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girls’ basketball

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Shakira Gillespie helps Maricopa run over Campo Verde. Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

With back-to-back wins this week, the Maricopa High School varsity girls’ basketball team improved their record to 11-7 overall. The Rams are 8-2 in the 5A conference and 1-1 in San Tan Region play.

The girls defeated Campo Verde 57-18 in a home blowout. Brooke Smith led the scoring with 16 points, including three 3-pointers. Evone Santiago hit four 3-points for 12 points to with four rebounds and two steals. Tayler Riley-Coleman had seven rebounds, nine points and four steals and blocked a shot. Shakira Gillespie had six steals, eight points and four rebounds.

Maricopa downed Notre Dame Prep at home, 40-27. Gillespie was top scorer with 15 points, top rebounder with 10 and had six steals. Katherine Gores had 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Santiago has six steals, six rebounds and three points. Riley-Coleman blocked three shots and added five points.

This week, the Rams moved up one slot in the state rankings to 15th in 5A. After competing in a holiday tournament in Chula Vista, California, the Rams had a sloppy return Saturday, losing to Williams Field (7-6) at home, 54-47. Their next competition is a home game against Higley (4-12) Jan. 17.

Senior Jayla Johnson, junior Tayler Coleman and sophomore Shakira Gillespie head upcourt at Millennium.

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team wrapped up their extended season in the quarterfinals of the 5A state championship bracket Thursday.

Facing Arizona’s top team, the Millennium Tigers, the Rams fell 71-35. It capped a 21-9 year for Maricopa.

“They fought the entire time. In following them throughout our season, that’s one thing that hasn’t stayed consistent,” first-year head coach RaShawn Calvert said. “In going into games, we start bad and then pick it up. Tonight, I can definitely say they fought from start to finish.”

With four players over six feet tall, the formerly 6A Millennium was physically daunting and aggressive, leaving Maricopa with awkward match-ups. The Tigers ran to a 24-8 lead in the first quarter. Though Maricopa stuck with them in the second to trail 40-21 at the half, Millennium went on a 22-6 tear in the third.

Calvert said she was proud of her team’s accomplishments, saying no one picked them to end up in the quarterfinals. The Rams also saw what they need to do to get to the next level.

“It’s working on everything. It’s getting mentally prepared, physically prepared,” Calvert said. “We saw the best. We saw No. 1 [Millennium]. No. 2 [Gilbert] was in our region. We know what we’ve got to prepare for. We know our weaknesses. We know moving forward what we’ve got to work on.”

Maricopa is losing six seniors, including last season’s Region Player of the Year Jayla Johnson. However, a contingent of juniors and sophomores also saw plenty of playing time this season and stepped up as leaders when necessary.

In Monday’s semifinals at the Wells Fargo Arena, Millennium will face No. 12 Casteel while Gilbert takes on No. 3 Horizon.

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File photo

Two big quarters in the middle of the game lifted the Maricopa Rams out of the 5A round of 16 Tuesday and into the state quarterfinals.

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team defeated Marana on the road, 58-48. That was despite a slow start and Marana’s attempt at a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were seeded eighth, just ahead of the Rams’ ninth-place ranking, but were without their standout, Anabella Muscoreil, who was injured a week ago.

Neither team could get an offense firing in the first quarter. Maricopa had only a 6-5 lead at the end. Then the Rams went on an intense offensive run while the defense stayed tight and left the Tigers little room to maneuver. Maricopa outscored Marana 20-8 in the third and 22-16 in the fourth to move ahead, 48-29.

The Rams held off a 19-10 surge by the Tigers for the victory.

Jayla Johnson led all scorers with 28 points. Jene Brown had 12 points, followed by Tayler Riley-Coleman with six, Brooke Smith with five, Destinee Chavis with three and Italy Brookshire and Shakira Gillespie with two apiece.

That sets up Maricopa (21-7) to face the powerhouse Millennium team (23-4) that is the top seed in the conference. They have not played each other this season. The quarterfinal game is Thursday at 7 p.m. at Millennium High School in Goodyear.

From Feb. 7, 2019. Photo by Kyle Norby

High school girls’ basketball teams have extended their seasons as the Sequoia Pathway varsity upset No. 4 Jefferson Prep in the Canyon Athletic Association quarterfinals.

The Pumas won 47-39 Monday night to advance to the semis of Division 2. Aleina Estrada scored 24 points for Pathway, bringing her season total to 371.

Kymani Bledsoe put up 12 points, and Jasmin Nafarrate scored seven and had 5 offensive rebounds. Alicia Lewis scored three, and Destiny Rosales had two.

The Pumas, seeded fifth, next play Saturday against top seed Desert Heights at Valley Lutheran High School at 6:15 p.m.

In the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team plays tonight at Marana High School in the 5A round of 16. The Rams are seeded ninth. Marana is eighth. Game time is 7 p.m.

Other Maricopa teams that qualified for the playoffs bowed out early. The Pathway boys’ basketball team lost to top-ranked Eduprize-Gilbert, 102-28, in the CAA round of 16 on Friday. In AIA play, the MHS girls’ soccer team lost to Casteel in the first round 4-0 Saturday.

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.

