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Notes from the North: Mohave Accelerated joins Snowflake atop preseason hoops rankings

November 26, 2021 by George Werner, AZPreps365


Josh Neal, a returning first-team all-1A Conference forward for Mohave Accelerated Learning Center, will combine his athleticism with fellow upperclassman and first-teamer Aden Honegger to get the Patriots past defending 1A champion North Valley Christian, now their rival in the West Region. The Patriots, along with Snowflake, are Northern Arizona's two teams that top the preseason No. 1 picks in Small School boys and girls basketball. (George Werner/AzPreps365.com)

Title town...or turkey?

Led by East Region Player of the Year Caden Cantrell, Snowflake will find out which it is Saturday, Nov. 27, in its chance to repeat as 3A Conference football champions at Campo Verde High School, as the second-seeded Lobos kick off their long-awaited rematch with “an even better” Yuma Catholic High School at 6 p.m., head coach Kay Solomon said. 

“I look forward to having our community there in full support this year,” said Solomon, whose program, since August, has been the season-ending objective of Shamrocks quarterback Richard Stallworth, one of the top two junior passers in America. “We love having a big, loud playoff crowd. It was great last Saturday [Nov. 20] and likely [will] be even bigger and louder this week.”

That is why, whether they win or lose, Greg Haagsma knows at whose door the wolves really are. The conference’s Athletic Director of the Year saw his Valley Christian High School Trojans lose Nov. 20 to the Lobos in the 3A football semifinal a week after the volleyball team topped the Lobos for the 3A title. 

As the school’s long-time boys basketball head coach, Haagsma is also preparing last year’s top seed--my 3A preseason No. 1--to open the Lobos’ season as the second half of a doubleheader beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30. His and the Lobos’ chances against the rest of the boys and girls basketball programs will be analyzed further in my Small School preseason rankings below.

Safe to say here, though, that even if East Region rivals Holbrook, Show Low and Winslow all made it to the girls basketball quarterfinals last season, Snowflake’s boys basketball team can reload for another run at the 3A title around first-team all-region senior Noah Baum--once he recovers from Saturday’s title game, where Baum, Cantrell’s favorite target, is expected to join the state’s top five wide receivers--without running into much local trouble.   

“I look forward to seeing our team rise to this challenge by focusing all week on getting prepared” despite Thanksgiving, Solomon added, as well as other “distractions that go with time off from the normal routine.”

Juniors Matthew Brimhall, Lance Christensen and Tony Munoz joined Baum, Cantrell, Camden Brimhall, Clayton Smith, Jacob Wagner, Rhett Wengert and the nation’s leader in kickoff yardage, kick scoring and co-leader in field goals, Samuel Crockett, as Lobo upperclassmen on the all-3A East first team.

Now if only 4A quarterfinalists Lee Williams and Prescott high schools can just stop overachieving the night before and not crash the Lobos’ and Mogollon’s back-to-back state football championship party…

Two of top three in Grand Canyon, 4A to clash in quarterfinals 

After Prescott junior running back Cody Leopold was honored as Grand Canyon Region Player of the Year, Groundhog Day came early Friday, Nov. 19, for his eighth-seeded Badgers. They redeemed their earlier loss in the Grand Canyon Region championship game to rival Bradshaw Mountain, in spite of the efforts of the region’s Defensive Player of the Year, 230-pound senior linebacker Michael Kelley.

While all-region running back Malakai Stephenson gets to join his quarterback, fellow junior Grady Rose, and regional rivals Mingus Union and Mohave high schools Friday and Saturday, Nov. 26 and 27, at the Valley Christian Boys Basketball Thanksgiving Tournament, defending their regional basketball title is not an option for fellow first-teamers like seniors Peyton Hines, Kaleb Hill and Aiden Ott and sophomore James Giggey. They who were sent home by key stops from Badger first-teamers like junior defensive linemen Cody Hanna and Landen Francis, who are keeping fellow first-team wide receiver Jake Hilton with them a week longer--and out of the Panthers Hoops Classic, in which the 6-foot, 3-inch junior would have started at guard beginning Wednesday, Nov. 24....

