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Coach Brandon Harris at work last season.

The scheduled beginning of the new school year is looming large in July, and schools are trying to plan their return approach.

Maricopa Unified School District meets in regular session Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with a discussion of the re-opening options on the agenda. MUSD has a task force of subgroups on the case. The district hopes to have a complete plan to roll out to staff by June 30.

The athletics subgroup is tasked with “the correct and safe way to reopen athletics and extracurricular activities throughout the school district” following guidance by Arizona Interscholastic Association. That is partially underway, as fall sports like football were allowed to start practice June 1.

Maricopa High School football coach Brandon Harris hoped the AIA guidance would be more direct than it turned out to be.

“I wish the AIA would have taken a leadership position, but everybody’s in CYA mode, pretty much because they left it up to the member districts to determine,” Harris said. “So, some people are able to do certain things, and some people can’t. Some people started on the first, some people didn’t.”

For summer practice, the Rams players are separated into eight groups of 15. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they are on the field and in the bleachers doing plyometrics and field conditioning. Tuesday and Thursday, there are eight sessions of 50-minute workouts.

“It makes for a long day, but it’s nice to have 13 guys on staff to help push that through,” Harris said. “And they’re doing a great job.”

In the first phase, no contact is allowed, and they are not using equipment. Starting Monday, they will be able to start using footballs, but there will still be no contact. The students are not allowed to congregate closely or use the same water bottle. In the weight room, each player is responsible for cleaning equipment under monitoring by a coach.

Harris said other schools are on different schedules. Desert Ridge, for instance, moved from 15 players per group to 30 in one week.

“We’re real proud of our kids,” he said. “I think three months sitting at home and getting minimal outside activity, they are raring to go.”

All together there are more than 100 students involved in the summer practice, varsity, junior varsity and some freshmen.

To add to the complexity of the situation, an AIA stipulation states there must be a COVID-19 point of contact for each team. That is Athletic Director Jake Neill, but Neill is leaving at the end of June and the new interim AD has not yet cycled in, nor has the new principal. So, Harris intends to turn to Vice Principal Heidi Vratil for that duty.

The MHS football season is expected to start Aug. 21 hosting Tucson. Volleyball starts Sept. 3 hosting Amphitheater. Cross country plans to host a meet at Copper Sky Sept. 2. Boys’ golf is expected to start Aug. 20.

MUSD’s task force duties for the new school year are to be spelled out in a presentation to the governing board during this week’s meeting. The task force has six subgroups: teaching and learning, communications and partnerships, athletics and extracurriculars, technology, daily operations and finance, and health and safety.

If technology is working as it should, the meeting will be shown live on the MUSD’s YouTube page. The public can email comments about agenda items to the board or superintendent.

As discussed in an earlier meeting, the task force ideas mirrors those announced by the state’s Department of Education. That includes the possibilities of returning to campuses as normal, or using online learning only, or creating a hybrid of the two, or delaying the start of school.

The first day of school is still scheduled to be July 23, with a two-week fall break, two-week winter break and two-week spring break built into the calendar.

The concept of a hybrid has two models. One would divide students into morning and afternoon sessions on campus and have them learning online when not in the classroom. The second model, called a cohort hybrid, would have students on campus for regular hours two days a week, some on Mondays and Tuesday and others on Thursdays and Fridays, and the other days filled with online learning.

As Gov. Doug Ducey was announcing Arizona’s return to school in the fall, the state’s leading youth athletic-regulating body was already distributing its plans to get student athletes back on the practice fields and courts and courses.

That includes no hugs, no high fives, no fist bumps.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association presented its “Recommended Guidelines” for returning to competition with an abundance of caution.

“As long as there is active community spread, which means that new cases are still increasing, we must all be stewards of maintaining a healthy community by limiting the spread of disease,” AIA stated.

Though seasons are not expected to begin until August at the earliest, fall sports have summer training sessions usually underway in June. The plan outlines a phased return to practice that several school districts were already putting together while waiting for state guidance.

“Many districts, including us, were already working on plans to start phasing back in athletic workouts during the summer months, so when that was released by the AIA it reaffirmed everything that we had been working on,” said Jake Neill, athletic director for Maricopa Unified School District.

Though Neill is leaving at the end of June, to be replaced by interim high school AD Evelyn Wynn, his focus has been setting up the MUSD sports programs to move into a new season in unprecedented circumstances. The information from AIA reaffirmed the direction coaches were already heading.

“The guidelines they put out are great and show that everyone involved is trying to do this the right way,” Neill said. “The No. 1 priority while working our way back into things is the safety of the student athletes and coaches.”

Maricopa High School’s fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, swimming and golf. Sequoia Pathway, a Maricopa charter school coming into the AIA for the first time this year, has football and volleyball on the line as well.

“I think it’s a good first step,” Pathway AD Glen Hale said of the guidelines. “We all want to get the student athletes back on field and court, but the safety and health of our athletes are super important.”

AIA’s new protocols include having a designated COVID-19 point of contact. It reiterates basic healthy behavior outlined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention such as staying home when sick, washing hands, using soap, avoiding physical contact and avoiding touching the face with hands.

AIA is discouraging a common athletic activity of spitting. Athletes should also “shower immediately upon arriving home and wash hands after placing clothes in a place to be washed that other people living in your house are not in contact with.”

The use of a “cloth face covering” for athletic competitions, strongly recommended by AIA, is not without precedent during pandemic conditions. Photos survive from 1918 of professional baseball players (and umpires) wearing masks on the field to ward off the so-called swine flu that killed more than 500,000 Americans.

For AIA, maintaining healthy environments means:

• No water fountains
• Outdoor practice when possible
• Modified layouts and social distancing, with at least 6 feet of distance between all people
• Physical barriers and guides that 0utline training areas for each athlete
• Communal spaces, including closed locker rooms and athletes shall come to play and leave immediately after practice
• No shared objects, with each participant having his/her own ball, additional equipment, and protective gear. All gear should be disinfected before and after training sessions, and each athlete should have has own water bottle and towel.
• Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces between uses and deep cleaning daily.

Outside observers will not be allowed to stay and watch practice. Protocols are explained in the event an athlete or a coach becomes ill. Teams are expected to have daily symptom reporting and temperature checks.

According to the AIA, the guidelines for athletic activities are based on the White House Phases for “Opening Up America Again.”

“The recommendations will require adjusting for schools, coaches and  athletes, but during these times everyone will have to monitor and adjust to keep everyone safe,” Hale said. “As we do that, guidelines will be ever evolving as more information is brought to light.”

Mark Minicozzi is a relative newcomer to Maricopa, starting his batting-glove business after a 12-year playing career. Photos by Kyle Norby

About PrimalGloves.com
Batting gloves, fielding gloves, football gloves, accessories
Manufactured in Pakistan
Contents: leather, pitted leather, Lycra spandex, nylon, quad-flex creasing

Though all games from Little League to the majors have been stopped by COVID-19, baseball is still America’s pastime. From the roaring crowds to a player’s competitive spirit, Primal Gloves founder Mark Minicozzi believes baseball loses all meaning if you aren’t having fun.

His batting-glove designs bring whimsy and attitude to an often-unnoticed aspect of the game. He runs the business from his home in Maricopa, where he and his wife have lived a little over a year.

A professional ballplayer for 12 years, Minicozzi cites playing for the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals farm systems as major career highlights.

“I grew up in the Philadelphia area,” Minicozzi said. “I played college baseball down in North Carolina at East Carolina University, and I ended up getting drafted my junior year, which brought me out to the lovely Scottsdale, Arizona.”

After years of baseball, Mark knew he was getting older after a game injury in 2017 landed him in a boot for three months.

“I’ve had about six surgeries. My body was hurting.” Minicozzi explained. “I ended up going back to school and finished my degree in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and facilities management from East Carolina University.”