Jene Brown (20), Jayla Johnson (12) and Italy Brookshire set up defense against Casteel. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

On a night the Maricopa High School girls basketball team suffered a rare loss, the Rams honored two of their own for reaching the 1,000-point scoring mark for their careers this season.

Tuesday, the girls took on conference foe Casteel. Despite a strong start, field goals became elusive, and the Rams lost 43-28. It moved their overall record to 16-4. It was their second loss in the 5A San Tan section. It was also an upset win for the Colts, who were ranked 16th in 5A compared to Maricopa’s seventh.

Before the game, the Rams took a moment to present awards to seniors Jayla Johnson and Jene Brown. They both scored their 1,000th career points early in the season. Jayla, who has played all her high school career at MHS, reached her mark Dec. 6 in a win over Notre Dame Prep, 63-51. Jene, a transfer this year from New York, scored her 1,000th point Nov. 27 in a win over Apollo, 60-49.

In Tuesday’s game, Jayla led the Maricopa scoring with 10 points. She also had five steals and four rebounds. Jene had 19 rebounds, five points, three blocks and two assists. Senior Italy Brookshire scored seven points and had 10 rebounds.

Submitted photo

Maricopa High School senior basketball player Sydni Callis signed a letter of intent to play for Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Callis was named All Region First Team in 5A Metro. She played varsity all four years of high school and as a freshman was part of the state championship team. According to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, she averaged 12.3 points per game and led the region with 4.3 steals per game this season.

Shaw University competes in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Junior Jayla Johnson was named Metro’s player of the year, leading all scorers with 16.3 points per game. Sophomore Tayler Coleman was Second Team All Region.

Among the boys, Jayla’s brother, senior Josh Johnson, was named the 5A conference offensive player of the year. Within the conference, he was the Metro Region offensive player of the year and was First Team All Region.

This week, MHS expects three baseball players and a soccer player to sign national letters of intent.

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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.”


MHS senior Sydni Callis has been a driving force early in the season. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Just four games into their 2017-18 season, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team has already been on a rollercoaster. The Rams are 2-2 for November as they reconfigure for another run at the playoffs.

The two losses came in the season-starting Desert Edge Scorpion Shootout. Sierra Linda, last year’s state runner-up, defeated Maricopa 61-41. Then Agua Fria defeated the Rams in a much tighter game tainted by two late turnovers, 50-46.

“We started the season pretty rough,” Maricopa head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “I think we’re a lot better team than we showed in that first game.”

But it did give the Rams a taste of top-level basketball right out the chute and was an eye-opener in the work that needs to be done. Because they were tournament games, the losses do not count in Arizona Interscholastic Association figuring.

Against Sierra Linda, senior Sydni Callis, whom the coach called a big-game player, scored 20 points, had seven rebounds and six steals, and blocked two shots. Junior Jayla Johnson scored 15 and had six rebounds.

Maricopa started its regular season Tuesday by unloading on Vista Grande at home, 67-17. It was an opportunity for everyone to get in some floor time and figure out what “Ram basketball” means to Mitchell.

“It’s an extremely huge learning curve, just the players getting used to me and my personality, especially in practice; it may not be something that they’re used to,” said Mitchell, who is in his third year as varsity coach. “We like to switch up our defensive schemes, and stuff like that, so they always have to be thinking on the go. And just grooming them, making sure they’re ready for big-time competition like Queen Creek.”

They were definitely ready for Queen Creek on Thursday in Maricopa. The 61-29 victory was more than a little revenge on the Bulldogs, who beat Maricopa last year by two points. This time, Queen Creek was limited to single digits in every quarter.

“It was huge for us,” Mitchell said. “We just got to play our brand of basketball.”

Described by the coach as “a quiet assassin,” Johnson scored 21 points, hitting four 3-pointers, and collected six rebounds. Callis hit every shot she tried from the field and the line and finished with 18 points and nine steals.

“I think in my heart that we have two of the best guards in the state,” Mitchell said.

Freshman Shakira Galespie stepped up to score eight points. Sophomore Taylor Coleman led the rebounding with seven.

“It’s kind of one of those funny things where typically the seniors are the leaders, but we have everyone leading on this team,” the coach said.

The Rams are on the road Friday, playing Campo Verde in Gilbert at 7 p.m.

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MHS senior Alia Ballou brings the ball in during a home-opening victory. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

In their first non-tournament game of the new season, Maricopa High School’s girls’ basketball team thumped Vista Grande, 67-17. The Rams held the Spartans to just three points in the first half.

Junior Jayla Johnson led all scorers with 17 points. Senior Alia Ballou scored 12, including two 3-pointers, and freshman Evone Santiago scored nine. Senior Sydni Callis and junior Destinee Chavis scored eight apiece. Senior Natausha Hall had nine rebounds, and Johnson grabbed five. Callis had 10 steals, and junior Kyla Boyce blocked two shots.

Maricopa hosts Queen Creek (4-1) Thursday at 7 p.m.

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Team leader Tyra Williams struggled to score in the first half against Ironwood Ridge in a loss that ended the season. Photo by William Lange

Maricopa High School girls’ basketball season came to an end in the first round of the state playoffs Tuesday night.

The eighth-seeded Rams fell on their home court to No. 9 Ironwood Ridge, 52-46, in the 5A bracket.