That is where junior all-region wide receiver Jake Weidinger will join senior second-team linebacker Collin Doucette and their 13 Flagstaff teammates through Nov. 27, as they open the four-day Paradise Honors High School tournament at 5:30 p.m. against defending 2A West champion Trivium Prep. 

Instead, Hilton will be a favored post-Turkey Day target of either junior starting quarterback Alex Vaughan or sophomore backup Jaxon Rice in Prescott’s quarterfinal at the top seed in the 4A playoffs, Poston Butte High School. Between his stints as Prescott head coach from 2012 to 2016 and since 2018, Grand Canyon Coach of the Year Cody Collett spent a year in 5A as the Broncos’ head coach, leaving behind an assistant who has coached under Collett’s successor, Dain Thompson, ever since. So the two teams will be well-scouted...

Lee Williams, on the other hand, will be a new experience for third seed Mesquite in their Friday, Nov. 26, quarterfinal. The 55-32 win by the 11th-seeded Volunteers at No. 6 seed Apache Junction was perhaps the surprise of the first round on a night of surprising 4A scores Nov. 19.

With more than 500 total yards but an advantage of just 27 on the state’s top receiver and ninth-best running back and quarterback in terms of total yardage, Lee Williams’ offense wasn’t 23 points better than the Prospectors.

Turnovers made the major difference, as three seniors and a junior--including first-team all-region upperclassmen Jared Cardiff and Payton Wayman--teamed up to force and recover two fumbles by Apache Junction, which could not return the favor. 

Volunteers freshman Reilly Feil highlighted the best game of his young career with an interception on top of his three touchdown receptions from senior quarterback Devean Santos. 

The Grand Canyon Offensive Player of the Year led his offense in a turnover-free night, running for 90 yards and two more touchdowns himself and spreading the scoring wealth to two other senior playmakers as well as first-team all-region junior Troy Edwards, who also had a key block of an Apache Junction field goal attempt...

The Volunteers [8-3] may have been helped by being battle-tested against six other 4A postseason seeds, half of which they defeated, including Southwest Region champ Lake Havasu in their first road game of the regular season Sept. 10. One of Arizona’s top touchdown rushers, Knights junior Isaac Stopke, was overwhelmed in his 35-21 first round upset loss by three touchdowns from Canyon del Oro running back Kayden Luke.

The sophomore led a big win in the battle of the line of scrimmage for the Dorados, who rolled to 342 yards rushing and a quarterfinal date at fourth-seeded Glendale, 49-26 winners over 13th seed Coconino, which handed the Volunteers their only loss this season greater than five points--29-10 on Oct. 9. 

Panthers junior running back Cooper French’s regional opener with Lee Williams began a string of Grand Canyon games in which he averaged 240 yards rushing behind the blocking of fellow first-team all-region players Quinn Mickelson, Xavier Nakai, Matias Ortiz and Jonathan Padilla. French ended his junior season as 4A’s fifth-leading rusher, 25 yards behind Stopke, with 1,552 yards, while another first-teamer, senior defensive back Andy Ruiz, will join two other upperclassmen, led by forward Mitchell Jacobsen, in the Panthers’ basketball season opener Monday, Nov. 29, at Notre Dame Prep--78-69 victors over Prescott in their Nov. 23 opener …

Lobos join Page, Rock Point, St. Michael, Sedona Red Rock atop girls hoops rankings

Last March, Snowflake’s girls joined the boys basketball team in watching Page run past both of them in the 3A Conference championship games. While the Lobos, despite the loss of early graduate Emily Davis’ services, have the depth to reload for title runs again this winter, though, the Sand Devils do not.

Both of Page’s teams return just two starters combined--and neither head coach--to a North Region replenished by last year’s 2A boys semifinalist and girls quarterfinalist Alchesay along with four Rez ball teams coming off a year in COVID-19 quarantine. 

Granted, Page’s returning girl starter is a significant one: 3A Player of the Year Miquedah Taliman, a 5-foot, 10-inch guard who averaged nearly 14 points and more than three assists and steals over just 17 games en route to Page’s third girls title in the past four seasons.

But once the Lobos’ other four returning seniors are bolstered by co-captain Macee LeSueur, second-team all-conference last season with nearly 10 points and seven-and-a-half rebounds per game in less than 24 minutes a night, they will have enough balance and experience to be the high-performing offense their defense was last season.