During his pl aying days when not affiliated with a major league club, Minicozzi noticed the outrageous price of batting gloves when buying his own. Ripping through Nike gloves every few games, he could not justify purchasing just a single pair for prices upwards of $65.

Minicozzi said the experience got him thinking: “How can I put my imprint on the game and make it better? I can develop a better glove.”

Minicozzi spent months letting professionals test his glove prototypes and asked for feedback on how to make them better. With different colors and designs, he wanted his batting gloves to stand out from the plain and generic black-and-white offered by bigger athletic brands. Fast forward to 2018, after much research and testing, to the birth of his company, Primal Gloves.

Customer Britt Hinklin said quality does not have to come with a big price tag. With a 14-year-old son, Hinklin saw the excitement a unique batting glove brought.

“My son had a pair of those gloves and tried them out. I’m telling you, he loved them,” Hinklin said with a laugh. “It’s kind of surprising, with Mark being able to put that product out there right around the same price, if not cheaper than the high-volume ones that you get at Dick’s or other sporting goods stores.”

With a website up and running as well as an engaging social media presence, Minicozzi’s vision for a more exciting and quality batting glove became a reality.

Minicozzi said the logo of a fierce lion always came first in design concepts. “The lion is the king of the jungle. He is the top of the food chain. He wants to be the best.” He said. “The primal lion is the top, the best of the best.”

Prices range from $30-$35 and allow customers to choose from existing designs or a custom choice, accompanied by an option to have the player’s name, number or whatever else they would like stitched in. Minicozzi says turnaround time on orders is eight to 10 days.

Scaling up quickly, Minicozzi says supply and demand is the main obstacle at the moment. He plans on building an office in a corner of his backyard.

“The growth we’ve had over the last probably eight to 12 months, we went from selling about $150-$200 a day to where we’re doing right around $3,000 a day,” he explained. “I hope by the end of this year to have that office up and being able to make it where you can come to make your glove right on the spot.”

With business continuing to boom, Primal Gloves has ventured into multiple products, such as catching gloves, hats and other apparel. Even farther into the future, Minicozzi sees himself establishing an instructional baseball academy in Maricopa.

“We haven’t even really got into the community yet. We got married in October, so that sort of ruled our life for about six months, but now we’re getting settled in here,” Minicozzi said. “As we grow, a place for people to train and stuff like that, that would be my long-term goal.”

Admitting to being a prankster during his career, he wants baseball to be an enjoyable experience, not an expensive one.

“The biggest thing for me is, you know, we want to make it affordable so every kid can enjoy it. We also want to make it fun,” Minicozzi said with a smile.


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Corey Nelson. Photo by Victor Moreno

He may have come late to track and field, but Corey Nelson has kept going and going … and going.

In his second year as head coach of Maricopa High School’s track and field program, after two years as its sprint coach, Nelson has coached kids to gold medals while continuing to compete at the Masters level himself.

Nelson has been training for the USA Track and Field Arizona State Championship that was planned in late May and then the USATF Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships in North Carolina in July. He was trying to raise funds for the World Masters Athletics Championships in Toronto, Canada, but those events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic that made older participants particularly vulnerable. Then he watched the novel coronavirus demolish the high school track and field season as well.

On the masters’ circuit before coaching at MHS, Nelson was a three-time gold-medal winner in the 2014-15 season in the 35-40 age bracket.

He’s been running track more than 20 years.

He had a gift. He made it look effortless.

“I was a late bloomer. Didn’t start track until I was a junior in high school,” Nelson said.

He was a football player at Rancho Cotate High School in Northern California and known for getting in a little trouble during the off season. The head coach less than subtly suggested he try track to keep in shape and out of trouble.

“So, I said, ‘OK I’ll try it.’ I turned out to be pretty good at it, so I stuck with it,” he said. “And learned how to sprint. Learned how to breathe, how to use body mechanics, and the rest is history.”

Matt Transue was a friend and teammate at Rancho Cotate.

“Even in high school, we all knew Corey had something special,” he said. “He had a gift. He made it look effortless.”

Transue and the other throwers on the team would stop what they were doing and gather along the track to watch Nelson run the 200.

“The [runners] would come off the corner, and everyone else would be grinding and grunting, and he looked as though it was just a job. He had such fluid motion, he looked as though he had just woken up. He was amazing.”

Transue said Nelson was confident with “a glow around him” but did not have the swagger of arrogance he saw in many high-performance athletes.

Nelson set school records in the 200 and 400 and was a state qualifier in the 400. Then, at Santa Rosa Junior College, he set a school record and earned All American honors.

He’s a lot more talented than even his accolades tell.

He then went on to Boise State University, where he played football and had a blazing-hot track season in 1999. He still holds the BSU record in the 400 (45.36) and is tied for second all-time in the 200 (20.57). He made Nationals in both events and was named All American in both. Nelson was also the Big West Conference Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

Photo by Victor Moreno

Amy Christofferson, his sprint coach senior year, said Nelson was one of the most talented athletes she ever worked with.

“He’s a lot more talented than even his accolades tell,” she said. “He doesn’t always believe in himself.”

That is something she suspects came through the pecking order of junior-college track. Christofferson said trust quickly built between them. He became like one of the family.

After college in 2000, he qualified for the Olympic trials and was on the 4×400-meter relay championship teams in the Penn Relays and the Texas Relays.

He briefly went back to football. After signing with the Seattle Seahawks, he was injured and released. In the XFL he was a wide receiver for the Las Vegas Outlaws in 2001. The next year, he played for the Amsterdam Admirals and the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe.

Then he qualified for the Olympic trials again in 2004, chasing a dream that never quite died.

“He never quits,” Transue said. “He never gives up.”

When Nelson moved into professional ranks, Christofferson and her sons would show up to cheer him on. After he was done with football, Nelson returned to Christofferson for training.

“I was fortunate to go onto the professional ranks and have a medium-sized career,” Nelson said.

He was an indoor national qualifier in 2003, 2004 and 2005. On the pro circuit, he called it “dash for cash” as athletes tried to earn enough to at least earn their keep as they traveled internationally.

With USA Track and Field, he rubbed shoulders with childhood idol Michael Johnson nearing the end of his career. He was teammates with the great John Capel, Tyree Washington, Terrence Trammell, James Davis, Antonio Pettigrew, Dennis Mitchell and Derek Brew. They qualified for the Penn Relays and won gold in the 4×400 at the Drake Relays.

I coach people how I would like to be coached.

Christofferson was not surprised to see him become a coach (he was an undergraduate assistant sprint coach), and she continues to give him advice in that realm.

“He’d come to me and say, ‘How did you do this? After one year, I’m worn out,’” she recalled. “You have to have patience. You’re going to find a lot of diamonds in the rough.”

Nelson reiterates Christofferson’s advice that a coach cannot write a program for one athlete that everyone else will fall in line with. She had to give him different challenges than she did other athletes she trained.

He became a sprint coach at his alma mater back in California and then was head coach for a couple of seasons at El Molino High School before moving to Arizona and coaching sprinters again at Independence in Glendale.

“I coach people how I would like to be coached,” he said. “I communicate everything, maybe too much.”

But he was also feeling the competitive bug.

“I get the itch every year,” he said. “I’d call up my old coaches and say, ‘I still got it. I’m running with these high school kids and I’m beating them.’ Of course, nowhere near where I was.”

On the USATF Masters circuit, competing in the 35-40 age category, Nelson earned silver in the 200 indoors and gold in the 400 indoors during the 2013-14 season. Then he won gold in the 200 and 100 in the Grand Canyon State Games and the 200 in the Arizona State Games the next year.

Dempster Jackson, founder of the AAG Elite Club that became Phoenix Elite, pulled Nelson into the club to run the 200 and 400.