The game was anticipated to be close, with the teams having similar strengths, but it was not expected to be as messy as it was, especially in the early going.

Maricopa shooting was ice cold though opportunities to score were abundant. Both teams racked up turnovers, especially traveling violations, as the referees kept a tight rein on the action. Passes often went awry, making execution even more difficult in a tense game.

The score was tied for the first and only time with 3:44 to go in the first quarter.  Then the Nighthawks pulled away. Maricopa moved close just once more in the middle of the second quarter but could never put together a run.

Ironwood Ridge led 22-14 at halftime, with Maricopa’s top score being six points from junior Jayla Johnson. In the second half, the majority of the scoring came from senior Tyra Williams and junior Sydni Callis, but that was only enough to hang with the Nighthawks and not overtake them.

The Rams were 19-4 overall this season and tied with Ironwood atop the 5A Metro standings.

Maricopa              6   8   11   21 — 46

Ironwood Ridge  11  11  11  19 — 52

Senior Tyra Williams scored a career high 33 points as the Maricopa High School girls basketball team defeated McClintock 83-35 Tuesday night.

It was their last home game. They play at Williams Field tonight and at Apollo to end the regular season on Feb. 7.

The Rams are also gearing up for the post-season, where they hope for a high seeding in the 5A tournament. After the McClintock game, coach Melvin Mitchell spoke about some of the past weaknesses they are working to overcome:


The Rams had two other players in double-digit scoring against McClintock. Sopomore Jayla Johnson put up 15 points, and junior Sydni Callis scored 13. Senior Clara Morris added eight.

“The bench did a little bit better tonight,” Mitchell said. “They stepped in and gave us some good, valuable minutes on defense. Kyla Boyce really helped us a lot with the put backs and  rebounding, so I definitely glad to have her back and her 6-2, 6-3 frame. Just being long in girls’ basketball, it means a lot.”

The Rams are 12-2 in the conference and tied with Ironwood at the top of 5A Metro with records of 8-1. They have a split record against Ironwood this season.

Despite the win against struggling McClintock, Maricopa’s power ranking dropped from ninth to 10th in 5A this week. If that stands, they would host the 23rd ranked team in the conference play-in Feb. 9. If they are able to climb above the ninth ranking, they can get directly into the state bracket.

It has been an odd year for the girls, who are 19-4 overall. A Dec. 6 game against Poston Butte that appeared to be a win was cancelled by the Arizona Interscholastic Association after a scorekeeping mistake. Then the Dec. 2 freshman and junior varsity games against Campo Verde were forfeited when it was discovered one freshman played all quarters in the freshman game and three quarters in the JV game. All three coaches were reprimanded and AIA placed the program on “advisement” for a year.

Tyra Williams (30) and Sydni Callis wait for the call after a Sunnyslope player takes tumbles out of bounds. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team has compiled a record of 14-3 with nine games left in the regular season. The Rams defeated Sunnyslope 68-40 Tuesday.

They are at the top of the 5A Metro region, tied with Apollo (11-5) at 2-0. With the exception of a game at Williams Field, the rest of the season is Metro competition for Maricopa. In the statewide 5A conference, Maricopa is ranked ninth.

In Tuesday’s game against the Vikings, the Rams ran off with a 25-7 run in the first quarter and were up 37-22 by halftime.

Senior Tyra Williams led the scoring with 22 points. Junior Sydni Callis had 17 points, and junior Natausha Hall 14.

Remaining Schedule
Raymond S. Kellis    Home    7 p.m.
McClintock                Away    7 p.m.
Ironwood                   Away    7 p.m.
Apollo                       Home    7 p.m.
Sunnyslope               Away    7 p.m.
Raymond S. Kellis    Away    7 p.m.
McClintock                Home    7 p.m.
Williams Field          Away    7 p.m.
Apollo                       Away    7 p.m.

See more photos at https://www.inmaricopa.com/photos-sports/

This year's Rams include (from left) Kassidy Hamlett, Sydni Callis, Natausha Hall, Chalisse Bell, head coach Melvin Mitchell, Tyra Williams, Alyssa Lebron, Clara Morris, Destinee Chavis and Jayla Johnson. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team gets its first public outing of the season with a scrimmage Wednesday at 5 p.m. on the home court.

Second-year head coach Melvin Mitchell has 11 girls at the varsity level – if he moves up two sophomores from junior varsity.

“I think our strengths continue to be what they’ve always been – getting out in transition, fast breaks, pressure defense,” said Mitchell, who also teaches at Santa Cruz Elementary.

Last season, the Rams were 23-7, losing to rival Seton Catholic in the state quarterfinals. With the reconfigured divisions, Seton Catholic is off MHS’s schedule, having been moved to 4A. Maricopa now plays in 5A Metro with Apollo (11-12 last season), Ironwood (16-12), McClintock (9-15), Kellis (4-19) and Sunnyslope (4-17).

Two seasons ago, Maricopa won the state title in erstwhile Division II.

“I like our schedule,” Mitchell said. “We have a pretty good mix of teams, and we’ll play some [former] Division I teams in tournament play.”


Senior Tyra Williams
Senior Tyra Williams

Three of last season’s starters graduated. Returning starters are senior forward Tyra Williams and junior guard Sydni Callis.