These are sufficient reasons why Snowflake is the odds-on favorite to take the 3A girls title, especially with the top returning height all-conference seniors who barely clear six feet tall: first-team center Cameryn Jones, of Gilbert Christian, and second-teamers Liv Lunt and Emma Wall, at Thatcher and Sabino, respectively...

It is also why Fort Thomas is favored to repeat as 1A champs and why 2A runner-up Sedona Red Rock will, again, be the primary competitor standing in the way of back-to-back state titles by Pima. The Scorpions return every starter from last season’s state title loss to the Roughriders on a buzzer-beating three-point shot off glass in overtime, including 6-foot, 3-inch sophomore post Rachel Roderick, who “is playing lights out,” her head coach, Kirk Westervelt, said after a summer of play with Phoenix club Adidas Elite.

This fall, however, they have been stymied in their efforts to even move on to the next game. Both Red Rock hoops teams had to postpone their Nov. 23 openers in Page after their team bus broke down at the top of Oak Creek Canyon, followed by an irreparable windshield wiper failure on the backup bus in Flagstaff.

“[We h]ad to limp back to Sedona and hopefully reschedule the games,” girls head coach Kirk Westervelt said. “I really liked our chances against them. [We h]ad a great week of practice and a solid core of eight players back.”

Westervelt’s girls join 2A semifinalist St. Johns and a dynamic 1A duo of Rock Point and St. Michael high schools as Northern Arizona’s other teams to beat in my Small School Preseason Hoops Rankings, where I pick the teams going to the postseason in boys and girls basketball from the 1A through 3A Conferences...

Here is my system: Below, all potential postseason seeds will be ranked, from Nos. 1 to 16, with Northern Arizona teams in boldface. An asterisk (*) indicates an automatic bid, meaning the starred team is projected to win its region title.

Included in brackets are last year’s overall and regional won-loss records along with postseason seeding and finish, if available. Rock Point is the most high-profile of a handful of Rez ball teams returning to play after a year in COVID-19 quarantine. 

It should be noted I am ranking these teams without comment. Capsules summarizing their bi-weekly progress will be included in future Notes. I am also not including candidates for 2A play-in berths, though you are welcome to send me your feedback on those Nos. 17 to 24 seeds. 

I have no “insider” information or other secret knowledge of the power rankings. These are simply my projections based on available statistics and limited observations of the teams’ performances to date. Let me know if you have additional information on other teams’ tournament performances not on the schedule. 

So send me your preseason top 16 with any comment you care to add. Let’s see how close we are. With your input, I’d like to keep this going as the season goes along, so get your hot takes ready:

