If not for the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19, the 2020 sports season might well have been much like those in the past.
But the pandemic that forced cancellation of most of the spring high school sports season and delayed the start of the fall and winter seasons will be forever etched in the history books.
The 2019-20 winter sports season had just concluded when coronavirus cases in Arizona began to spike. As case numbers rose, professional sports leagues began to cancel events and then politicians got involved. In late March, the Arizona Interscholastic Association decided to cancel the remainder of the spring season and with it, the state tournaments normally held in May.
Most other sports and recreational activities, including most annual summer events in the White Mountains, did not take place in 2020 due to the shutdown. But a handful of rodeo events and outdoor activities such as archery and fishing did take place, offering a bit of normalcy to a year that was anything but normal.
When the first surge of the virus began to abate in Arizona, the AIA planned a return to competition with a staggered rollout of sports beginning in September.
The fall season, like last winter, was another successful one for White Mountain schools, who added more championships and made history.
But at year’s end, we are in another delay. While area basketball and wrestling teams are ready to resume practice, competition will not begin until at least Jan. 18.
Following are the highlights of the 2020 year in sports:
Jackets’ Knox tries wrestling, wins medal at state
PRESCOTT VALLEY — One year after the Arizona Interscholastic Association added girls wrestling to its winter sports slate, Blue Ridge senior Gretchen Knox decided to give it a try for the 2019-20 season.
And at the AIA Girls Wrestling Championships in February, she made history as the White Mountain’s first female wrestler to win a medal in state competition.
Knox, who played basketball during her first three years at Blue Ridge High and is a pole vaulter on the Jackets’ track and field team in the spring, decided to take up wrestling and drop basketball during her senior year.
“It was something new,” Knox said. “I was interested because of my background in martial arts. I got into it kind of on a whim.
“Girls wrestling is getting really big across the country. It’s great to be a part of it. It’s super mental and physical, it’s tough. It is easily the hardest sport I’ve ever done.”
It looked like the challenges may be too great during the season leading up to February’s sectional and state competition. Knox was only able to compete in a limited number of contests and she broke her nose in mid-January, but she kept right on competing with the aid of a face-guard.
The 145-pounder took third at both the Window Rock and Winslow Doc Wright tournaments, then finished second at her sectional qualifier to qualify for state.
At the state tournament on Feb. 14-15, Knox defeated Ysela Gradillas-Flore of Marana Mountain View 2-1 for fifth place and Knox finished the season with 18 wins and 7 losses.
“It wasn’t a perfect ending. It’s only my first year. It was just a great experience overall. Hopefully, I paved the way for other girls — other girls will be encouraged to try it,” Knox said.
Knox, an honor student with a 4.0 grade point average, was the BRHS co-Valedictorian in the spring.
Schweigert wins state wrestling title, leads area D3 effort in finals
PRESCOTT VALLEY — The Show Low Cougars had two wrestlers make it to championship matches and lead the mountain’s wrestling teams at the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Division 3 Wrestling Championships at Findlay Toyota Center on Feb. 14-15.
Conner Schweigert, a senior, won the state championship at 126 pounds. He defeated Damian Hosokawa of Gilbert Mesquite by a 10-6 decision in the title bout to finish 32-3 on the season.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match, it is the state finals,” Schweigert said. “I was kind of nervous going into it but I just thought ‘it’s my last match might as well make it worth it.’”
Show Low junior Cole Housley (32-9) finished as the runner-up at 106 pounds. He lost a 13-8 decision to Tempe Marcos de Niza’s Noah Perez in the title match.
Schweigert and Housley were the only area top-six finishers in the Division 3 finals.
Yuma won the team title for the second time in the past three years with 111 points, Sahuarita was second with 91.5, and Chino Valley was close third for the second consecutive year with 90 points.
Show Low (56) was 13th among the 52 teams competing. Snowflake (10) was 37th and Blue Ridge (6) was 40th.
Tanner Crosby wins his third state title, leads St. Johns to third at D4 wrestling finals
PRESCOTT VALLEY — A long line of cousins from the Crosby family have been instrumental in keeping the St. Johns wrestling team among the top teams in Division 4 over the past decade or so.
