marana, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13                 @Independence, 7 p.m.
Dec. 18                 @Campo Verde, 7 p.m.
Dec. 27-29           Chandler Prep New Year’s Classic
Jan. 8                   @Williams Field, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11                  @Higley 7 p.m.
Jan. 15                  vs. Casteel, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18                  vs. Gilbert, 7 p.m.
Jan. 22                 vs. Campo Verde, 7 p.m.
Jan. 25                 vs. Williams Field, 7 p.m.
Jan. 29                 vs. Higley, 7 p.m. (Senior Night)
Feb. 1                   @Casteel, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5                   @Gilbert, 7 p.m.

The ninth annual Copa Crew Hype Back to School basketball Tournament is Sept. 28-30 in the Sequoia Pathway Academy high school gym.

The competition is for high school girls and seventh grade (13U) boys from in-state and out-of-state teams.

“Coach Jesse and I have been working with our local businesses for the past eight years to bring you an event that will not only bring teams together from all over for a weekend of competitive basketball, but to also encourage all of our participants, families and followers to shop and dine locally while visiting our town,” said Dee Estrada.

Entry fee is $250 per team. Deadline to enter is Sept. 15.

There will be first, second and third place awards in each division, T-shirts, MVP and all-tourney awards, full concession and raffle prizes.

For more information, contact the Estradas 

Taylor Coleman (22) scored 15 and Jayla Johnson (12) scored 14 in Maricopa's play-in victory. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa is back in the state playoffs.

With a 59-30 victory over Deer Valley, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team qualified for the Arizona Interscholastic Association 5A championships. Seedings for the Top 16 bracket will be announced this weekend.

Most of the team is new to playoff atmosphere, but senior Sydni Callis was a freshman on the state champion team in 2015 and has seen four years of high expectations. So she has some perspective on what it takes to win a title.

“It feels good,” she said about Thursday’s win. “I’m hoping we can get as far as we did. I think we can. I have confidence in them.”

While Callis described the return to the playoffs as “kind of like déjà vu,” head coach Melvin Mitchell feels her experience is vital for a young team that was unprepared for the intensity that came at them from 20th-ranked Deer Valley.

“I tried to explain what the playoff atmosphere was like, but they just don’t understand that because they’ve never experienced it,” said Mitchell, who was assistant coach for that championship season. “Sydni is starting to step up and become more of a leader. She’s not necessarily vocal in her personality, but she’s starting to get there and tell these girls exactly what she wants them to do.

“They respect her because she’s been there and won a state championship.”

Maricopa knew Deer Valley only from game tapes. Mitchell said the team looked bigger in person than on film. Though clearly the superior team, the Rams played shaky, often wild basketball in the first half, letting the Hawks stay close early. Though leading by only one point after one quarter, Maricopa held Deer Valley to just two points in the second and led 23-10 at the half.

“I think they got a little over-anxious we had a lot of fast-break layups in the first half that we just didn’t convert,” Mitchell said.

He told them to calm down during break and to back off on the long pass when it wasn’t there. The Rams scored 21 points in the third quarter and ran off with the victory.

Sophomore Taylor Coleman led all scoring with 15 points. Mitchell said she has always been a spark on the team and is learning what her strong shots are.

Chipping in two 3-pointers, junior Jayla Johnson scored 14. Senior Alia Ballou scored nine, and freshman Brooke Smith scored seven. Callis scored just five but had 12 rebounds, seven steals and six assists.

“The more and more they get used to and the more physical we amp it up in practice, the better they’ll play,” Mitchell said. “We have to do the things that got us here.”

Senior Sydni Callis (11) led the Maricopa scoring Tuesday as the Rams took a tough loss against top-ranked Apollo. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


After a tight-battle with one of the top teams in the state, Maricopa High School girls’ basketball posted a loss for the final game of the season, but the Rams retained their 13th-place ranking in 5A.