Besides Williams, the Rams have not been a tall team, though Mitchell said he will have a couple sophomores with a little altitude to bring in. What Maricopa has been known for is its quickness and aggressiveness.

Challenges for the team? “Rebounding, for sure,” Mitchell said.

Offensively and defensively, he has called it the team’s Achilles’ heel.

Joining Williams and Callis, he expects this season’s starters to be junior Chalisse Bell, sophomore Jayla Johnson and senior Clara Morris, a transfer from Chicago.

Also on varsity are senior Alyssa Lebron, junior Natausha Hall, and sophomores Destinee Chavis and Kassidy Hamlett.


Nov. 16         home    5 p.m.    Scrimmage (Apache Junction, Glendale Prep, Coolidge)
Nov. 25-26    Scorpion Shootout at Desert Edge
Nov. 29        away    7 p.m.    Visa Grande
Dec. 1        away    7 p.m.    Queen Creek
Dec. 2        home    7 p.m.    Campo Verde
Dec. 6        home    7 p.m.    Poston Butte
Dec. 9        home    7 p.m.    Mtn. View (Marana)
Dec. 13        home    7 p.m.    Willow Canyon
Dec. 15        away    7 p.m.    Casa Grande
Dec. 16        home    7 p.m.    Ironwood
Jan. 10        home    7 p.m.    Sunnyslope
Jan. 13        home    7 p.m.    Kellis
Jan. 17        away    7 p.m.    McClintock
Jan. 19        away    7 p.m.    Ironwood
Jan. 20        home    7 p.m.    Apollo
Jan. 24        away    7 p.m.    Sunnyslope
Jan. 27        away    7 p.m.    Kellis
Jan. 31        home    7 p.m.    McClintock (senior night)
Feb. 2        away    7 p.m.    Williams Field
Feb. 7        away    7 p.m.    Apollo


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Senior Raegene Womack tries to get through Seton Catholic in the state quarterfinal game. Photo by William Lange

There will be no state repeat as defending champion Maricopa High School girls’ basketball lost 57-40 against the tournament’s No. 1 seed Seton Catholic High School Tuesday night.

The Rams beat the Sentinels to claim last year’s state title, but Seton Catholic showed tremendous skill and resiliency in this year’s tournament.

The Rams finished with a 23-7 record overall and ranked eighth in Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Division II Girls’ Basketball Power Rankings.

“It was great to coach this group of girls and to be affiliated with Maricopa basketball for the last two years,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “I believe we had a great overall season with the tough competition that we played. Obviously, we would’ve hoped to have a win tonight, but it just didn’t go our way.”

Maricopa struggled to make shots in the first half and fell into an early 22-point deficit by halftime.

The Rams rallied in the second half to pull within 12 before the fourth quarter, but the Sentinels simply had too many weapons and held on for the victory.

Junior Tyra Williams. Photo by William Lange
Junior Tyra Williams. Photo by William Lange

“Seton, they do a great job of adjusting,” Mitchell said. “In all honesty, I think they’re just one of the best halftime adjusting teams that I’ve seen or that I’ve coached against. So they made a great job of adjusting to what we were doing on offense and made a couple stops.”

Maricopa will lose seven players, including three starters, to graduation in May. The class of 2016 will leave Maricopa as one of the most successful groups of girls in the school’s basketball history.

“It was really emotional, and the girls wanted to win,” Mitchell said. “You just let them know they had a great season, which they did, and talk to each and every individual girl and let them know how much you love and appreciate them.”

Seton Catholic will take on Mesa High School in the AIA State Semi-finals Saturday Night at Gila River Arena in Glendale.

See more photos at InMaricopa.com/Photos.

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Junior Tyra Williams (30) stretches for a layup against Cienega Friday night. Photo by Devin Carson


The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team punched their ticket to the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II Girls’ State Basketball Tournament quarterfinals with a win over Cienega High School Friday night.

The Rams came out cold in Friday’s game but used a highly productive second half to run away with a 59-39 victory.

“I can think back to myself being a player and having that last playoff game,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “I still have regrets from that moment and I don’t want these guys to have any of those regrets. So I just tried to reiterate the fact that we have seven seniors and they need to go out there and lay it all on the line for us.”

Maricopa utilized a constant rotation of players to keep everyone fresh, and the payoff was evident as the Rams’ endurance didn’t dissipate down the stretch. As the game reached the fourth quarter, Maricopa was able to use pressure defense and fast breaks to exploit holes Cienega.

“I think early on in the season it was our Achilles heel that we didn’t have the bench we have now,” Mitchell said. “Just getting some of those guys involved and keeping them active and making sure everyone is fresh is part of the game plan. It’s vital to have those guys come in.”

Like most games throughout the season, Maricopa entered Friday’s matchup undersized. However, for the players, this was nothing new.

“We’re used to being undersized,” senior forward Raegene Womack said. “We’re not a big team. We just work with it.”

In fact, 5-foot-6 senior Danae Ruiz led all scorers with 22 points.

“We just work together perfectly,” junior forward Tyra Williams added.

The Rams will have their resilience put to the test more than ever when they face top-ranked Seton Catholic High School in the quarterfinals.

In their only meeting this season, Seton Catholic beat Maricopa 76-36. The Rams beat the Sentinels in last year’s state championship game.

