Fountain Hills appears ready to live up to the high expectations.
The girls soccer team proved this season that it deserved the No. 1 seed in the Division III state tournament for the first time after consistently beating opponents on both ends of the field in 2013-14. That balanced approached tends to pay off in the playoffs, but winning this year's D-III title won't be an easy chore.
A handful of quality teams can foil Fountain Hills' plans, including last year's state runner-up, Mingus, a potential opponent for Fountain Hills if both teams reach the state semifinals. The D-III state tournament begins Tuesday without the defending state champ, Campo Verde, which moved up to Division II.
"I look forward to watching this team (Fountain Hills) really develop as the postseason begins," Fountain Hills coach Alison Mabery said. "They have a lot of talent, speed, team chemistry, and work ethic."
Fountain Hills is led by its defenders, Alex Bergner, Jessica Stricker, Courtney Wise, Madi Blaes, and goalkeeper Karhi Smith.
Take away its 9-8 loss to D-II's Sunnyslope, and Fountain Hills just gave up eight goals this season. Fountain Hills' work rate up front is just as impressive, as 15 of the team's 21 players have scored a goal and 17 have tallied an assist.
Another team that put up impressive offensive numbers this season was No. 2 seed Yuma Catholic. The 15-0 team is led by a couple of talented underclassmen, sophomore Karla Navarro and freshman Karen Melendrez.
Combined, the attackers have recorded 61 goals and 36 assists so far. With three seniors on the back line, you can find some of Yuma Catholic's senior leaders on defense.
Mingus is 11-8-1 overall, but its only losses came to D-III schools (2-0 to Fountain Hills and 1-0 to No. 8 seed Northwest Christian). Northwest Christian's freshman goalkeeper, Emma Angell, had a 1.152 goal against average.
Another formidable team that Fountain Hills defeated this year is No. 3 seed Seton Catholic (13-2-1), which lost to 2-1 to Fountain Hills and has given up only seven goals this season despite dressing only four seniors. One of the intriguing first round matches features Scottsdale Prep, which reached the state quarterfinals last year, and a relatively new program, Walden Grove.
Scottsdale Prep, the No. 4 seed, has only one senior, but every player on the team except for one has scored, including Miya Speno (15 goals) and Josee and Kathryn Jacobellis (28 combine goals). Speaking of scoring, Walden Grove, the No. 13 seed, has relied heavily on its freshman to find the back of the net.
The team's freshmen have accounted for 49 of Walden Grove's goals. Freshman Rachel Carrell has 17 goals for a Walden Grove team that finished 2-10-1 last year.
Walden Grove is 13-5-2 this year despite having a starting lineup that is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Phoenix Country Day and Saguaro finished in a tie for the No. 9 seed in the D-III state tournament.
To break the tie, the Arizona Interscholastic Association held a coin flip before the state tournament was announced.
Saguaro won the coin flip and will travel to No. 8 seed Northwest Christian in the first round.
Phoenix Country Day will travel to No. 7 Rio Rico (11-7), which had won only seven matches in the previous five years.
(Teams and fans can now download the state soccer tournament programs for free. Photos and rosters of each team and stories previewing each soccer state tournament will be in the programs.
The programs will be available to view here Tuesday afternoon.)