That sets them up as the home team for the first round of the 5A play-in tournament Thursday. They will host No. 20 Deer Valley at 6:30 p.m.

The Rams (17-9) lost to Apollo Tuesday, 53-45. Afterward, Apollo moved from No. 4 to No. 1, finishing with a record of 20-2. The top eight teams automatically move into the state championship bracket. Those ranked ninth through 24th qualify for the play-in tournament to vie for spots in the championship bracket.

For instance, Maricopa’s varsity boys’ team also lost to Apollo Tuesday, to end with an 11-12 record. But their 23rd ranking in 5A advances them to the play-in tournament. They play at 10th-ranked Sahuaro on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Previously this season, Maricopa’s girls lost to Apollo by 17 points. The Rams came into Tuesday’s rematch with four straight wins, including a narrow 48-47 victory at Williams Field.

“When we played them the first time, they were a heck of a rebounding team,” Rams’ head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “Of course, they’re big. They keep it above their heads. All the fundamental stuff that you want to teach your kids, they do. And they’re very, very physical. So, we wanted to try to match that intensity and make sure we were rebounding off the weak side.

“We definitely wanted to challenge them and see what they were made of.”

Both teams were shooting cold at the start of the game. Maricopa’s defense kept the Rams battling back and forth for the lead. The MHS strategy on the boards was effective for the first half, and then the offense started firing in the third quarter to allow the Rams a lead.

Inconsistency upended the Rams’ effort in the fourth quarter, Mitchell said.

“In the fourth quarter it kind of broke down,” he said. “They were playing ‘Monkey in the Middle’ or something. It was just one of those things where we have to be consistent throughout the whole game.”

For Senior Night, Maricopa’s two seniors led the scoring. Sydni Callis scored 16 and had seven steals, four rebounds and six assists. Alia Ballou scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers. Junior Jayla Johnson had nine points. Sophomore Taylor Coleman had eight rebounds and two blocks.

For Apollo, 6-foot junior Jakaree Harris led all scoring with 22 points, and 6-foot-1 freshman Haylee Weathersby scored 17.

“I think we kept up the intensity,” Mitchell said. “The play out of our guards was spectacular.”

That, he said, has Maricopa in good preparation for Thursday’s play-in game.

“It’s that time of year where we have to refuse to lose, and we want to see where we go,” the coach said. “I’m looking forward to it.”


Sequoia Pathway Academy basketball is heating up.

The Pumas junior high basketball team will play their regular season finale tonight in Tucson. The boys, coming off their 10th consecutive win, are ranked fifth in the Canyon Athletic Association.

The team won the Imagine Prep Basketball Tournament in January and are gearing up for their playoff run on Feb. 9 at Pathway.

Third-ranked varsity girls’ basketball remains undefeated at 11-0.

The team is led by “the most exciting basketball player in the state,” according to Pathway Athletic Director Nate Wong.

That player is sophomore point guard Aleina Estrada.

“Despite being the smallest player on the floor, she is averaging more than 20 points per game,” Wong said. “This week against perennial powerhouse Salt River High School, she scored 27 as the Lady Pumas won 52-29.”

Girls Varsity went on to defeat Mission Heights Prep 60-30 Wednesday night and face off at home against Coolidge’s Imagine Prep Feb. 2 at 5 p.m.

The Pumas play in Division 2 Region 5 of CAA.

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Danae Ruiz, ERAU

After 17 games, Maricopan Danae Ruiz is again the leading scorer for the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University women’s basketball team.

Ruiz, a 2016 graduate of Maricopa High School, has compiled 224 points so far this season. She is averaging 13.2 points per game despite having limited playing time early in the season. She has also started every game.

Saturday, the Eagles ran over Pacific Union College 115-60, with Ruiz scoring a career-high 33 points. This season she also has 67 rebounds, 42 assists and 28 steals.