The youngest of that line, St. Johns senior Tanner Crosby, capped his high school wrestling career with his third state championship at the AIA state finals on Feb. 14-15.
With Crosby’s title and five wrestlers placing among the top six at the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Division 4 championships on Feb. 15, the Redskins finished third in the team standings to complete another successful year on the mats.
St. Johns qualified just eight wrestlers for state at a tough D4 Sectional 3 tournament on Feb. 8.
“We finished third at sectionals, which we were all disappointed with, but wrestled really tough and took care of business at the state tournament,” head coach Brandon Crosby said.
Tanner Crosby defeated Morenci’s Calvin Dunning by a 9-2 decision for the championship at 132 pounds, finishing 51-5 on the season and handing Dunning what was only his fourth loss of the year.
“The state tournament was pretty tough this year,” Crosby said. “I wrestled lots of tough kids through the year at tournaments our coaches brought us to and that is definitely what made me better and my team better throughout the year.”
Tanner is the son of St. Johns assistant wrestling coach Ferrin Crosby and the nephew of head coach Brandon Crosby, who had high praise for the senior.
“Tanner Crosby is the last of a bunch of Crosby Cousins from the Steve Crosby family who have wrestled,” said Brandon Crosby. “ Joel Frazier, Austin Davis, Garret Davis, Brock Crosby, Tyler Crosby, Eli Frazier and Levi Crosby have wrestled for St. Johns over the years. It’s been a great run.”
Eloy Santa Cruz Valley, which posted five state champions, won the team title with 199.5 points. Morenci was second with 151.5, followed by St. Johns with 111 and Mogollon with 93. Round Valley, with 73 points, was eighth among 43 teams earning points at the state tourney. Alchesay tied for 36th overall.
Cael Porter wins state title at 120, leads Mogollon to fourth at wrestling finals
PRESCOTT VALLEY — It was a family affair for the Mogollon High wrestling team when they competed at the AIA Division 4 Wrestling Championships on Feb. 14-15. Three brothers — Cael, Malaki and Timmy Porter — wrestled in state-title bouts to lead their team to fourth overall in the team standings.
Cael Porter, a sophomore, edged Morenci junior Marcus Morales 5-4 in the state championship bout to win his first state wrestling title and finish 51-6 on the season.
“I never wrestled (Morales) before. My brothers wrestled him last year. He was hard to take down,” Cael Porter said. “It was 5-4 with 30 seconds to go. I knew I had to grab a leg and so I just jumped in and held on for dear life.”
Porter won championships at the Joseph City and Mogollon Invitationals in January, and he won the sectional title on Feb. 8.
Twin brother Malaki Porter took second at 138 and older brother Timmy Porter, a senior, was second at 160. Both lost close title bouts to a pair of brothers from Eloy Santa Cruz, which went on to post five champions and win the state title.
Despite a proud wrestling tradition, the fourth-place finish is the Heber school’s best finish in the state wrestling finals since a fourth-place finish in 2012, a year after the Mustangs won the Division 4 state championship in 2011.
Santa Cruz won the state title with a whopping 199.5 points, Morenci finished second with 151.5, St. Johns (111) was third and Mogollon was fourth with 93.
Return to interscholastic competition delayed until further notice
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced in mid-March that all statewide schools will be closed through Friday, April 10. the AIA and its Executive Board required that all AIA member schools not partake in interscholastic competition until further notice.
But when Arizona governor Doug Ducey announced on Monday, March 30, the cessation of all on-campus learning at the state’s schools through the spring semester, the AIA cancelled the remainder of the spring season and championships.
Pandemic shutdown denies locals the chance to defend state championships
The Mogollon High baseball team, the defending Division 1A state champions, did not have a game after March 5 due to spring break, the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 and resulting school closures and suspension of interscholastic contests in the state.
The Mustangs never got to defend their 1A state title from 2019 after the Arizona Interscholastic Association canceled the remainder of the regular season in mid-March.
Mogollon began the 2020 season by playing host to 2A St. Johns on March 3 and the Mustangs won 10-0. Mogollon scored three runs in the sixth to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
The Mustangs played a pair of games at Fort Thomas High, one against the Apaches and one against 2A Pima, on March 5.