“I’m looking forward to what our coach has in mind to get us prepared for this next Seton game,” Womack said. “I know we have to run, but other than that, I’m ready to play them.”

Seton Catholic enters the quarterfinals as the top-ranked team in the state (across all divisions) and a top 25 team in the nation, according to the “Xcellent 25 Writer’s Poll.”

“I think we just have to play to our strengths,” Mitchell said. “We can’t let the team in front of us dictate what we’re going to do on the basketball court. We have a lot of work cut out, but I think we can definitely do it.”

The quarterfinals are set to tip-off Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. at Gila River Arena in Glendale.

Senior Danae Ruiz brings the ball downcourt while taking charge in the second half. Photo by Devin Carson
Senior Danae Ruiz brings the ball downcourt while taking charge in the second half. Photo by Devin Carson



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Halvorson takes 6th in state wrestling

Junior Ashia Laidler Nelson. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team is the last winter athletics team with a chance to win a state title.

The defending champion Lady Rams finished the regular season ranked eighth in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II Girls’ Basketball Power Rankings. The top-eight ranking guaranteed Maricopa a spot in the state tournament and allows them to get two extra days of rest by having a bye for the tournament’s first round.

“We’re really scrappy, but I think we have lapses boxing out that we need to address before we play teams like Seton [Catholic],” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “I think we’ll try to adjust accordingly to whoever we have.”

The girls will play at home on Friday at 7 p.m. against the winner of 24th-ranked Marana High School (Tucson) and ninth-ranked Cienega High School (Vail). Seton Catholic, which Maricopa defeated last year for the state title, has the top seed.

For the boys’ basketball team, a 10-game winning streak in the middle of the season and a trip to the AIA Division III Section V semi-finals weren’t enough to clinch a spot in the state tournament. Four straight losses to close out the regular season dropped the Rams to 28th in the state ranking.

“We finished just outside the top 24, which was a tough pill to swallow,” Neill said. “It is difficult to look back knowing that if we could have turned one of those losses into wins it could have gotten us in.”

The boys’ team finished fifth in Section V with 4-5 conference record took a “step in the right direction,” according to the coach, by improving last year’s 15-15 overall record to 17-11 this season.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“I was extremely pleased with this season,” Head Coach Jacob Neill said. “We fell just short of qualifying for the state tournament but that doesn’t take away from what we accomplished on the court. Our goal was to come out and be competitive to give ourselves a chance to win on a nightly basis, and we did just that. We didn’t always get the win but our guys played hard and competed from start to finish every time we stepped on the floor.”

In wrestling, junior Dakota Halverson was the only Ram to make it to the AIA Division II State Wrestling Meet. Halverson won his first two matches of the tournament, but tough losses in his next three matches dropped him to sixth place overall.

Photo by Devin Carson
Photo by Devin Carson

Halverson has made back-to-back trips to the state tournament, and he will look to make another run at the state title in 2017.

“I wanted to see improvement,” head coach Erick Fierro said. “I saw a lot of impressive wrestling from my kids and that’s what I wanted to see.”

It has been a promising year for Maricopa athletics, and spring sports (baseball, softball, track and field and tennis) will look to keep the momentum going as they get under way this month.

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Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team lost in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II Section VI Tournament semi-finals but still have a chance for a high seed in the state tournament.

Maricopa fell to Mesa High School for the second time this season, 49-39. The Jackrabbits used a 16-4 run to close out the game and move on to the section finals against Seton Catholic High School Saturday night.

“A lot of girls just had some defensive lapses that cost there in the end,” Mitchell said. “They had wide open layups, and ultimately it led to that run they went on at the very end. I think we just had to get up and play basketball and we didn’t do that tonight.”

During the Rams’ run to the 2015 State Championship, Maricopa made it to the section finals before losing to Seton Catholic. The Rams were able to rally and make an incredible run to the state title as the tournament’s 12 seed. However, this season will likely shape up differently.

The Rams entered the section tournament ranked sixth in the AIA Power Rankings. A win would have guaranteed them a spot in the top eight and earned Maricopa a bye in the first round of the state tournament.

However, the loss drops them to the eighth spot in the rankings, and now the Rams have to wait and see whether or not they drop out of contention for a bye week.

“I think with this being a power-ranking game, the loss will hurt us a bit,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully it doesn’t hurt us too bad. We’d like the opportunity to get back and play the likes of Seton and those guys for another run.”

If the Rams drop out of the top eight, they will host their first-round opponent. If they are victorious, they will travel to a top-eight seed to play the second round. If they stay in the top eight, they will host the second-round game before moving to Gila River Arena in Glendale for the remainder of their games.

Mitchell’s focus is to work on the basics to get his team prepared for another run at the state title.

“We’re really scrappy, but I think we have lapses boxing out that we need to address before we play teams like Seton,” Mitchell said. “I think we’ll try to adjust accordingly to whoever we have.”

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Senior Jaleesa Rodriquez shows some power inside as the Rams take down Desert Ridge by 10 points. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team will have to get through two of Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II’s top eight teams in order to win a section title.

The Rams clinched the third seed for the Section VI Tournament after defeating Desert Ridge High School (Mesa) 59-49 Tuesday night. The win allows Maricopa to play the lowest qualifying team in the first round of the tournament.