The team is 14-3 overall with nine games to play before the Cal Pac Conference Championship. This is the second year of competition for the Lady Eagles, for whom Ruiz was a founding member.

At Missouri Western State University, also an NCAA Division II school, freshman Sam Aviles was the primary kickoff specialist for the Griffons football team in 2017. In 11 games, he had 63 kickoffs for 3,631 yards, a 57.6 average, and 13 touchbacks.

Aviles was a Maricopa Ram in 2016. MWSU finished the season 4-7.

The Maricopa High School varsity girls' basketball team links arms ahead of the national anthem Tuesday night. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team may be quietly hanging around the 14th ranking in 5A, but that’s OK with coach Melvin Mitchell.

“A lot of people are kind of writing us off, which is good. We don’t need the attention right now,” the third-year head coach said. “We’re just waiting and preparing for February.”

The Rams coasted through a 5A Metro game Tuesday, thumping McClintock 80-31 while getting the bench plenty of playing time.

“It became a track race a little bit, which I really didn’t want it to get,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to bring the ball up slowly and work around the offense, but you can’t tell them not to score if it’s a fast-break layup.”

Maricopa is 4-0 in Metro play, but the Rams have sixth-ranked Apollo waiting for them Friday night. Apollo has a very tall team loaded with seniors. Mitchell said the Hawks run most of their plays through 6-foot junior Jakaree Harris. Apollo also has a “nice new big” in 6-foot-1 freshman Haylee Weathersby, who is averaging 16 points a game. Both are strong offensive rebounders.

“Limiting them to one possession is going to be key,” Mitchell said.

All but one of Maricopa’s remaining regular-season games are Metro contests. The Rams sit on top of the region with Apollo. Overall, Maricopa is 12-7.

“I think we’re just very young. We’re not necessarily deep,” Mitchell said. “Some of our younger players need to step up and just learn and know their role, and they got the opportunity to show some of that tonight.”

Against McClintock, MHS senior Sydni Callis led all scoring with 24 points. She also had four steals and five assists. Junior Jayla Johnson, recovering from injury, “didn’t look like herself,” according to Mitchell, but still scored 19 points, 14 in the first half. The coach said Johnson needed to be 100 percent in order for the team to make a run in the playoffs.

Freshman Brook Smith scored nine points. Italy Brookshire and freshman Evone Santiago scored eight each. Taylor Coleman led the rebounding with seven while scoring six points.

The next game for the Rams is Thursday against Ironwood in Maricopa. Varsity game time is 7 p.m.

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Josh Johnson and the Maricopa High School boys' basketball team came from behind Tuesday to defeat 5A Metro competition Sunnyslope in an upset. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


The game ended in dramatic fashion, with referees taking names, but the teams may not have heard the end of it.

A Maricopa boys’ basketball team, again abbreviated by scholastic issues, played close to Sunnyslope but trailed in the final minutes. Every point mattered for the Rams in the fourth quarter as they chopped the Viking lead to one point on free throws from P.J. Austin.

At the final buzzer, Sunnyslope led 48-47 but was called for a foul as Maricopa senior Josh Johnson tried to get into the air from beyond the arc. Johnson missed his first free throw, then nailed the second to tie the score and the third to win, 49-48.

In the aftermath of celebrating Maricopa players and fans, and furious Sunnyslope players and fans, scuffles led to suggestions of calling the police and the referees noting the names of three Viking players. The situation will come to the attention of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

It was just the fourth loss of the season for Sunnyslope, ranked fourth in the state, while Maricopa’s overall record improved to 11-5. The Rams are ranked 17th.

“This really helps us and gives us some confidence,” coach Tony Fuller said.

The Vikings’ size inside caused the Rams problems all night, but Sunnyslope was never allowed to open a sizeable lead. Maricopa was the quicker team, and proved their conditioning by hanging with the deeper bench. The Rams had just four players on their bench, and only two of them were in a condition to play.