Mogollon got 11 hits in a 13-1, five-inning win against Pima in the first game of the day.
Mogollon defeated Fort Thomas 13-0 in five innings in the second game of the day.
Mogollon, at 3-0 was, ironically, the only unbeaten team in 1A, although eight teams in the division had not played any games in the three weeks before the season was suspended.
Like the Mustangs, the Snowflake girls track and field team did not get to defend their 2019 state championship.
Local participants in high school track looked to be on pace for a great season before the AIA suspended the spring sports season in March.
In Division 3 track and field, both the Snowflake boys and girls looked to be on track for glory at the state meet, but the season did not resume.
Leading the way was the Lobos’ 4x800 meter relay team, pole vaulter Payson Stepp and triple jumper Reagan Olson – all were ranked first in the state after two-and-a-half weeks of competition.
Show Low senior Zachary Maxwell, ranked first in Div. 3 in the shot put. Maxwell signed on to run track at Pima Community College in May.
Later in the summer, a member of another top 4x800 team, Show Low senior Reichen Cooke,
St. Johns senior Kyran Lee ranked No. 1 in the triple jump to lead the area’s Div. 4 boys.
White Mountains’ top Div. 4 girls were led by top-ranked St. Johns seniors Raban Lindsey (javelin) and Brooke Patterson (high jump), and Mogollon’s No. 1 high jumper, sophomore Amethyst Valdez.
The Snowflake High School softball team was another promising casualty of the shutdown. The Lobos won all four of their games, all coming in regular-season play, before the spring sports season was suspended.
The Lobos’ games in the abbreviated season all came against Division 3A teams and all were played in Snowflake. The season opened on Feb. 26 and the Lobos defeated Fountain Hills 4-1.
On March 3, Snowflake defeated visiting Safford 15-5.
The Lobos hosted Ft. Defiance Window Rock on March 6 and won 5-3.
Snowflake moved to 4-0 with an 8-1 win against visiting Florence on March 10. Anna Berger scattered three Gopher hits over the seven innings, gave up an earned run, walked two batters and struck out 15 for the win. In the fall, Berger signed a letter of intent to play NCAA Div. I softball at Utah Valley University next season.
Mike Morgan becomes Arizona’s winningest football coach
As the final seconds ticked away on St. Johns’ 62-8 win at Holbrook on Friday, Oct. 16, Redskins head coach Mike Morgan became Arizona’s winningest football coach.
The historic win gave Morgan his 337th career victory, surpassing the late Paul Moro, who guided Blue Ridge to 13 state championships and won more than 300 games there. Moro died of cancer in January, 2019.
Morgan’s record now stands at 342 career wins as St. Johns went on to a 6-2 season that ended in a semifinal loss to Eloy Santa Cruz on Dec. 5. This was Morgan’s 38th season as a head coach and 43rd year coaching football overall.
Morgan had brief stints as an assistant football coach at Chinle, Apache Junction and Mesa High between 1979 and ‘81. Then in 1982 he married Diana and the newlyweds moved to Ganado, where he got his first head coaching job.
“I stayed there seven years and had a 52-18 record, and made the playoffs six of the seven years,” Morgan said.
The Morgans moved to St. Johns in 1989 and found a home.
He told his players after the win at Holbrook that they are part of a legacy of large, supportive families in the community, much like his own, that has produced a consistently successful program in St. Johns. Morgan and his brother Bill, who coached state championship teams at Show Low and Chandler Valley Christian, are sons of educators and his dad once coached but “had so many children, he had to give it up,” Mike said.
In 30 years Morgan has led the Redskins to six 2A state championships, including three straight from 1992-94, in 2002, and back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008, and he has never had a losing season.
Morgan’s winning percentage of 78.1% ranks second among coaches with more than 300 wins. Moro tops the list after having won 82.4% of his games.
“I’m honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with Paul,” Morgan said. “It was sad to see cancer take his life. I felt he had a few good years left in him.
“I bet I played against Paul seven or eight times and only won one time. What I remember most about him was that his teams were sound. The defense was solid, the line always blocked well and his special teams were solid.”