“He was an exceptional athlete,” Jackson said. “I thought he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”

Club track gives high-level athletes who have to train on their own the opportunity to compete. The club would get free training, travel, and fitness and massage therapy. In exchange, the athletes would train those in the youth program.

“It was a symbiotic relationship,” said Jackson, a former Masters champion.

He said many of the athletes in the club were a little younger with some attitude. Nelson, he said, calmed that down. “He had a good deal of discipline. He was always open to coaching and collaborating. It was very beneficial to have him on the team.”

Guy Muhammad, now coaching Pima Community College, trained Nelson five years ago with Phoenix Elite.

“He’s committed, he’s dedicated, he’s knowledgeable. He competes at a high level,” he said. “As a coach he’s very much the same. The kids I’ve gotten from him have been very coachable.”

Those kids include Pjai Austin, who is excelling in competition for the University of Arizona.

He’s teaching and he’s still doing it himself. That’s awesome.

Sherry Dunn, who has two sons running for Nelson, said kids who achieved under his coaching have gone on to even higher competition, including Austin and Jacob Cowing, who were state champions with MHS’s 4×100 relay team two years ago. Cowing now plays football for University of Texas-El Paso.

“He’s someone who’s willing to work with the children,” Dunn said of Nelson. “If you want to work, he’s going to help.”

Dunn’s son Mister Chavis, an MHS junior and member of the West Coast Striders, has a good shot at making a college team in track and football, according to Nelson. Dunn said her kids have responded well to Nelson’s fairness, structure and demand for accountability. “You know how there are some people in life you don’t want to disappoint? He’s one of them.”

She said Nelson listens to her concerns in helping Mister reach his goals.

“Those kids respect him,” she said. “He’s teaching and he’s still doing it himself. That’s awesome.”

Don Abram is head coach of the girls track team at McClintock High School. He’s been training runners 33 years. He coached Nelson in his efforts with USA Track and Field.

“He was a really, really good, but to maintain that and live a life is really hard,” Abram said.

He saw Nelson still had the bug and the passion to compete.

“He’s a hard worker, maybe a little bit too hard on himself with a kind of chip on his shoulder,” Abram said. “He has that unfulfilled demon in him about the sport. It’s a good demon. That’s why he’s doing Masters. “

Coming to Arizona, Nelson said, was all about chance.

“We had a dart board with Arizona, Nevada and Oregon,” he said. “We said, ‘Wherever the dart lands that’s where we’re moving.’ So, Arizona.”

“We” is Corey and his wife Danielle Nelson, whom he has known since they were in junior college together. They drifted apart when he went off to Boise but “circled back around” about six years ago. They have two children.

While Danielle is part of the administration of the Phoenix Premium Outlets, Corey is teaching and assisting in the special education department at MUSD.

Starting in 2014, he gradually took on four coaching roles, all of which he continues today. He formed a nonprofit track club called the West Coast Striders to train runners from elementary-aged kids to adults. He became a sprint coach at Mesa Community College. After two years as sprint coach for MHS, he became head coach in 2017 as well as a soccer conditioning coach. This year he was also the assistant coach and defensive coordinator for Sequoia Pathway’s football team.

Sueann Chavez’s daughter Gianna runs in the 11/12-year-old bracket for the West Coast Striders after telling her parents one day she wanted to give running a try. Chavez said it was quickly obvious the club was a good thing for her kid, who expects to reach new levels this year.

“Corey and his wife Danielle, it’s hard to find that kind of commitment,” Chavez said.

Gianna, a student at Legacy Traditional School, competed in the USATF Hershey Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships last summer in the 800 and 1500.

At the same time, he has returned to training for the Masters circuit. He recently moved into the 40-45 bracket, where he dominated.

The thing about age, Nelson discovered, is the much longer recovery times. He was referred to Fast Athlete USA in Tempe and its isokinetics training as a way to adapt to the change. That includes a circuit of all-hydraulic equipment.

“At first, I thought he was standoffish and quiet,” owner Lara Clark said. “Then when you get to know him you learn he’s in a zone when he’s training. He’s in his own head.”

She said the Fast Athlete staff “really likes Coach a lot.” Though the facility is mostly focused on youth athletes, it sees its share of adults like Nelson training for elite competitions along side Olympic hopefuls or free-agent football players.

Whether you’re a miler, whether you’re a sprinter, whether you’re a jumper, whether you’re a thrower, there are just so many different events you can experiment with and find your niche.

Submitted photo

Zanaa Ramirez, 18, was one of the first athletes to join the West Coast Striders. She is now a senior at MHS and one of the top point-earners on the girls’ team in the 400 and 800. She has been running cross country since attending Butterfield Elementary.

When Nelson became the sprint coach for MHS, Ramirez was a sophomore distance runner and had no interaction with him. “The other kids really liked him,” she said.

But he had been watching and saw her natural potential for different distances.

“He set me aside, and we had a conversation during one of the meets,” she said. “He told me I was a really good athlete and he could help if I was willing to trust what he had to say.”

With the Striders last year, she earned a spot in the USATF Hershey Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships in the 800. For MHS, she hit her personal best time 2:29.63 in winning the Southeast Valley Championships.

“One thing about tracks is there are just so many events,” Nelson said. “Whether you’re a miler, whether you’re a sprinter, whether you’re a jumper, whether you’re a thrower, there are just so many different events you can experiment with and find your niche.”

Zanaa’s mother, Inez Ramirez, said Nelson was “really determined to give these kids exposure that they didn’t have in Maricopa. If he doesn’t have a certain resource, he’ll find it for these kiddoes.”

The fact Nelson continues to compete helps them identify, she said. “He’s going through the same training, the same problems. They can see he’s not all talk.”

Jovanni Fontes also competes for Nelson at MHS and for the club team. He said Nelson’s philosophy of “Quality over quantity” helped him improve tenfold.

“He has taught me how to give it all my all and when my body feels like it’s at its limit,” Fontes said. “I’ve learned it’s only a portion of what I can really do.”

They are taught to arrive with the mentality of “We will do our best. We will be great, and we will win,” Fontes said, explaining it spills over into everyday life.

“But arguably the most important thing he has taught us that it is OK to have an off day, to have a bad race, to feel not OK,” he said. “You just have to get back up again, fall forward and use that momentum to drive you because only we can choose to be great.”

Nelson also emphasizes academics comes first.

“To put themselves in a position for success, they have to be academically eligible. If you’re ineligible, obviously you’re not in position for success,” he said. “Secondly, consistency. They have to be at practice as much as they can if not everyday and be consistent with the routine and be progressional. Last but not least, have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you’re probably not going to win. If you’re not going to win, you’re probably not going to have success.

“Winning’s not always a gold medal. A PR is a win. A season-best is a win. Staying healthy the entire season is a win. Gaining teammates and friends is a win. Gaining a social group is a win.”

He taught me not to cheat myself, not to quit myself.

Ebony Griffin, 16, is a junior a Maricopa High School. She runs the 400, 200, 4×200 relay and 4×100 relay. She moved to Maricopa from Oklahoma her sophomore year and was excited to get more training for her running.

“He seemed very quiet and straight-forward,” she said of Nelson. “He’s very hands-on. I improved very much.”

Griffin and her teammates say they set their own goals, and Nelson works with them to achieve those goals.

“He’s helped me overcome some of my fears,” Griffin said. “Definitely taught me to keep trying and trust the process.”

Coreyuna Mitchell, 18, an MHS senior, moved to Maricopa from Michigan last year and also had the stress of adjusting to a new school and new people. But she found new friends on the track team, where she runs the 400, hurdles, 4×400 relay and 4×800 relay.

“He takes a lot of things seriously, but he’s a very good man. He cares about us a lot,” she said. “He’s a very caring man. He taught me not to cheat myself, not to quit myself. He’s amazing.”