“We call them the divine nine,” Fuller said. “We got some good students who take care of business in the classroom. Scrappy. They make good plays, and everybody knows their role.”

Johnson led the Maricopa scoring with 18 points.  Austin scored six vital points in the fourth quarter and finished with eight. Cameron Sanders and Jacob Cowing also scored eight each, and El Jones scored seven. Sunnyslope senior Kyle Fischer led all scoring with 20 points, and Chris Orozco scored 16.

The second half of Maricopa’s season is filled mostly with 5A Metro competition. The Rams play Sunnyslope again Jan. 23 on the road. Fuller said he feels his team needs to win three more games to reach the playoffs.

Next up is Kellis on Friday at 7 p.m. in Maricopa.

MHS Rams build a lead against Willow Canyon.

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team carries a 5-3 record into tonight’s match-up with Casa Grande.

The Rams are coming of a four-game home stand, which they split. They defeated Campo Verde and Willow Canyon but lost to Poston Butte and Mountain View Marana.

Maricopa has made an impact with their fitness, wearing down opponents late in the game. Head coach Tony Fuller credited the ongoing training of the team members, many of whom excel in football, track and other sports.

“That’s something we have to do, run them as much as we can and get them tired,” he said. “We trying to be the best-conditioned team in Arizona; that’s our goal.”

That helped the Rams nearly pull off a miracle comeback Friday against Mountain View. Though Maricopa took an early lead, the Mountain Lions built a 17-point lead in the second quarter. But the Rams adjusted their effort against the taller, deeper, more exhausted team and worked all the way back to within three points in the final seconds before the 62-57 loss.

“They felt like they lost an opportunity, that maybe if they played that way for the entire 32 minutes, we might have won the game,” Fuller said. “So it was a lesson.”

Hosting Willow Canyon on Tuesday, the Rams won 83-67. It was Maricopa’s highest point total of the season.

“I just wanted us to come out a play hard,” Fuller said. “I thought we played a good second half last game, but sometimes we lose focus.”

The Wildcats could do little to stop Maricopa senior Josh Johnson, who stacked up 45 points. Twenty-seven of those came in the first half. He hit seven 3-pointers, including one from near mid-court at the halftime buzzer. Johnson also had nine rebounds, five steals and five assists.

Junior Jelani Elliott scored 10 points and had three rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. Senior El Jones scored eight points. Senior Longman Pyne had nine rebounds, three assists and a steal to go with his two points.

Tonight’s game starts at 7 p.m. in Casa Grande, where the Cougars are 0-6. The Rams return home Friday to host region rival Ironwood.

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This story has been updated to reflect a change in day/time.

Alcurtis Turner. Photo by Dean Crandall

Six weeks of basketball training for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade is available in Maricopa starting Aug. 26.

Alcurtis Turner of Kids Basketball Association (KBA) is returning to run the camp he started in Maricopa in 2013. He is expecting 20-25 students. He limits it based on the number of volunteer assistants he has available.

“The first year I came down, we had 80 kids,” Turner said. “That was too much.”

The camp is Saturdays from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Pacana Park at a rate of $10 per session.

“They’ll basically be ball-handling, running, a lot of cardio, passing and shooting,” Turner said. “We end a lot of times on defense. I give them a little motivational speech to try to build their confidence up.”

Most players who come to his camps are new to the game, and he’ll be drilling fundamentals for them.

“It’s very repetitive,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll switch it up when they get better. You can’t move on to something else until you master what you’ve been learning. Once kids buy into training, it makes it easier for them play in the games.”

Photo by Dean Crandall

Turner was a minor-league basketball player, playing street ball well enough to join semi-pro teams in Arizona. He said a lot of parents of would-be basketball players do not know the amount of work and patience required to become good.

Participating in the KBA camp is not just about basketball. Players are expected to be involved in Turner’s community service Sundays, doing work like picking up litter or painting over graffiti.