Yellowjackets win state soccer title
In dominating fashion, the Blue Ridge boys varsity soccer team won the state fall soccer championship for the second consecutive year on Nov. 4-7.
But the team appeared vulnerable just a couple of weeks earlier. The Yellowjackets suffered a 3-0 loss to cross-town rival Show Low on Oct. 21. It was the second loss of the season for Blue Ridge and the first since a 3-0 loss to Chino Valley on Oct. 1.
However with the return of senior goalkeeper Andy Plath, thought to be out for the season with a broken ankle, and a couple of position changes, things soon fell into place for the final regular season game on Oct. 24. Cesar Bonilla, a junior who kept goal during Plath’s absence, returned to midfield, enabling midfielder Micheal Littleman, a senior captain, to focus on defense.
“This team learned a lot about perseverance,” said Blue Ridge first-year head coach Kirby Elkins. “They learned about getting through obstacles we didn’t think we had.
“After that second loss the team became possessed. Their work at practice was different. They knew they had the talent but they knew they had to put the work in,” Elkins said.
The Jackets never gave up a goal after that. Blue Ridge defeated Camp Verde 2-0 in the regular-season finale and secured the No. 2 seed in the state playoffs.
Blue Ridge defeated No. 7 Payson, 1-0, in a first-round game in Lakeside on Nov. 4.
The win against Payson set up a Blue Ridge-Show Low semifinal during the final weekend of the playoffs at Scottsdale Coronado High on Nov. 6.
Gustavo Cuiriz, a senior captain, scored both goals in the game as the Jackets defeated the Cougars 2-0 to advance to the title game for the 11th time in the past 12 years and for the 18th time in school history.
Blue Ridge met No. 1 Chino Valley, the only other team to defeat the Jackets in 2020, in the final at Coronado High on Nov. 7. Chino’s Cougars, in their seventh championship match in the past eight years, were hoping to win the school’s seventh state title.
Bonilla scored a goal about four minutes into the contest and sophomore Luis Perez scored later in the first half to make it 2-0, Blue Ridge. Brosemann added a goal in the second half and Cuiriz put in the dagger with a final goal as the Jackets won 4-0 and finished 18-2 on the season.
The title is the 11th for Blue Ridge in the 27-year history of the state fall soccer championships.
Team members are, seniors: Kohl Beazley, Jackie Belnap, Canyon Brosemann, Gustavo Cuiriz, Devin Fish, Tyler Fuller, Elijah Jordan, Michael (Torres) Littleman, Daniel Pansulla, and Andy Plath, juniors: Cesar Bonilla, Jose Galindo, and Alberto Diaz Ramirez, sophomores: Reid Granillo, Brennan Jones, Luis Perez, and Gustavo Ramirez, and freshmen: Josiah Grzelak, Luis Hernandez, Emmanuel Mendoza and Josiah Spillman.
St. Johns girls soccer second in state finals
SCOTTSDALE — The St. Johns High School girls varsity soccer team concluded its best season in nine years and finished as the runner-up team in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Fall Soccer Championships on Nov. 6-7.
The Redskins won nine of 11 games and the East Region championship during the regular season to secure an automatic berth in the semifinal round of the state playoffs. St. Johns defeated Chino Valley in a super-close semifinal at Coronado High School on Nov. 6. The Redskins converted a penalty kick in sudden death to defeat the Cougars after the match remained tied after regulation, two overtime periods and a first round of penalty kicks.
In the state title game on Nov. 7 at Chaparral High, Flagstaff Northland Prep defeated St. Johns for NPA’s fourth consecutive state championship.
Head coach Paul Otto, now in his fifth year at the helm, has coached the girls since they were in middle school. “I felt like the seniors knew our system better than any other class we’ve had,” he said.
“Last year we lost to Northland Prep in the semifinals, so our goal this year was to make the next step, and also to win our region,” Coach Otto said. “And I feel like we did that. We went undefeated in our region.”
The Redskins finished with 10 wins and just three losses.
Lobo cross country teams excel at state meet
This fall the Snowflake High School boys cross-country team matched what no Lobo team has done in 50 years. And the Snowflake girls did what no Lady Lobo squad had ever done.
And what is most striking is that the achievements occurred in what has been the most competitive of all the fall high school sports.