When Nils Thibeaux brought his three sons to West Coast Striders, he brought with him a wealth of experience himself coaching baseball, basketball and track.

“Track’s been a big part of our lives for eight or nine years,” Thibeaux said.

He was immediately impressed with how detail-oriented Nelson was. He spoke to the Striders about physical adjustments and balanced upper body strength, using techniques even Thibeaux did not know about.

“I thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s a professional,’” he said. “He’s a great track coach. And he’s still running track himself.”

Several parents said the fact Nelson is still competing and working on goals makes an impression on his athletes. And not just kids.

Frank Juarez, who ran cross country at South Mountain High School and Phoenix College, now has two of his kids running for the Striders and a third hoping to join when he is 8. His children attend Heritage Academy, where there is cross country but not track.

“I didn’t know his experience. My first impression was that he knows what he’s doing,” Juarez said. “He’s organized and structured. He seems to get the most out of them.”

John Hill is the father of Jaemin Hill, 14, a student at Heritage Academy. Jaemin competes in the 100 and 200 with the Striders.

Hill said no one even had to point out who the coach was, because he could tell by the way Nelson carried himself and interacted with the athletes. Hill, who coaches club basketball, said he was impressed with the organizational discipline of the Striders.

“He and the other coaches demand effort and single-minded focus each and every practice and yet do so in a supportive, encouraging and motivating way,” Hill said. “Even in a sport that is often individually based, he successfully creates a team atmosphere.  The coaches, peers and culture of the program push each child to want to get better. And if you listen and follow him you will get better.”

When Jaemin started feeling some aches and pains, Hill noted, Nelson told him to back off for three weeks or so instead of pushing him to do something unhealthy.

“The little details separate winners and losers in track more than any sport, where a hundredth of a second can be the difference in winning and losing, and coach Nelson is all about those details,” Hill said. “It’s not so much about doing everything perfectly as it is the process of each and every day doing things right, doing all the little things right, and building on that in the endless journey to be the best you can be.”

Ailed Cota, a junior, runs for Nelson at MHS and with the West Coast Striders in the 800, 1600 and 3200.

“Track overall has made me improve on myself and my motivation,” she said. “He works on us to get better and get better times. That’s helped me a lot.”

Meanwhile, because he is a self-described shark that doesn’t sleep, Nelson also gained certification to officiate Arizona Interscholastic Association meets that don’t involve Maricopa and another certification to officiation at the USATF level, including NCAA and professional meets.

“I may not have made an Olympic team, but I might officiate one,” he said.


This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa women are part of the Casa Grande Roller Derby league. Photo by Kyle Norby

When we think of the competitive sport of roller derby, fast-paced, rough bouts and powerful women often come to mind. While true, many of these players may not be whom you’d expect.

The modern revival of this roller skate-based sport has a worldwide fandom, but it is much more than a game to the players who participate.

For the women of Casa Grande Roller Derby, the sport and spectacle have become a lifestyle, and they see each other as family. Four CGRD women from Maricopa have adopted this lifestyle.

Ellen Zoretic. Photos by Kyle Norby

Ellen Zoretic (Victoria Vangore)
Quote: “I try to eat, sleep and breathe roller derby.”

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ellen Zoretic found herself moving to Maricopa in 2011 with most of her family for better weather and cheaper homes. She fell in love with the community.

“It’s been five years since I started roller derby,” Zoretic said. “The truth is that my boyfriend at the time, who I’m still currently with, got into a really serious car accident and he needed to go back to his mom in Illinois and recover. He almost lost his life.”

Zoretic said she and her family attended a roller derby match in Phoenix. Loving what she saw, she wanted to pick up a new hobby while her boyfriend was away. Zoretic went to beginner tryouts the next day. Starting on bank track, an angled field instead of flat, Zoretic developed her persona, “Victoria Vangore,” often shortened to just “Gore” by her team.

Photo by Kyle Norby

After a successful career on the Hot Shots traveling derby team, Gore now plays jammer with the Arizona Coffin Draggers. She also joined the Casa Grande league, became a star player and now plans to focus on being of CGRD’s flagship team, The Big House Bombers.

Balancing the team with her everyday job as a teacher has been challenging but worth it, she said. Graduating from Ohio Dominican University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Zoretic didn’t expect to become an art teacher. After coming to Maricopa, Ellen fell into teaching as a substitute for Maricopa Unified School District. After three years, the district offered her a position as an art teacher. She teaches at Pima Butte Elementary and Maricopa Elementary.

“This is my fifth year in art, kindergarten through fifth grade,” Zoretic said. “I love it. The satisfaction of just knowing that I’m making a difference in their lives and knowing that art is a special area. I mean, a lot of people come to me telling me about their students who have behavioral problems or aren’t good in math and writing. Then when they get to art, they just flourish.”

Zoretic eventually would like to combine her love of art and degree in psychology to work as an art therapist.

April Stovall. Photos by Kyle Norby

April Stovall (April May Dismember)
Quote: “If you’re not falling down, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Growing up in Arizona and graduating from Casa Grande and living in Maricopa, April Stovall has seen a lot of change in Western Pinal County. She has worked at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino for 20 years.

“I started in security back in 1999, then I transferred into surveillance and fell in love with it,” Stovall said. “I took on facilities about 10 years ago. It just kept growing over time, just working my way up.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

While Stovall loves her job, she admits to being a workaholic and wanting something more.

“My daughter graduated from high school, moved out. Things were changing,” Stovall said. “Roller derby was on my bucket list. I Googled “roller derby Arizona.” AZRD (Arizona Roller Derby) came up, and I went to their new-skater orientation. I skated with them for the first three years.”

Her derby name, April May Dismember, stemmed from using months and a word that “incorporated strength and power.”

“Kind of long, but it’s catchy,” Stovall said with a smile. She spoke of the fun of getting into her derby character as a nice contrast from her professional, busy work environment.

Once CGRD was established, Stovall and Chachi Patron transferred to the Bombers. April is now the CGRD manager and oversees all the organization’s operations as well as jam for the team. April is entering her fifth year of roller derby.

“Roller derby to me is probably the hardest, most empowering thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Stovall said. “It’s an inclusive sport for people of all backgrounds. I love our mission statement: “We empower women through roller derby and serving the community as a team.”

Corinna Velasco-Ivancovich. Photos by Kyle Norby

Corinna Velasco-Ivancovich (Chachi Patron)
Quote: “We’ve prayed a lot, and I really think our league has been blessed.

Corinna Velasco-Ivancovich has been in the world of derby the longest between the three women. When InMaricopa met Velasco-Ivancovich in 2011, she was a member of the Surlie Gurlies in Phoenix, out with a torn meniscus. Having fully recovered, Velasco-Ivancovich has continued her derby career of 14 years, playing with the Big House Bombers since 2018.

“When I started, I was 36. I just got out of a really bad relationship that was kind of abusive,” Velasco-Ivancovich said. “My kid’s dad was an alcoholic, and I wanted to get into something that kept me busy.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

While Velasco-Ivancovich grew up, she watched her father play hockey. Fascinated by the female hockey players she would see at the rink, she decided to take up a different kind of skating. After learning the sport of roller derby, she joined an AZRD team.

“I think there’s a lot of people that’ll lift you up,” said the 10-year Maricopa resident. “If you don’t have like a lot of women that don’t have really close friends, they can find friends.”

The name Chachi Patron was born from banter with a work friend with whom she would always talk like mobsters.

“She would always call me Chachi, so I was like maybe I’ll keep it then,” Velasco-Ivancovich said with a laugh. “I came up with Patron because it was kind of catchy and I’m short and stubby like Patron.”

A single mother of three for many years, Velasco-Ivancovich married in 2009 and cited her Christian beliefs for many of her and the league’s successes.