If the Rams get past Queen Creek High School in the first round, they will move on to face Mesa High School in the semi-finals, and likely the state’s top-ranked team, Seton Catholic High School, in the finals.

“We need to make sure everybody is engaged in what’s going on,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “Our transition game has always been our strength, but we have a tendency to revert from some of those things, so that’s our biggest Achilles heel.”

Maricopa lost early season meetings to both Mesa and Seton Catholic. However, this time around the Rams should be near full strength and feature dynamic players such as Tyra Williams, who missed the teams’ previous encounters. Injured at the end of Tuesday’s game was senior Allyssa Haley.raegene-KO

Maricopa finished second in last year’s section tournament before going on to win the state championship.

“We need to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Mitchell said. “[We need to] make sure everyone knows what they’re doing when they step out onto the floor. [We need to] get the subs more involved and active in the game even though they’re on the bench.”

Maricopa will play Queen Creek on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe.

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Senior Raegene Womack goes for two. Photo by William Lange

Maricopa High School girls’ basketball rode an eight game winning streak into the final week of the season.

The Rams hit a rough patch in the middle of the season when they lost back-to-back games against Valley Christian High School and Seton Catholic High School (the latter by 40 points). Since then, Maricopa has won in dominant fashion and climbed to a season-high sixth place in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II Power Rankings.

“We’ve developed a few bad habits that we have to correct,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “We (commit fouls thinking) we can block every shot and not do the things that we need to do to be successful, so those are things we need to work on moving forward.”

The team’s recent success can be attributed to the team’s health nearing 100 percent. The Rams lost junior forward Tyra Williams early in the year, and many feared her season would be over. However, Williams is back on the floor and playing at a high level.

“We’re coming off a couple of injuries, so we’re trying to get those girls going and slowly work them back in,” Mitchell said.

Dominant play from senior Raegene Womack and Danae Ruiz have also contributed to the team’s winning streak.

If the Rams can hold on to a top eight ranking, Maricopa will receive a first round bye in the AIA state playoffs, and host their first playoff game in the second round of the tournament.

“I think we’re set up pretty good,” Mitchell said. “I think we’ll be pretty competitive going in. Hopefully we can go to state with the attitude that every game will be our last.”

Maricopa will finish out the regular season on Feb. 5 before beginning the Section VI Tournament on Feb. 9, at Marcos De Niza High School in Tempe.

Senior Danae Ruiz (center) and Tyra Williams make something  happen. Photo by William Lange
Senior Danae Ruiz (center) and Tyra Williams make something happen. Photo by William Lange

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Alyssa Haley goes for two against Queen Creek in another victory for Maricopa High School girls' basketball. Photo by Devin Carson

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team recovered from a rare week of setbacks by posting back-to-back blowouts.

The defending state champion Rams dropped from 14th in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II Power Rankings to 17th after getting humiliated by top-ranked Seton Catholic High School 76-36 on Jan. 6. Maricopa followed that with a close win over Desert Mountain High School (Scottsdale) 49-43, but the team still didn’t look crisp.

However, the Rams appear to be back in championship form after back-to-back wins by at least 30 points. Maricopa beat Campo Verde High School (Gilbert) 70-38 on Jan. 12, and followed it up with a dominant 80-40 victory over Queen Creek on Jan. 15.

“It was great to see the girls come together,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “Moving forward we just need to focus on the small things. We missed about nine layups in the first half, which is 18 points. That’s unacceptable. Against bigger and better teams we’ll have to work on that and make sure we make the layups we’re putting up.”

Senior Raegene Womack believes the Rams are good enough to make another run at the state title if they continue to play at a high level.

“I think I did well,” Womack said. “Not only did I play as an individual but I was also a team player. I think our chances are very good to not only go to state but have repeat (as champions).”

Maricopa’s schedule will get a bit easier in terms of opponents’ rankings, but each game becomes crucial for the Rams down the stretch.

Maricopa has climbed back into 11th place in the AIA rankings after last week’s show of force, but their 15-5 overall record, and 4-2 conference record, have them sitting in fourth place in AIA Division II Section VI. With six section games remaining, the Rams will have plenty of opportunities to improve their section standing.

“I’m pretty confident in my team,” Mitchell said. “If we all come together as one and play as one, I think we’re pretty good.”

Maricopa will return to action at home at 7 p.m. Tuesday night against Williams Field High School (Gilbert). The Rams will then hit the road on Friday to take on Westwood High School (Mesa), and stay on the road for their last non-section game against Betty H. Fairfax High School (Laveen) on Monday.

“I see Betty Fairfax as a key game,” Mitchell said. “They are a good school and a good program.”

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The Rams line up before the start of a week of road games.

Facing the team they defeated for the state championship last year, Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team suffered a 40-point loss Jan. 6. They followed up with a close victory Friday night again on the road.

It wasn’t just an early injury to starter Sydni Callis that took the Rams off their game in the Seton Catholic gym.

“They were making a lot of mistakes,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “They were making mistakes they don’t make against anybody else.”

The Rams put up only four points in the first quarter and were down 44-13 at the half. By the end of the game, the clock was under the mercy rule for the 76-36 conference loss.