“It’s not going to be easy. This is not an overnight process.” Turner said. “It takes time, but they will learn from the best to become the best.”



This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo by Mason Callejas

After pool play, the Ak-Chin boys’ basketball team had a 1-2 record in the Native American Basketball Invitational being played in Maricopa and surrounding communities. The boys lost to Cheyenne Dogmen 102-53, defeated Commod Nation in a forfeit and lost to Otoe Ascend 66-59. That places Ak-Chin in the bracket matched with 0-3 Team Winnebago, which forfeited all its games. The Ak-Chin girls’ team went 0-3 in pool play. They lost to Apache Outlaws 60-31, to Lady NS 81-14, and to Court Divas 52-37. In bracket play, they are matched with 1-2 Lady Gunz on Thursday at 11 a.m. at Maricopa High School.

Photo by Michelle Chance

The ceremonies for the 15th annual Native American Basketball Invitational kicked off at Copper Sky Park Sunday evening. Sixty-four boys and girls teams from tribes across the United States and New Zealand participated in a parade of flags and meet-and-greet with fans.

Leaders from the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community and the city of Maricopa spoke to the crowd and gave words of encouragement to the players.

The NABI tournament began Monday and runs through July 15. For the full bracket visit the NABI site.

Maricopa High School senior Tyra Williams was named 5A Metro Region Player of the Year, and Melvin Mitchell was named Region Coach of the Year. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

After the inaugural season of the 5A Metro region’s winter sports, Maricopa High School athletes have drawn notice.

Senior Tyra Williams was named Region Player of the Year in girls’ basketball. She called the honor “awesome.”

Williams averaged 18.4 points per game this year (fifth in the 5A conference), totaling 461. She had 216 rebounds, 87 steals, 32 assists and 56 blocks. Her season high was 33 points in a win over McClintock.

“I’m going to South Mountain [Community College] for a year; then I’m going to transfer to NAU,” she said.

At South Mountain she will be in familiar company. Former Rams Raegene Womack, the Cougars’ top player this season, and Ashliegh Haley were both part of MHS’s 2015 state championship team.

Maricopa’s Melvin Mitchell was named 5A Metro’s first Region Coach of the Year.

“I thought it was really, really cool,” he said. “It definitely feels pretty good to get the honor.”

But Mitchell also felt the honor from other coaches was due to their low expectations of his team after graduating seven seniors including stars like Womack and Danae Ruiz, who has gone on to lead the women’s team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“They figured we’d be OK but not worthy of making the run,” Mitchell said.

The Rams finished on top of the region, eking out a winning percentage fractions better than rival Ironwood. Maricopa lost in the first round of the state playoffs to Ironwood Ridge finishing the season 22-5.

Mitchell had even higher expectations of his team, knowing their hard work, scoring ability and the Maricopa calling card of pressure defense. Even with Williams graduating this year, he has high hopes for next year’s team, with two team leaders coming back – Sydni Callis and Jayla Johnson – and some 6-foot girls moving up from junior varsity.

Callis, a junior, was named First Team All Region. She was second in the conference in steals with 6.4 per game and fourth in assists, averaging 5.6. She averaged 11.5 points and totaled 129 rebounds. Johnson, a sophomore, was named Second Team All Region after averaging 10.9 points. She had 90 steals and 47 assists.

“I think Jayla and Sydni are two of the best in the backcourt in the state, but I might be biased,” Mitchell said.

Among the boys, junior Josh Johnson was named First Team All Region after leading the team into the state playoffs. Senior Darrell Handy-Johnson, in his first season for Maricopa, was given honorable mention.

Apollo’s Holland Woods, who averaged 27 points a game, was Region Player of the Year, and coach Jacob Marin was named Region Coach of the Year.

Four MHS soccer players were First Team picks in 5A Metro.

Midfielder Jacob Padilla and defender Elijah Aviles, both seniors, were named to the boys’ first team, with junior forward Diego Castro making Second Team All Region. The Rams were 8-8-1 overall.