Snowflake posted five runners in the top 26 for the state runner-up trophy at the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Division 3 state championships at Gilbert’s Cross Roads Park on Nov. 12.
The Lobo girls, with three of the top 14 finishers, were third overall in the team standings – the best finish at state in program history.
With just four divisions of cross country in the state, Snowflake competed against a number of traditional powers in distance running, although all the teams in divisions 3 and 4 on the Navajo Reservation and Fort Apache Indian Reservation postponed their season until the spring of 2021.
“Overall the sport is very competitive and the casual runner gets lost in the competition,” Snowflake head cross country coach Lynn Johnson stated in an email.
“With the reservation schools not competing and with students in Tucson transferring to popular running schools it made the competition greater in some aspects this year. The four-time defending state champion team, Page, ran against us only twice this year. You could not win with two or three good runners. All seven runners had to be competitive. We would have won state five years ago if my athletes ran the times we were able to run this year,” said the coach.
The Snowflake boys were led at the state meet by junior Caleb Anson, who was ninth in the 5K race with a time of 16 minutes, 27.7 seconds. Senior Kaden Clark was 12th with a 16:39.5.
The Lobo girls were led by eighth-place finisher Alyssa Hall, a junior. She finished with a time of 20:13.7.
While social distancing during the pandemic hindered summer workouts and practice for most sports, distance runners were able to train for the 2020 season more like they normally would – on their own.
All state qualifiers from the White Mountain area finished among the top two-thirds in the finishing order, an indication of the tough North Section they compete in.
“I give tribute to all the cross country athletes on the mountain and have great respect for their dedication to the sport,” Johnson added.
Division 1A football final: Mustangs fend off Vikings for state championship
SCOTTSDALE — The Mogollon Mustangs ran the ball for ample yardage during last the AIA eight-man football state championship on Nov. 29.
However, missed scoring opportunities allowed their opponent to stay in the game for a chance at an upset victory. But the Mustangs never lost the lead in the game and the team made plays at the end for a 28-20 win to clinch the Heber school’s first 1A state football title since 2014.
Mogollon and Williams, both from the 1A North region, played earlier in the season and the Mustangs won easily.
In the title game, the Mustangs held an 18-0 lead late in the second quarter and led 26-8 early in the third, but the playoff-hardened Vikings fought back and got to within two points twice in the second half.
“I think we played a little bit sluggish,” said Mogollon head coach Rick Samon. “It is nice to be on top at the end.”
The Mustangs scored three touchdowns in the first half but failed on all three two-point conversions. Also in the first half, the team turned the ball over on downs twice inside the Williams 20 yard line.
With a couple of minutes to play before halftime, a Vikings interception of a Mogollon pass set up Williams’ first touchdown with less than a minute to play. The Vikings completed a pass for a two-point conversion which made it 18-8 at halftime.
The Mustangs took the second-half kickoff and scored a TD and completed a pass for a conversion to go up 26-8.
The Vikings promptly scored in about a minute and converted the two-pointer to make it 26-16.
After Mogollon turned the ball over on downs near midfield on the next series, Williams scored again in short order, running for a TD and passing for the conversion to make it 26-24.
The Mustangs scored again with about eight minutes left in the game, and took a 32-24 lead after a rushing TD and failed conversion attempt.
Williams again came back with a run for a touchdown with about four minutes to play. But on the two-point conversion attempt that would have tied it, Mogollon senior Jayk Kelton batted down a pass and the Mustangs held on to a 32-20 lead.
Mogollon went on to score with about a minute left, but again failed on the two-point attempt, leaving the score 38-30.
“It was a defensive battle early. We were up 26-8 and they got it back to 26-24,” said the coach. “The 12 points we left on two-point conversions killed us. We could have scored 50 points.”
Kelton, the coach’s grandson, ran for six touchdowns in Mogollon’s 78-12 semifinal win against Bagdad on Nov. 22.
This is more than just the fifth state football championship for Mogollon.
Although this is Samon’s first season as head coach of the Mustangs, he has been the defensive coordinator of the team since 2000, except for the one season with the junior high. That was shortly after he retired after 25 years with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Since almost all the players grew up in Heber/Overgaard and Samon has coached many of their siblings, cousins and parents, this season has been quite the family affair.