1A

1. Fort Thomas [20-2, 4-0 North East; region and state champions]*

2. Rock Point [20-2, 9-1 North in 2019, region and state champions; 2020 season cancelled]*

3. Leading Edge Academy - Gilbert [18-2, 5-0 Maricopa; region champions, state semifinalists]*

4. St. Michael [10-3, 3-1 North East; state semifinalists]

5. Anthem Prep [12-5, 4-1 Maricopa; state quarterfinalists]*

6. St. David [12-6, 7-0 Tucson South; state quarterfinalists] 

7. Baboquivari [17-4, 7-1 South, state runners-up in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]*

8. Mayer [10-8, 5-2 Central West; first-round loss]*  

9. Williams [13-3, 7-0 Central West; state quarterfinalists]

10. Mogollon [11-6, 2-2 North East; state runners-up]  

11. Joseph City [8-9, 1-3 North East; state quarterfinalists]

12. San Manuel [8-6, 5-1 Tucson South; first-round loss]

13. Desert Christian [10-9, 5-2 Tucson South; first-round loss]

14. Salome [6-7, 3-4 Central West; first-round loss]

15. Red Mesa [6-10, 5-4 North; first-round loss] 

16. Ray [11-9, 0-4 North East; first-round loss]

2A

1. Pima [20-1, 8-0 East; state champs]*

2. Sedona Red Rock [15-1, 9-0 Central; state runners-up]*  

3. Arizona Lutheran [18-1, 8-0 West; state quarterfinalists]*

4. Scottsdale Christian [10-6, 5-0 Metro; state quarterfinalists]*

5. St. Johns [13-7, 4-4 East; state semifinalists]*

6. Horizon Honors [9-5, 5-0 Valley; first-round loss]*

7. Phoenix Country Day [9-6, 3-2 Metro; first-round loss]

8. San Carlos [18-2, 13-1 South, state quarterfinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled] 

9. Bisbee [17-2, 11-1 East, state quarterfinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]*

10. St. John Paul II [11-4, 6-2 West; first-round loss]

11. Valley (Sanders) [17-6, 12-2 North in 2019; 2020 season cancelled] 

12. Phoenix Christian [11-4, 4-1 Metro] 

13. Round Valley [10-7, 6-2 East; state quarterfinalists] 

14. Arete Prep [11-6, 3-1 Valley] 

15. Benson [13-2, 5-0 South; first-round loss]

16. Ganado [15-6, 6-4 North, 3A semifinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled] 

3A

1. Snowflake [18-2, 10-0 East; state runners-up]*

2. Page [18-0, 8-0 North Central; state champs]*

3. Gilbert Christian [16-5, 7-1 Metro East; first-round loss]*

4. Winslow [13-6, 6-4 East]

5. Thatcher [16-4, 10-0 South Central; state semifinalists]*

6. Valley Christian [17-1, 8-0 Metro West; state quarterfinalists]*

7. Sabino [6-7, 4-0 South]*

8. Bourgade Catholic [12-5, 6-2 Metro West]*

9. Holbrook [13-5, 8-2 East]

10. Globe [10-4, 7-1 Metro East; first-round loss] 

11. Alchesay [15-6, 11-3 North, 2A semifinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled] 

12. Yuma Catholic [13-2, 7-1 West; state quarterfinalists]*

13. Wickenburg [11-7, 5-3 West; first-round loss]  

14. Florence [10-7, 7-3 South Central; first-round loss]

15. Tuba City [13-6, 6-4 North, state quarterfinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]

16. Chinle [13-7, 6-4 North, state quarterfinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]

Alchesay, MALC seek to live up to previous boys seedings like Lobos

The 1A, 2A and 3A tournaments last season were abbreviated versions of themselves due to COVID-19. So many Rez ball powers were forced to cancel their seasons due to the virus that the 3A finals, especially, matched competitors who were more last men standing.

Beleaguered by the virus, 2020 top seed Alchesay looks to show the larger schools in the 3A Conference, including its North Region rival and defending state champion Page, it is back, and better than ever. 

In 2018, the Falcons were state runners-up. Two seasons ago, the Falcons won their first 20 non-tournament games and romped through the North Region, only to fall by a putback to fifth-seeded Rancho Solano Prep that head coach Kyle Goklish contested was after the buzzer at the end of the state semifinal.

But the Mustangs’ third try was upheld, and they went on to become 2020 state champ--and last year’s runner-up. Long-time head coach Kyle Goklish’s program, conversely, has not been able to play a game ever since and has lost all but two players from that squad. 

Only 12th-seeded St. Johns, along with last team in River Valley, turned out to be Northern Arizona’s only 2A programs to even make it into last season’s tournament, where they were quickly swept out of their first-round games by double digits. So, with Alchesay gone, the Redskins’ six Rez ball rivals and Round Valley are welcome North Region returnees...

Mohave Accelerated Learning Center was less unfortunate last season but still couldn’t finish what it so successfully started. The Patriots won 22 of their first 23 games in a tournament-free 2020 schedule, only to get unexpectedly dominated, 65-48, in the title game by second seed North Valley Christian. 

Scott Neal has all the tools back to follow through this time, as North Valley Christian joins the Patriots in the West Region and will face them Feb. 2 in their regular-season finale. The Patriots are the only program returning two all-conference first-teamers--his son Josh, at forward, and guard Aden Honegger. What is missing, like with Alchesay, is the consistency to be competing for region and conference titles all the way up to the season’s final game. 