For the girls, senior forward Amanda Maciel, who scored 24 goals, and senior defender Lauren Davis were named First Team All Region. Sophomore forward Shannon Coutre and defender Taylor Russo were named Second Team All Region. The girls were 11-7-1 overall.

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Maricopa's 5-foot-4 guard Josh Johnson led the team's scoring with 27 points, including seven 3-pointers. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa Rams have been a bit cursed this season having the Apollo Hawks not only in their conference but also in their region.

Apollo was undefeated in 5A Metro competition and in conference play (24-3 overall). Two of those 10 region wins were against Maricopa, by scores of 90-63 and 74-52.

So after the Rams overcame a disintegration midway through the season by fighting their way into the state playoffs, it was their misfortune to be seeded 16th and bracketed against Apollo immediately. The resulting 90-66 loss to the Hawks in Round 1 was neither shocking nor shaming.

“They’re a good team and they did not have a letdown,” Maricopa coach Tony Fuller said.

Apollo’s senior point guards Dre Marin and Holland Woods put on a shooting clinic. Marin hit seven 3-pointers and scored 35 points. Woods score 27.

Junior Josh Johnson led the Rams with 27 points. He also nailed seven 3-pointers. Senior Terrell Johnson scored 18 points and brother Darrell Johnson 14.

Maricopa took the lead early and stayed close until the middle of the first quarter, when Apollo forced turnovers and started hitting nonstop from the field. The Rams trailed by nine points at the end of the quarter.

The second quarter was a disaster for the Rams, who were held to just nine points. The Hawks grew their lead to 47-29 at the half. Maricopa went on some scoring runs but could not get close to Apollo again.

Junior Cameron Sanders hit two buckets for Maricopa and Senior Roscoe Gray hit a 3-pointer to round out the scoring.

“It’s rough when they shoot the ball like that,” Fuller said. “I think the best team won, but I’m still proud of my team.”

The mood in the locker room was somber afterward, the coach said, “but I still see a sense of pride that I didn’t see when I first arrived.”

Many of the players exited red-eyed or in tears. That included Darrell Johnson, who said the team became much closer as friends as the season went on, and the final loss was frustrating.

“We played our hardest tonight and tried to get the job done,” he said.

“But you win some, you lose some.”

Twins Darrell and Terrell Johnson were newcomers to the Rams this year and were consistent top scorers and rebounders. They are among six seniors leaving the team and, at 6-foot-4, the only true height on the squad.

It was an up-and-down season for a team that started strong with two tournament victories but then lost key players to academic struggles. That contributed to a four-game slide late in the season.

With all of the missing players back, they were good enough to get into the top 24 and qualify for the play-in tournament. There, they upset 10th ranked Deer Valley in dramatic fashion to earn a spot in the playoffs.

Fuller said the Rams would have to be a lot sharper to beat a team like Apollo. And he is still concerned about the academic struggles of a lot of students with basketball skills who could not be on the team because they could not make the grades.

“We’ve got a long way to go in terms of what a real basketball program is about,” Fuller said. “The cultural dynamic has to change.”

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Senior Darrell Handy-Johnson and the Maricopa Rams worked their way into the state tournament the hard way, by bumping off the 10th-ranked Deer Valley Skyhawks. File photo by Victor Moreno

The Maricopa High School boys basketball team defeated Deer Valley tonight, 65-61, in the 5A conference play-in.

The upset victory of the No. 23 Rams over the No. 10 Skyhawks puts Maricopa into the state tournament.

The Rams charged out of the chute to a 17-9 lead in the first quarter, and the hosting Skyhawks never recovered. But they came close.

Deer Valley scored eight unanswered points in the final minutes of the second quarter, and Maricopa held on to 31-29 halftime lead.