Seniors Kayla Kagutkiewicz and Raegene Womack led Maricopa scoring with 11 points each. Callis turned an ankle midway through the first quarter. Starter Tyra Williams also remains on the bench with an injured finger.

The Sentinels had a familiar approach, with the tall Wirth sisters up front in double-digit scoring and sure-shot sophomore Sarah Barcello leading with 26 points and 10 rebounds. The Rams exposed the weaknesses but could not take advantage of them. Seton Catholic is 15-1 (3-0).

Friday, the Rams won the non-conference game against 39th-ranked Desert Mountain 49-43. Maricopa is now ranked 17th in the state with a 13-5 (0-2) record.

Tuesday they have a conference game at Campo Verde High School (6-10).

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The Maricopa Rams finished second after a hard-fought championship game in the Valley Christian Christmas Tournament. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team took second place in the 15th annual Valley Christian Christmas Tournament Wednesday. The team’s record is 12-4.

The Rams ran through their competition on the way to the championship game. They defeated Tempe 60-28, Snowflake 49-28, Poston Butte 46-33, and Holbrook 65-35.

In the championship, a slow start on offense put Maricopa in an early hole. Missed shots, especially from the free-throw line, cost the Rams crucial points late in the game, and Valley Christian held off Maricopa’s hard-fought comeback.

“We had a slow start, and that’s been pretty indicative of our team this year,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “They also ran a 1-2-2 press, and we had a bit of difficulty with that before we figured it out. So we ended up being down before we knew it in the game.”

The Rams put themselves in a bind after scoring just four points in the first quarter. Struggles from the free throw line attributed to the scoring drought, but strong defensive play kept Maricopa within seven points.

The Rams were able to exploit holes in the Trojans’ defense during the second quarter. By halftime, Maricopa seemed to have the momentum despite trailing the tournament hosts 27-21.

“Valley Christian knew us very well,” Mitchell said. “We’ve played Valley Christian already three times this year. There was no scouting necessarily to be done because we played each other numerous times already.”

Danae Ruiz (left) and Raegene Womack were named to the all-tournament team. Photo by Adam Wolfe
Danae Ruiz (left) and Raegene Womack were named to the all-tournament team. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Rams came out of halftime firing on all cylinders. A 10-2 run to open up the second half gave Maricopa their first lead since the second minute of play. The Rams looked nearly unstoppable as they ran up and down the floor, but that came to a halt when senior guard Danae Ruiz received her fourth foul and had to sit out for the last five minutes of the third quarter.

Maricopa didn’t score another point in the third quarter, and Valley Christian slowly broke down the Rams’ defense. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Trojans were back on top 36-31.

The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle. The Trojans held off the feisty Rams, but with 30 seconds remaining, Maricopa was within two points. A backcourt violation against Valley Christian gave the Rams the ball.

Maricopa worked the ball around until Ruiz found a lane to the basket. Her shot was off target, but senior forward Raegene Womack grabbed the rebound and had an open look for the tying score. The shot had too much power and bounced off the rim.

Valley Christian held on for a 49-43 victory.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” Mitchell said. “Heading forward we need to get back to the basics. We need to go back and work on our free throws. The girls are 80 percent in practice, but it’s an area we definitely need to work on.”

Despite missing much of the second half, Ruiz led the team with 16 points. Womack, who was consistently sent to the free-throw line, added 12 points. Both were named to the “All-Tournament” team for their dominant performances throughout the week.

Maricopa will return to action Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler. This is the first time the two teams have met since the state championship game last year.

The Rams will stay on the road for their matchup against Desert Mountain High School (Scottsdale) on Jan. 8 and Campo Verde High School (Gilbert) Jan. 12.

Maricopa won’t return home until they host Queen Creek High School on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m.

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Senior Raegene Womack has been bothered by a knee injury this season while helping the Rams to an 8-3 record. Photo by William Lange

At the halfway point of the season, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team is in good position to make a playoff run, but injuries are depleting the already thin roster.

The Rams have an 8-3 record after dropping Friday night’s game against Mesa High School, 50-30. The undefeated Jackrabbits controlled the ball for most of the game and shut down Maricopa’s ability to transition. A poor shooting performance also doomed the Rams.

“We’ve become a bit too dependent on certain players to give us that boost,” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “We’ve had that problem for the last two games now and we just want to try and go back and fix it.”

Friday’s loss was the second loss this week for Maricopa. The Rams fell to Arizona Interscholastic Association Division I powerhouse Mesquite on Monday. The loss also cost the Rams two players.

Senior guard Danae Ruiz suffered a concussion in a loose-ball collision, and junior forward Tyra Williams needed surgery to fix her finger after it was inadvertently stepped on. The injury may keep Williams out for the rest of the season.

“We’re spread a little thin with some nagging injuries,” Mitchell said. “Tyra is out, Danae is out and Raegene (Womack) has been nursing a knee injury throughout the season. I think those things didn’t necessarily come into play tonight, but in terms of our depth, it just wasn’t there to give our other players a breather.”

The Rams will receive some much-needed rest before they compete in Valley Christian High School’s holiday tournament Dec 28-30.

Coach Mitchell plans to focus on ball handling over winter break.

