Apollo has upheld its position as the team to beat in 5A boys basketball season as the state tournament dawns on Wednesday (Feb. 15). It hasn't been easy as teams like Sunnyslope and Chaparral have proven worthy foes or better in matchups on the court during the regular campaign.
If standouts Holland Woods and Dre Marin wish to make good on their final shot at a state title after early exits the past two seasons, they'll need to be sharp.The likes of Arcadia, Sunnyslope, Chaparral and Agua Fria are lurking.
The first round matchups are: #16 Maricopa at #1 Apollo (23-3); #9 Agua Fria (20-6) at #8 Ironwood (16-9); #12 Marana Mtn. View (17-8) vs. #5 Buena (23-5); #13 Betty Fairfax (20-7) at #4 Chaparral (20-6); #14 McClintock (14-12) at # 3 Sunnyslope (22-4); #11 Paradise Valley ((17-9) at #6 Cienega (18-9); #10 Sahuaro (19-7) at #7 Cholla (19-4) and #15 Liberty (19-7) at No. 2 Arcadia (23-3).
Here's a glimpse at the top contenders for the title:
Apollo (23-3): The Hawks three losses are to Chaparral (sans Woods and Marin), prep all-star power Findley Prep and Basha, the No. 2 seed in the 6A state tournament. Woods and Marin are the guts of Apollo averaging 27 points and 21, respectively. The tandem rarely lets the team down so its incumbent on the rest of the Hawks' lineup (seniors Jeff Perez, Elloheim Clark, Veontray Smith and soph Emmanuel Taban) to do their part. Their brief stays in postseason the last three years occurred in D-I in 2014 and 2015 and in the round of 16 last year in D-II.
Arcadia (23-3): The Titans were perfect in their 18 ranking games for coach Stephen Danford. Their losses were to Basha, Brophy and McClintock -- all in invitationals and losses not to be ashamed of. A mix of seniors and juniors has piloed this year['s squad that bowed out in the second round of postseason last year after a title-game appearance in 2015. Senior Max Moses leads the way averaging 18 ppg. Junior Aidan Weber is not far behind checking in with 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. Senior Matt Burton, junior Jaylin Fleming and senior Reed Richardson are steady contributors.
Sunnyslope (22-4): The Vikings regropuped some loaded after last year's runner-up finish in D-I to Mesa High and have been scrappy as usual under coach Ray Portela. A roster devoid of seniors, juniors Chris Orozco, Kyle Fischer, Bryson Mewhinney and Allan Abayev have been the mainstays. Sunnyslope won its invitational to open the year crushing Agua Fria. Its only losses are to Mesa Mtn. View, Ironwood and two competitive battles with Apollo.
Chaparral (20-6): The Firebirds have rebounded from a very off-year with 19 losses and a one-and-done postseason to a 20-win season and No. 4 seed. Seniors Colten Kresl (20 ppg), JT Thoman (11 ppg) and Kai Fletcher (8 ppg and 7 rpg) are the top players. Blaise Threatt and Corey Jones have enjoyed big games at times. Chaparral's schedule was filled with top-notch opponents - Apollo, Sunnyslope, Corona del Sol, Cesar Chavez, Arcadia and Agua Fria to name a few.
Agua Fria (20-6): The Owls lost four of their top players from last year's 28-3 runner-up club in D-II, but have turned in a solid season as a No. 9 seed under Randy Lavender. Top scorer from last year Bryce Fowler has reprised that role averaging 17 ppg and 7 rpg. Some of last year's lost scoring punch has been filled by seniors Duran McNeal and Daniel Foster. Both are putting up 13 ppg. Agua Fria will need to be at its best. If it gets by its first-round game, it likely will face Apollo.