In a back-and-forth third quarter, the Skyhawks took the lead briefly but the Rams pushed ahead again. Maricopa was on top by just one point going into the fourth.

Deer Valley looked like it would at last build a cushion after taking back the lead, but Maricopa wiped away those hopes with a 3-pointer. The Rams held their nerves through the final minutes and helped themselves at the free-throw line to sew up the win and extend their season.

The brackets for the state tournament will be announced Sunday. The boys’ bracket begins play Wednesday.


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Maricopa juniors Sydni Callis and Josh Johnson are key players as Maricopa High School's basketball teams move into the post-season. Photos by William Lange

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team climbed up the 5A rankings in the final week of play to finish seventh.

That automatically qualifies the Rams for a slot in the state tournament. The bracket will be announced Sunday. The state tourney, which Arizona Interscholastic Association calls February Frenzy, starts Tuesday.

Winning the final six games of the season, Maricopa is 21-4 overall.

The final two games were on the road. The Rams defeated Williams Field 57-30. They were led by 22 points from senior Tyra Williams and 12 each from junior Sydni Callis and senior Clara Morris. Williams and junior Natausha Hall each had eight rebounds, and Callis had eight steals.

At Apollo, a 5A Metro rival, Maricopa ran over the Hawks 63-38. Callis led the scoring with 18 points. Junior Jayla Johnson scored 17, and Williams contributed 14. Hall led the rebounding with 10, while Callis had 12 assists and eight steals.

The dominating play of the Rams lifted them three places from their No. 10 ranking at the start of last week.

Teams ranked 9-24 must compete in the conference play-in tournament. Instead, the Rams get a rest.

Maricopa’s boys’ team has a bigger, more immediate challenge.

Posting a 17-10 overall record, the Maricopa boys’ team achieved a 23rd ranking in 5A. That landed them a spot in the conference play-in tournament for a chance to qualify for the state tournament.

The Rams are set to play Deer Valley on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Deer Valley High School in Glendale in the conference tourney.

Head coach Tony Fuller said staff has been watching tapes of 10th-ranked Deer Valley extensively.

“They are an excellent team,” he said. “They have a good guard, good post guys. They’re a lot like us. They’re big and their tough, but I think we’re ready.”

The Rams had lost some players to academic problems, but they are reloaded. The ranking of 23 is now considered imaginary by the coach.

“We’re healthy and we’ve got everybody back,” Fuller said. “The guys are trying to do something that hasn’t been done here in a very long time.”

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Danae Ruiz

Maricopa High School graduate Danae Ruiz is leading her new team in scoring.

Midway through its inaugural season, the women’s basketball team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is 6-6.

In those 12 games, Ruiz has scored 169 points for a 14.1 average. She also has 50 rebounds,38 assists and 19 steals.

Saturday, she had a “career game” at Simpson University in Redding, California. In an ERAU loss, Ruiz scored 31 points. She shot 10-for-15 from the field and 7-for-9 from behind the arc. She was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

Ruiz is a 5-foot-5 guard for the Eagles, a team comprised primarily of freshmen. She is majoring in forensic psychology.

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Maricopa High School boys and girls basketball teams are playing in section tourneys.

The Maricopa High School boys and girls basketball teams won their first round games in their respective sectional tournaments.

The girls defeated Queen Creek, 82-55, Tuesday night in Division II Section VI play. It was the second time this season the Rams defeated the Bulldogs.

Next up is eighth-ranked Mesa. That game is tonight at 5:15 at Marcos de Niza High School. The Rams, ranked sixth in Division II, lost to the Jackrabbits by 20 points in December.

The MHS girls are 22-5 overall.

Over in Division III Section V, the Maricopa boys defeated Blue Ridge, 74-53, Wednesday. The Rams had defeated the Yellowjackets less than a month ago by a much tighter score.

The Rams play second-ranked Scottsdale Christian on Friday at 7 p.m. at Valley Christian High School.

Maricopa is 17-10 overall.