“We definitely can’t hold onto the basketball,” Mitchell said. “We’ve become too accustomed to coming out on a fast break when we play some of the teams we can get on a break on. Against some of these better teams like Mesquite and Mesa it just wasn’t there.”

For more game photos and other sports and community galleries, see https://www.inmaricopa.com/photos/

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Danae Ruiz, with parents Gabe and Anna, signs a letter of intent for ERAU's first women's basketball team.

Danae Ruiz has signed up to be on the first women’s basketball team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus.

The senior guard for Maricopa High School declared a month ago her intent to attend the college that emphasizes aviation and the sciences. Thursday, she signed the Letter of Intent.

“It was my No. 1 school,” Ruiz said. “It’s a great program to be part of the first team for.”

She intends to major in forensic psychology.

ERAU head coach Becky Burke saw Ruiz playing in a club basketball tournament in Southern California in July, and her interest was quickly piqued. Burke approached Ruiz’s Copa Crew coaches, Dee and Jesse Estrada, and talked to others about Ruiz’s scholarly aptitude before she talked to Danae herself.

“She has a fierce ability,” Burke said. “She’s very athletic. She has a high basketball IQ.”

Ruiz was a key player in the MHS Rams’ run to an AIA Division II state title last season and was named to the All State Second Team.

Of primary importance at ERAU is the ability in the classroom. Burke has looked at a lot of players as she creates the program for the university and said she won’t even talk to a player if her coaches don’t think she can handle the challenging coursework.

Ruiz is one of eight players Burke has signed to the 2016-17 team. The coach expects to sign nine more and take a walk-on or two.

“We need our guards to play fast. We need our guards to be able to press. We need our guards to be in shape,” Burke said. “That’s what I saw in her.”

Ruiz said she has already practiced with other members of the forming Eagles team.

Thursday, her parents Gabe and Anna Ruiz, family, Rams teammates, Copa Crew teammates and coaches were part of the signing ceremony in the high school gym.

“It’s surreal for us,” Gabe Ruiz said. “But she’s earned it. She’s put in the work since sixth grade. We’re glad she’ll be close to home.”

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Head coach Melvin Mitchell and the Maricopa High School Rams are regrouping to follow up their run to a state title. Photo by William Lange

The expectations for the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team could not be higher after the team won the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Basketball Championship last season.

In March, the Rams made a surprising run through the playoffs as a 12th seed to capture the school’s first state title in the sport. With eight players from that team returning, many expect the Rams to see similar success in the 2015-16 campaign.

However, Maricopa’s tremendous success also brought loss. Coach Kati Burrows was honored with numerous “Coach of the Year” awards following the team’s success last year, but left the program to pursue a dream opportunity as an assistant coach with Montana State University. Maricopa Unified School District Athletic Director Mark Cisterna brought in Burrows’ former assistant coach Melvin Mitchell to take over the head coaching position.

“My expectations for this upcoming season are to continue to work hard, be resilient and play one game at a time,” Mitchell said. “We understand the magnitude of last year’s success, but we have to focus on getting better each and every day, not taking any plays off, hustling, grinding, scrapping and playing Maricopa basketball.”

Of the players returning, senior standout performers Danae Ruiz and Raegene Womack will be back to lead the girls’ team. They will be joined by fellow seniors Jaleesa Rodriguez, Kelsee Keys and Alyssa Haley. Ruiz was a second team All State selection last year, and Womack was an honorable mention.

“I expect us to come together as one and play team ball,” Womack said. “I hope to dominate on the court and excel in offense and defense.”

Keys added, “We need to work on our defense and make sure we have that down as a team.”

The Rams will start their regular season on the road against Casa Grande High School on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.

A championship ring highlights a team gathering. Photo by William Lange
A championship ring highlights a team gathering. Photo by William Lange

“Our schedule is a lot tougher than last season’s,” Mitchell said. “We have a lot of basketball powerhouses on the schedule, but I see it as an advantage. If we make the playoffs, the level of skill won’t be as much of a shock. We’ll be playing those teams all season.”

Seniors Danae Ruiz and Raegene Womack are leading the Rams back to the court this season under their state title banner. Photo by William Lange

Nov. 18     5 p.m.     (H)     Desert Vista (Scrimmage)
Dec. 1     7 p.m.     (A)     Casa Grande
Dec. 2     7 p.m.     (H)     Buena
Dec. 8     7 p.m.    (H)     Arcadia
Dec. 10     7 p.m.    (H)     Corona Del Sol
Dec. 11     7 p.m.    (A)     St. Mary’s
Dec. 14     7 p.m.    (A)     Mesquite
Dec. 18     7 p.m.    (H)     Mesa
Jan. 6     7 p.m.    (A)     Seton Catholic
Jan. 8     7 p.m.    (A)     Desert Mountain
Jan. 12     7 p.m.    (A)     Campo Verde
Jan. 15     7 p.m.    (H)     Queen Creek
Jan. 19     7 p.m.    (H)     Williams Field
Jan. 22     7 p.m.    (A)     Westwood
Jan. 25     7 p.m.    (A)     Betty H. Fairfax
Jan. 27     7 p.m.    (H)     Skyline
Jan. 29     7 p.m.    (A)     Mcclintock
Feb. 2     7 p.m.    (H)     Desert Ridge
Feb. 5     7 p.m.    (A)     Marcos De Niza