“There’s been a lot of blessings. You can see in the short amount of time, like the whole community supports us.”

CGRD continues to grow, most recently with its purchase and revitalization of the Casa Grande Boys and Girls Club gymnasium as their base of operations and practice facility. With local women joining the league frequently, a Maricopa roller derby league may be in the future.

Hannah Norby. Photos by Kyle Norby

Hannah Norby (Julia Wild)
Quote: “Once you do it, you’ll fall in love with it”

CGRD welcomes new players into their league with open arms, just as they were welcomed when they began. This has led to more “fresh meat,” what they call newcomers. Still fairly new to the Roller Derby scene, Hannah Norby has fully embraced the sport and finds it as a perfect outlet to get some aggression out.

“In March will be my year anniversary playing derby,” Norby said. “I thought this sport would be up my alley, so I just took the leap of faith and went to one of the meets-and-greets in Casa Grande. Everyone was so sweet and nice, so I ordered my skates and started soon after.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

In her day-to-day life, Norby is a Culinary Arts teacher at Maricopa High School, where she graduated in 2016. After working a handful of cooking jobs in Las Vegas and graduating from the Art Institute there, she decided to move back to her hometown and apply for the open culinary position. Norby now works with her old culinary mentor from high school, teaching the programs she went through. With a clear passion for the kitchen and the art of cooking, picking a derby identity that reflected it was important.

Keeping the theme of food and chefs in mind, Norby decided on the name, “Julia Wild,” inspired by the famous American cooking teacher and TV personality Julia Child.

“It would have been Julie Wild or Bobby Slay,” Norby laughed. “Wild just really stuck with me and felt like it described me.”

Norby finds the balance between work and derby to be a very familiar one.

“I used to play soccer in high school, and I ended up quitting,” She said. “I had like a few years of not doing anything athletic and I really wanted to get into another sport, something to have fun.”

Confident in the growth of the league and becoming a stronger player, Norby is excited to see new faces and encourages anyone with doubts or are nervous to come check them out.

“Every girl felt the same way when they started,” she said. “You just have to take that leap of faith.”

Hannah Norby is the wife of author/photographer Kyle Norby.

Facebook.com/CGRollerDerby

 

 

Maricopans (from left) Hannah Norby, Ellen Zoretic, April Stovall and Cirinna Velasco-Ivancovich are part of the roller derby league. Photo by Kyle Norby

Roller Derby
Rules:
Teams of up to five players skate two 30-minute periods, which are comprised of jams lasting up to two minutes each. During a jam, four blockers on each team form a pack with their jammer behind them. Jammers must get through the pack and then around to lap the blockers. A point is scored for every opposing blocker lapped. There are 30 seconds between each jam.

Roles:
Jammer, wearing a star helmet cover, scores points by lapping opposing blockers.
Blocker forms the pack, hinders the opposing jammer from passing through the pack, and helps their team’s jammer pass through the pack.
Pivot blocker may become a jammer during a legal transfer of the star.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

CGRD celebrating their new home gym.

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Photos by Kyle Norby

On Senior Night for the Maricopa High School wrestling team, the Rams defeated North High School, 63-15, Thursday.

MHS won 11 matches from 106 up to 285. Head coach Erick Fierro shared the results.

Xavier Rose of Maricopa won his 106-pound bout with Anthony Prudencio to earn six points. In the 113 class, Gabriel Garcia defeated North’s Akshaya Lord, also with a fall.

Angelo Romero and Timothy Quiroz took their matches by forfeit in the 120 and 126 matches, respectively.

MHS senior Michael Peters won his 145 match over Efren Castro by a 6-3 decision. Zachary Kondravy defeated Gustavo Briones in the 152 class with a fall. Cody Long defeated Ricardo Lopez in 160 with a fall.

At 170, Nicholas Mooney defeated Hector Diaz with a fall. Carlos Pino downed Isaac Stubbs in 195 with a fall. Quinton Green defeated Angel Morales in the 220 class with a fall. Junior Hunter Taylor finished off the Maricopa scoring by downing Jose Solano in the 185 category with a fall.

Felipe Diaz took an 8-3 loss in the 182 class. Matthew Blodgett lost in the 138 class, and Colton Reed lost in the 132 class, both through takedowns.

MHS seniors honored Thursday were Mooney, Peters, Thymen Harry and Juan Marquez.

Maricopa’s final competition of the regular season is Jan. 29 at Horizon High School, where the Rams are scheduled to meet Horizon and Notre Dame Prep.

The state championships are Feb. 13-14 and Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.

Disc golfers prepare for the Maricopa Open. Photos by Kyle Norby

More than 230 disc golf players from all over Arizona and around the country gathered in Maricopa for the annual Maricopa Open. The two-day tournament used the courses at Copper Sky Regional Park and Maricopa Meadows. The winner, taking home $1,270 was Adam Hammes of Wisconsin. He shot 32 under par. In second ($750) was Clint Calvin of California. In third was Cameron Messerschmidt, Nevada, who won $540.

The top Arizona finisher was Tucson’s Nick Newton, who won $350 by finishing fifth.

Maricopa players fared well in the master’s competitions. Jav Kowalski shot 12 under par to win the Pro Masters 50+ and $590. Sam Russ was fourth in the Pro Masters 40+ to win $190.

The tournament included professional and amateur players.

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Senior Aleina Estrada smiles as a game ends in another victory for the Pumas. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Sequoia Pathway girls’ basketball team is undefeated at the halfway point of the season, 8-0. The Pumas are outscoring their opponents an average of 56-24. Last week, they defeated Imagine-Surprise in a comeback, 68-52, and East Valley Athletes for Christ, 43-39, their closest game of the season. They next play Tuesday at Glenview Adventist Academy.

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Pathway junior Jose Miguel goes up against Imagine-Coolidge in a home victory. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Sequoia Pathway varsity boys’ basketball team extended its winning streak to four games last week and have an overall record of 10-5. The Pumas have outscored their opponents 1,025-793. Through eight games, junior Jose Miguel was averaging 26.5 points per game.

They are in third place in Region 4 of Division 3 in Canyon Athletic Association play, just behind Maricopa rival Heritage, which is 7-3. The region leader is San Tan, which has defeated both Heritage and Pathway. The Pumas travel to San Tan Wednesday for a rematch.

Heritage, meanwhile, has scored 100 points or more in four games this season. They have outscored their opponents 946-856. Sophomore Josh Deakyne is averaging 25.7 points per game, and Logan Porter 24.2.

Pathway and Heritage next play each other Feb. 6.

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Logen Thomas (22) and Asher Miller (23) eye the ball in a loss to Sunnyside. Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School’s boys’ soccer team was shut out through two games this week, losing to Sunnyside (13-1) and Paradise Valley (4-2-1) by identical scores of 5-0. Midway through the season, the Rams are 3-5 overall, 2-3 in the 5A conference and 1-0 in the San Tan Region. They next play Jan. 14 at Willow Canyon.

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Michael Flood drew individual attention as an MHS lineman. Photo by Victor Moreno

Six Maricopa High School football players and three volleyball players drew notice in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s 5A San Tan All-Region voting.

Senior offensive lineman Michael Flood was named First Team.

Defensive back Ilijah Johnson and linebacker Anthony Valenzuela, both seniors, were named Second Team.

On the honorable mention list were juniors Mister Chavis, Patrick Garcia and Tylek Mooney.

In volleyball, junior Shakira Gillespie was named Second Team in 5A San Tan. Honorable mention went to juniors Ashley Brown and Brooke Smith.

Maricopa High School Athletic Director Jake Neill said he was expecting just about anything when region assignments were announced for most high school sports by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

He was confident MHS sports like football, baseball, basketball, softball and volleyball would end up in the 6A conference because of the population growth. That became fact earlier this month. What was unknown was which region would be the meat of their competition for the 2020-2022 seasons.