Fort Thomas, which took care of North Valley Christian in the 2020 state championship only to be its first-round stepping stone last season, will have its shot to bounce back to the winners’ circle under head coach Matthew Dona. Same with Mogollon, which brings in larger schools like Yuma Catholic to its own two-day tournament Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3 and 4. Don’t worry, guys, my preseason Small School Seedings have your back:

1A

1. Mohave Accelerated Learning Center [22-1, 9-0 Central West; state runners-up]*

2. North Valley Christian [19-1, 6-0 Maricopa; state champs]

3. Leading Edge Academy - Gilbert [13-2, 9-2 Maricopa; first-round loss]* 

4. St. David [17-4, 8-0 Tucson South; state semifinalists]*

5. Mogollon [9-6, 3-1 North East; first-round loss]*

6. Rock Point [18-1, 8-0 North, state semifinalists in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]*

7. Fort Thomas [4-13, 2-2 North East; no postseason]

8. Patagonia Union [13-8, 6-2 Tucson South; state semifinalist]*

9. El Capitan [14-3, 8-1 Central West; state quarterfinalist]

10. Williams [13-5, 7-2 Central West; first-round loss] 

11. Ray [19-2, 3-1 North East; state quarterfinalist]

12. Cicero Prep [12-7, 4-3 Maricopa; state quarterfinalist]

13. Joseph City [9-6, 2-2 North East; first-round loss]

14. The Gregory School [8-6, 6-2 Tucson South; first-round loss]*

15. Baboquivari [16-4, 6-2 South, state semifinalist in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]

16. Basis Flagstaff [9-4, 6-3 Central West]

2A

1. Rancho Solano Prep [19-4, 6-1 Valley; state runners-up]*

2. Scottsdale Christian Academy [18-1, 5-0 Metro; state champs]*

3. Phoenix Country Day [13-3, 4-1 Metro; state quarterfinalist] 

4. Pima [16-3, 8-0 East; state semifinalist]* 

5. Trivium Prep [14-4, 10-0 West; state quarterfinalist]* 

6. Arizona Lutheran Academy [13-7, 8-2 West; first-round loss]

7. San Tan Charter [15-3, 7-0 Valley; state semifinalist]

8. Benson [13-2, 6-0 South; state quarterfinalist]*

9. Miami [11-6, 6-2 East; first-round loss]

10. Valley (Sanders) [11-9, 11-3 North, play-in loss in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]*

11. St. Johns [15-5, 11-3 North, first-round loss] 

12. Scottsdale Prep [10-7, 8-2 Central; play-in loss]

13. Chandler Prep [11-6, 5-2 Valley; state quarterfinalist]

14. San Carlos [10-9, 10-4 South, play-in loss in 2019; 2020 season cancelled]

15. Glendale Prep [10-5, 9-0 Central; first-round loss]

16. River Valley [10-8, 6-4 West; first-round loss]

3A

1. Valley Christian [17-1, 8-0 Metro West; state quarterfinalist]*

2. Snowflake [18-2, 9-1 East; state runner-up]*

3. Coolidge [14-3, 8-2 South Central; state quarterfinalist]*

4. Sabino [9-6, 6-0 South; first-round loss]*

5. Gilbert Christian [16-7, 7-1 Metro East; state semifinalist]* 

6. Page [14-4, 7-1 North Central; state champs]

7. Fountain Hills [14-5, 6-2 North Central; state semifinalist]

8. Florence [12-6, 8-2 South Central; state quarterfinalist]

9. Yuma Catholic [10-6, 8-0 West; first-round loss]*

10. American Leadership Academy - Gilbert North [11-5, 6-2 Metro West; first-round loss]

11. Winslow [14-2, 9-1 East; first-round loss]

12. Camp Verde [11-8, 4-4 North Central; first-round loss]

13. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy [11-6, 7-3 South Central; first-round loss]

14. Thatcher [9-10, 5-5 South Central; first-round loss]

15. American Leadership Academy - Ironwood [10-7, 5-3 Metro East; first-round loss]

16. Tanque Verde [6-6, 4-2 South; no postseason]

Next Time

Tourneys, tourneys and more tourneys! Holiday tournaments galore in Williams, Mogollon and more. Weekend wrestling returns to Cottonwood and Mingus Union High School as well. Remember, your hot takes and feedback are always welcome! Follow me on Facebook and Twitter at @ProfGWerner, or email me at gwerner@azpreps365.com.