3A state football championship: Lobos dominate, win 38-14 for state title
SCOTTSDALE — The Snowflake High School football team capped a dramatic, highly contested season of 3A competition with a convincing win against the top seed in the final at Coronado High School on Dec. 12 to win the Lobos’ first state football championship in 27 years.
One week after a semifinal in which a 21-0 first-half lead evaporated and a defensive stop in overtime preserved a dramatic victory against No. 3 American Leadership Academy - Gilbert, the No. 2 seeded Lobos put forth what was probably their best performance all year in the title game.
Snowflake flexed its muscle early on once again and took a 28-0, first-half lead for good measure against No. 1 Yuma Catholic. The Shamrocks regrouped in the second half but the margin proved too much to overcome as the Lobos and their proud fans enjoyed every minute of a 38-14 victory.
“They came to play football. They make mistakes like high school kids do, but their heart comes out. They show it time after time after time,” Snowflake head coach Kay Solomon said of his team. “What a tough season we played, it prepared us. This score was a little more lopsided, but they had to dig deep to put a stop to Yuma Catholic’s rally. “They worked hard. They deserve every bit of this.”
The Lobos offense put together the first of its four first-half scoring drives midway through the first quarter. Green’s 1-yard dive for the touchdown capped a nine-play, 55-yard drive.
After the Shamrocks lost yardage on a three-and-out series and punted, the Lobos went 75 yards in three plays and went up 14-0 on a 9-yard run by Green for the touchdown.
On Yuma Catholic’s ensuing series, the Shamrocks drove into Snowflake territory, but sophomore quarterback Richard Stallworth, who had taken a big hit during the first quarter, threw four consecutive incompletions and YC turned the ball over on downs. Stallworth, who had thrown for 49 touchdowns in 2020, then left the game for good with a broken collar bone.
After the next two series netted no points, the Lobos went the 67 yards in just five running plays, and junior Camden Brimhall raced 46 yards for the touchdown and Snowflake took a 21-0 lead.
The Lobo defense forced another punt three plays later and went 63 yards in five plays to score another touchdown and take a 28-0 lead with one minute to play before halftime.
Neither team could sustain a drive on the first two series of the second half. But the Shamrocks got their first score just two plays after forcing a Lobo punt. Sophomore Jarred Marquez ran 72 yards for a touchdown and Logan Rush kicked the PAT to make it 28-7.
Yuma Catholic scored again just 16 seconds later. The Shamrocks recovered a perfectly placed onside kickoff at the Snowflake 45, and after a 26-yard completion from Logan Rush to Austin Rush, senior Devon Black ran 19 yards for a touchdown and Snowflake led 28-14 with 6:34 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Shamrocks tried to recover another onside kick but this time the Lobos recovered at the Yuma Catholic 49 yard line. Snowflake drove to inside the 20 and Crockett kicked a 39-yard field goal, enabling the Lobos to regain momentum with a 17-point lead at 31-14.
The Shamrocks mounted a time-consuming, 69-yard, 13-play drive on the next series and came within mere inches of scoring. But on fourth down and goal and four inches from pay dirt, Green made the defensive play of the game. He shot a gap and tackled Black for a two-yard loss to end the scoring threat. .
Snowflake killed much of the rest of the game clock with a 14-play, 98-yard scoring drive, capped by Green’s third TD of the night, a 5-yard run with 1:19 left.
Snowflake had won three consecutive 3A titles under coaches Jim Beall and Neil Westover from 1991 to ’93. That was part of seven 3A titles during a seven-year span. That was before any of the current Lobos were born.
“I feel like I’ve worked my whole life for this, and we got it!” said Green, the Lobos’ senior running back/linebacker. “This is an exceptional night. All us seniors have had this dream since we were little.”
Green led a 308-yard team rushing effort with 192 yards and the three scores on 27 carries. Brimhall had 75 yards and the TD run on eight carries. Cantrell was 10-of-18 passing for 150 yards and one TD. Baum had six catches for 136 yards and a score.
Snowflake finished the season with 10 wins and one loss.
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