Last week, Maricopa was assigned to 6A Desert Southwest. There, its competition will be teams from Tucson and Yuma – Cibola, Kofa, Rincon/University, San Luis and Tucson, the latter being the largest school in the region with an enrollment of 3,405.

“To be honest, I’m good with it,” Neill said. “I think it will be good for our athletic program. I think it will be a good fit. It’s not as tough as the San Tan Region, I’ll tell you that.”

The 5A San Tan Region has proved to be one the toughest regions across all conferences, especially in football. He said he thinks Maricopa can vie for some region championships.

AIA football, however, will not hammer out its region alignments until December. Though it is likely to match the other sports, there is a possibility it will not.

“I don’t know how that’s going to work. It’s a whole different group of people,” Neill said. “I would assume they’re going to try to keep it as close as possible. You get burned sometimes when you assume with these committees.”

MHS will only play home-and-homes against the Tucson schools.

“What I told the coaches is, it’s three or four trips a season for you, which, when you look at it, that’s not too bad,” Neill said. “We’ll still end up playing a lot of those southeast Valley schools.”

Region assignments for boys’ and girls’ soccer have not been announced.

Maricopa has moved from Division II to Division I in cross country, track, golf and tennis

Re-alignments for swimming, wrestling and beach volleyball have not been announced yet.

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Sophomore Conner Schrader takes a breather after lowering the school record in the 500 freestyle. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The final home meet of the regular season was a victory for Maricopa High School’s swim teams over Poston Butte Thursday at Copper Sky. It was their third straight win.

“Last night was our final dual meet of the season and the kids swam amazing,” head coach Laura Logan said. “Coaches are extremely proud of their efforts and performances.”

The girls won 96-70, and the boys won 88-80.

“Last year, Poston Butte beat both of our squads, handily, by 40+ points,” Logan said.

Four school records were established, three by relay teams.

First-place finishers on the MHS girls’ team were Olivia Byers in the 200 freestyle in 2:22.56 and the 100 free in 1:02.16, Katelyn Owens in the 200 individual medley in 2:46.65 and the 100 breaststroke in 1:18.46, the 200 medley relay team of Shelbee Beecroft, Owens, Byers and Eva Zavala in a school-record 2:19.19, the 200 free relay team of Owens, Zavala, Aubree Wittemann and Byers in a school record 2:03.66, and the 400 free relay team of Sophie Occhiline, Emily Hollingsworth, Emily Fauth and Witteman in 5:12.18.

In second place were Witteman in the 200 free, Occhiline in the 500 free, Shelbee Beecroft in the 100 backstroke and teh 400 free relay team of Genevieve Pierce, Shelby Eisenacher, Isabella Piwowar and Lexie Nordhoff.

In third place were Zavala in the 50 free, Nordhoff in the 100 butterfly, Witteman in the 100 free, Hollingsworth in the 500 free, Rylee Pirtle in the 100 backstroke and the 200 free relay team of Kaitlyn Crean, Savannah Willman, Shelby Eisenacher and Fauth.

Top finishers for the boys’ team were Connor Schrader, who set a school record in the 500 free in 5:24.69 and won the 100 back in 1:00.86, Joseph Lambert, who won the 100 breaststroke in 1:23.28, the 200 medley relay team of Schrader, Lambert, Abel Rodriguez and Kian Carroll in a school-record 2:03.09, and the 200 free relay team of Kian Carroll, Anthony Nelson, Andrew Varga and Schrader.

Second place finishers were Bryan Perez in the 200 free, RAfe Scoresby in the 200 IM, Nelson in the 50 free, Geric Kammarczyk in the 100 breast, ad the 400 free relay team of Abel Rodriguez, Bryan Perez, Fermin Valenzuela and Scoresby.

In third place were Carroll in the 50 free, Rodriguez in the 100 fly, Scoresby in the 100 free, Nelson in the 100 back, the 200 medley relay team of Nelson, Kammarczyk, Victor Moreno and Andrew Valenzuela, the 200 free relay team of Moreno, Valenzuela, Scoresby and Rodriguez, and the 400 free relay team of Jacob Davis, Krammarczyk, Jose Preez-BArraza and Jayden Call.

Sequoia Pathway celebrates a side out in a Thursday win on the volleyball court. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Sequoia Pathway volleyball team ended its regular season Thursday with a tough home win over Desert Heights 3-2. The victory put the girls’ record at 11-3 atop the Canyon Athletic Association’s Region 5 of Division 2.

It was also senior night as the team honored six who are finishing their high school volleyball careers this season: Mikayla Gallon, Lynniece Andrews, Alanah Stoher, Chloe Shishmanian, Roniesha Davis and Emma Berg.

Post-season play starts Oct. 22.

Also in CAA play, Heritage-Maricopa is 1-9 after a Tuesday loss to Tri-City Christian. Heritage Academy has two games left on its schedule.

The Rams tried to turn shirts and clipboards into fanning devices to cool off in a hot gym Thursday.

Maricopa High School’s team had its annual breast-cancer awareness night Thursday while losing to Gilbert 3-0. The Rams are 4-11 overall, 0-5 in the 5A San Tan region of Arizona Interscholastic Association.

The girls wore special pink uniform tops in a game marked by a lack of air conditioning in the gymnasium. MHS has four more games before the end of the season.

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West Coast Striders athletes Zanaa Ramirez and Gianna Chavez with coach Corey Nelson at Junior Olympics. Submitted

 

Maricopa has produced numerous youth athletes in multiple sports, with many records being broken and medals won for track and field in the past few years.

When speaking to high school and club coach Corey Nelson, it’s obvious his passion for the sport is a prominent part of his career.

“This will be my third year. I started off as an assistant coach with the [Maricopa High School] track program, handling the sprints and relays,” Nelson explained. “Maricopa is a cesspool of athletes.”

This summer, Nelson and his track club, West Coast Striders, took two Maricopans to compete in the USATF Hershey Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships. Maricopa High School senior Zanaa Ramirez and Legacy Traditional fifth-grader Gianna Chavez ran for the women 17-18 bracket and girls 11-12 bracket, respectively.

“They qualified for what we call Junior Olympics Region 10, which consists of certain states on the West Coast,” Nelson said. “They then take a limited number of qualifiers there, and they qualify for the Junior Olympics national championships and that involves the entire country.”

Both girls had strong results at the event, becoming Maricopa’s first two nationally ranked youth athletes in track:

800-meter run, women 17-18
Zanaa Ramirez 32nd place, 2:30.08 (qualified with time of 2:36.43)
800-meter run, girls 11-12
Gianna Chavez 19th place, 2:34.35 (previous 2:35.30)
1500-meter run, girls 11-12
Gianna Chavez 10th place, 5:07.56 (previous 5:14.25)

When asked how he prepares for these complex championships, Nelson said consistency and technique make the athlete.

“What we did was work on our speed and worked on a lot of technique. Most importantly diet, doing the right things off the track as well as on it,” Nelson said.

Nelson began his track career late into his junior year of high school. After competing in college and professionally, he has retired to coaching mostly, though he has also competed with West Coast Striders, winning Masters 60-meters at the USATF Arizona Indoor Classic. Being able to pass on a wealth of knowledge and firsthand experience has proved to be the backbone of his Club and coaching style.

He is now an assistant coach for the Sequoia Pathway varsity football team.

“If you’re not having fun with it, then you’re probably not going to be successful,” Nelson said. “One thing about track is not many people go undefeated. So, you know, watching them learn from it, watching them excel, be better people overall from the sport of track and field is always fun to watch.”

Whether it is training or just having a good time before completion, both are key components in the track and field experience.

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Photos by Victor Moreno

Practice opened for the Maricopa High School swim team this week, with around 45 students showing up for the Rams. Varsity’s swim season beings Sept. 5 in Apache Junction. Copper Sky is scheduled to host four meets.

Danica Gutierrez finished second in her softball age division at the national PH&R during MLB All-Star Week. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A 12-year-old softball player from Alterra finished second in the MLB Pitch, Hit & Run national championship during MLB All-Star Week in Cleveland.

Danica Gutierrez qualified for the competition by winning her softball age division in the Team Championship at Chase Field. “It was awesome,” said Danica, who plays club softball for the Gila River Chaos and some club baseball. She also plays for the Maricopa Wells Middle School softball team and Little League.

Flying to Ohio July 7 was her first time in an airplane, which caused some nerves. The next day, competitors were on the field in their PHR outfits ready to pitch, hit and run.

Danica is typically a pitcher but said her best PHR event was batting.

Sure enough, in the hitting event, she placed first, hitting the ball 151 feet for 302 points. In the running event, Danica placed second, running from second to home in 9.25 seconds for 375 points. The pitching portion of the competition was different from her previous experience, using a platform. All the competitors missed their first two throws at the target and hit their last four. Danica scored 300 points.

The results were later announced at the ballpark restaurant. “I had a gut-feeling Danica did not get enough points to win the event,” her father Daniel Gutierrez said.

Besides a nice, second-place plaque, Danica came back with great memories – from a celebrity softball game and futures baseball game, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, aquatic and science museums, paddling Lake Erie and even participating in the All-Star Home Run Derby.

“The different groups of kids were able to take the field and shag the balls,” Daniel Gutierrez said. “Danica got to be part of history as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went against Joc Pederson as she shagged the few balls that weren’t home runs. In the championship round, her group was in the bull pen; she almost got hit by a home-run ball.”

This was the third year she has competed in Pitch, Hit & Run.

To reach Nationals, Danica had to work through layers of competition. That started at the local tournament at Copper Sky. She was among the top three in her age group to advance to the Sectionals at Casa Grande. There, she qualified to play at the MLB Team Championship hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.


This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

Danica Gutierrez (circled in yellow) and the other PH&R finalists in Cleveland. Submitted photo
Danica Gutierrez in Cleveland. Submitted photo

Baseball is not just a sport but a lifestyle for Maricopa eighth grader Brody Matcuk.

Brody Matcuk. Photo by Kyle Norby

July 15, Brody saw his name on the 13U southwest regional team roster for the USA baseball team. With only 34 kids being chosen to compete, it is a major achievement. The next step will be attending the USA Baseball camp in Cary, North Carolina, starting Aug. 7.

Brody has played baseball ever since he was 5 years old. He recalls simply picking up a bat and wanting to play. He also attributes much of his athletic success to the support of his mother and father.

“Thanks to my parents, they looked into it and it seemed cool. I wanted to try out and see what it was like, and I really loved it. I had fun and I met new people, so I really liked it,” Brody said.

Between practicing with his club team two to three days a week in Mesa and working with a local coach, Brody is a busy kid. When asked what he does in the small amounts of free time he has, he said, “If I can, hang out with friends. But I’ll usually play games or swing a bat around the house.”

Receiving a spot on the USA National Baseball team is no easy task, and Brody has put in the time and effort to play with the best. The process consisted of two major tryouts that he participated in down in California.

“For the first try-out, we did infield, outfield, and hitting. For the second tryout we had primary positions and hitting,” Brody said.

By the second tryout, he was able to connect with other kids and made a few friends, with some making it on the team as well.

Brody’s father, Steve Matcuk, who played professionally for teams like the Portland Rockies, has been by his son’s side offering first-hand experience and unwavering support.

“First is dedication. A lot of time and dedication,” Steve said, “I know what it entails, the dedication it takes. I talk to him all the time about, you know, the things that he does now is not so much for this moment in time; it’s more for when you get older.”

With so much going on, Brody’s mother Nikki has been endlessly proud of her son.

“It’s just pretty much the coolest thing ever. It makes my heart smile to see everything that’s now started to fall into place,” Nikki said. “I know how much he’s wanted this and how hard he’s worked. Since he was little, he was always working to be the best Brody; to be the best that he could be. He really inspires me.”

Nikki said Brody keeps her motivated, and they often go to the gym together.

With the baseball camp coming up in only two weeks, Brody will be playing as an outfielder and is eager to get started. Steve said this part of the USA baseball division is known as the “identification series,” which involves not just competing in games, but on-field evaluations and skill testing. The long-term goal is to earn spots in the 14U development series team and climb up to the 15U team, which travels the world and competes against teams from other countries.

When asked if he was nervous to be leaving for North Carolina, Brody said, “Not nervous, just excited.”

Photos by Kyle Norby

Marlins and Seals were spotted at Copper Sky Aquatics Center on Saturday during a fun meet that let the swimmers have a splash and get ready for competition mode. Boys and girls competed in the lap pool.

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Senior Logan Taylor is one of the premier hurdlers in the state.

As the track & field regular season closes, Maricopa High School senior Jacob Cowing has the fastest time recorded this season for the 200-meter dash in Division II.

He won the event in 21.63 (a school record) Friday at the Southeast Valley Championship in Queen Creek. He also won the 100-meter dash at that meet in a school-record 10.71. That is the second-fastest time reported in the division.

Cowing was also a member of the 4×400-meter relay that finished second in 3:31.45. The relay team includes Spencer Gay, Logan Taylor and Amonte Williams.

Taylor, too, has continued to be a standout with remarkable consistency in his specialty events, the hurdles. His time of 14.51 in the 110-meter hurdles set March 8 in the Becky Matthews Open remains the second-fastest time in the division this year. It was also a school record. Friday, he finished third at Queen Creek in 14.73.

In the 300-meter hurdles, Taylor set another school record April 12 at the Hohokam Invitational, where he placed third in 39.09. He matched that time Friday while finishing second, and it is the second-fastest time recorded this season in Division II.

But there’s more. Taylor added the high jump late in the season. He leaped 6-2 at the Hohokam to finish fourth. That jump is among the top 10 in the division. He finished second on Friday with a jump of 6-0. After mulling college offers, Taylor said he has chosen to attend Brigham Young University to participate in both football and track.

Fellow senior Tylen Riley-Coleman hit a personal best in the shot put April 6 at the Greenway Invitational, where he put the shot 52-9 to win that event and improve on the school record. That is a top-10 distance this season in the division. Friday, he finished second with a throw of 52-2.

Coleman achieved a personal best in the discus at the beginning of the season, throwing 150-9.75 at the Aztec Invite March 2. That is seventh-best in the division all year and a school record. Friday, he finished third with a throw of 146-7. He also took a school record in the javelin back on March 2 with 158-11.

The Maricopa boys’ team finished fifth in the Southeast Valley Championship, the final tune-up for the state championships, which start May 1.

Other Rams with top-10 finishes in Queen Creek were senior Amonte Williams, who was third in the 400-meter run with a personal record 51.17; senior Alec Kramarczyk, who set a personal record in the 1600 meters by finishing ninth in 4:42.78; and junior Steel Lewis, who was ninth in the pole vault at 11-07 (personal record).

Maricopa’s 4×200-meter relay team has the sixth-fastest time this season in Division II after running 1:36.80 in the Hohokam. That team is comprised of Mister Chavis, Roberto Esqueda, Marcus Brown and Abel Rodriquez.

Also Friday at Queen Creek, the Maricopa girls’ team finished eighth in the Southeast Valley Championship. Junior Zanaa Ramirez won the 800-meter run in 2:29.63, a personal record. She was ninth in the 400 meters.

The 4×400 team of Kayla Boich, Shakira Gillespie, Ebony Griffin and Zanaa Ramirez was second in a division top-10 time of 4:12.48. The 4×100 relay team of Destinee Chavis, Boich, Griffin and Gillespie was fifth.

Boich finished second in the high jump at 4-10. Freshman Lauren Grist was sixth with 4-04. Gillespie, a sophomore, was fifth in the long jump with a personal-best 16-04. Junior Rylin Balgaard was eighth in the triple jump at 32-04.

The state meet will be May 1 and May 4 at Mesa Community College. Competition for Division II starts Wednesday at 11 a.m. with field events in the morning and running events in the afternoon. Saturday, all divisions will compete in their respective finals starting at 10:45 a.m.

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Photo by Kyle Norby

With two games remaining in the regular season, the Maricopa High School softball team has split their most recent eight games to put their overall record at 10-9.

That keeps them in a position to make the 5A play-in tournament. The Rams are currently ranked 24th in the conference. To end the season, they play 12th-ranked Gilbert Tuesday (Senior Night) and again Thursday. The outcome of those two games could alter the rankings. The top 25 teams advance to state competition.

Maricopa pulled out an 8-7 victory over Agua Fria March 27 before splitting games against Williams Field. The Rams also split a pair of games against Higley, winning the April 5 contest in dramatic style 11-9 with a three-run sixth inning.

The Rams also defeated Sierra Linda 22-5 in between losses to Casteel.

This season, senior Chantel Holguin leads the Maricopa batting with a .556 average. Her 28 runs scored, 35 hits, and 13 doubles are also team bests. Posting similar numbers is sophomore Karyn Meier, who is batting .493 and leads the team in runs batted in with 21 and tied Holguin’s doubles total at 13.

Freshman Rori Gosiak is batting .476 and has 12 stolen bases, while junior Kayla Occhiline is batting .462. Sophomore Evone Santiago leads the team in triples with three and is batting .452.

Santiago is 7-6 pitching with an earned run average of 3.27. She has pitched 81.1 innings, striking out 63 while walking 23.

Freshman Adrianna Armstrong is 3-3 on the mound with an ERA of 4.26.

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

“What?”

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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Maricopa High School’s varsity baseball team is staying around .500 after a dramatic home win Monday was followed by a Tuesday tournament loss. Hosting Independence Monday, the Rams led most of the game, but had to break a tie in the bottom of the seventh for the 4-3 win.

Maricopa had 10 hits in the game, including doubles from senior Trey Keel and sophomore Jacob Keel. In six innings of work, senior Jose Leyva gave up just one earned run while striking out eight and walking four. He and senior Devin Fiala each had two hits in the game.

Tuesday, the Rams fell to 6A’s Red Mountain (6-3) in five innings, 20-4, during the Bob Everett Classic. That put Maricopa’s overall record at 5-5.

Through 10 games, junior Austin Rapp is batting .438, and sophomore Johnathan Leyva has a batting average of .310. Senior Nico Bandin leads the team with 12 hits, and Johnathan Leyva and Fiala each have nine.

Jose Leyva has the most time on the mound, with 16 innings pitched and leads the team in strikeouts with 20. Trey Keel has pitched 14 innings and has 17 strikeouts.

 

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Maricopa High School athletes made a mark in Arizona Interscholastic Association winter sports.

Senior Jayla Johnson was named First Team in 5A San Tan girls’ basketball. Her average of 12.7 points per game was third in the region. She totaled 279 points. Given honorable mention were seniors Italy Brookshire and Jene Brown, junior Tayler Coleman and sophomore Shakira Gillespie. The Rams reached the 5A quarterfinals.

Four Maricopa wrestlers qualified for the state’s Division 2 tournament, and senior Jonathan Childers came away with a fifth-place medal.

Childers, wrestling in the 126-pound group, won his first match but lost his second to eventually champion Bobby Tellez of Cienega to land in the opposite bracket. There, he had two victories before losing to Mountain View Marana’s Seth Legros, who went on to take third place. Childers defeated Omar Artaega of Centennial to take fifth.

Also performing at state and wrestling three matches each were freshman Gabriel Garcia and seniors Connor Paine and David Onquit.

In girls’ soccer, Bianca Olivares was named to the region’s First Team. She had 16 goals through 17 games. Saneya Cowing made Second Team. Receiving honorable mention were Mackenzie Ford, McKinley Hacker and Madison Tyler. The team reached the state playoff bracket.

In boys’ soccer, Jaime Hernandez was named to San Tan’s All-Region First Team. He had four goals and eight points. Dakotah Barchus and Kevin Vasquez made Second Team. Honorable mentions went to Mario Gastelum, Christobal Mendez, Asa Miller, Asher Miller and Taylor Russo.

For the boys’ basketball team, which posted a losing record, senior Walter Greer stood and was named Second Team in 5A San Tan voting.

 

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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.

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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.

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Andrew Polidore (center) is a Maricopa middle school student and USA Hockey player. Photo by Maria Correnti

Andrew Polidore and his 12U AAA Arizona Bobcats team have been invited to play hockey in Canada.

The team is traveling to compete in the Tourno International de Hockey Pee Wee Quebec tournament Feb. 12-24 against teams from all over the planet.

Polidore, a 12-year-old eighth-grade honor student who attends Almentia Academy and Desert Wind Middle School in Maricopa, has been playing youth hockey in the United Arab Emirates since he was 7.

He is the son of Benita and Anton Polidore of Maricopa.

“We play a lot of games in Chandler and in Scottsdale,” Andrew Polidore said. “It is a hassle getting out the door in the morning.  I have to make sure I have all my stuff.”

He recently participated in a “shoot-out” at Norte Dame College. It is an event for scouts to see young players perform.

The Bobcats practice at The Ice Den in Chandler, playing after school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and weekends.

“I played hockey four years overseas in the UAE,” he said. “It was good competition, but I needed some better competition, so we came back here. I spent a year on the House Team, and my second season, I went to the Bobcats.”

Andrew Polidore

Players on the team mainly live in Chandler and Scottsdale.

“They come from all around Arizona. We have 18 on the team,” he said.

Talented teams are chosen from across the United States, China, Australia and “many more countries beyond there.  It’s a very good tournament with high-level teams,” he said.

Andrew said he plans to stay in hockey through high school and college, with a goal of gaining a college hockey scholarship. He dreams of playing in the National Hockey League.

“We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do for high school yet, but next season I’m going to try out for the Coyotes. It’s high-level tournaments,” he said.

Hockey can be a rough-and-tumble sport. Andrew said at 12 it is rough but not as hard as it will become when he moves up.

“In Bantam you get to hit and rough around. In Pee Wee you don’t get to hit – it’s a penalty if you hit. It’s going to be harder in Bantam, but I think I’m prepared for it,” Andrew said.

One advantage he has over his competitors is speed.

“I’m very fast. I play right wing on the second line,” he said.

This is his first year playing with the 12U AAA Arizona Bobcats.

USA Hockey has issued a travel permit to the team, making them eligible to participate in the Canadian tournament.

It is an invitation only tournament with a selection of some of the best Pee Wee hockey players in the world.

“I want to win in Canada and I want to meet people on good, higher-level teams,” he said. “I want to see where I and my team place against those teams. I want to see if we have anything to improve on when I go to Bantam. I think Quebec is one of my steps to the NHL.”

His father Anton said Andrew is always improving and growing as a hockey player.

“To get him to the highest level, we need to work together as a family and make sure everyone is doing their deeds,” he said.

His mother Benita said Andrew is very passionate about hockey. “It is an investment in his future. He wants to play college,” she said.

Both parents always attend his games and practices.

“I have a life outside of hockey and I want to do a lot of other things. I want to go into a field of science – forensic science. I also want to do engineering,” he said.

Andrew said he looks up to his parents as his heroes in life.

“They have helped me through every step to get to hockey,” he said. “My parents were always supportive during those times. It’s my parents I always look up to even though they don’t play hockey.”

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.