Monthly Archives: April 2004

high schools

Coach returns to lead Ironwood’s ‘other’ team

by Jason Stone

Marcy Robb might not have an opinion on whether it is easier to raise boys or girls.
But the Ironwood High School boys volleyball coach has no doubt as to which sex is easier to coach.
“The boys are 50 million times easier,” said Robb, who became the Eagles’ first boys volleyball coach this year, after a short absence from a long tenure as the school’s girls coach.
“You don’t have to worry about all the personality issues,” Robb joked. “The boys just get it.”
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Getting it” just is not something most new teams experience.
Ironwood joined the eight-team Northwest Region this year with a roster full of players new to the sport and a coach who was used to coaching volleyball in the fall at Ironwood.
The Eagles entered the week fighting for one of five spots to the region’s postseason tournament and have not been a pushover for schools with more experienced programs.
“We’re playing teams that have been around 12, 13 years,” said senior Danny Waddell, who is one of two senior captains on the team. “I think people know about us now.”
Robb said it took a little of her team knowing itself before anybody else could find out.
“These guys came out to the team and they had no idea about the game of volleyball,” Robb said. “They just thought it was about hitting. The biggest thing was teaching them that hitting was second and defense is first.”
With a roster of 15, only three players came to the team with club experience. Robb assimilated a team n she calls a “program” because there is no lower-level squad n with a mix of the four classes, including four freshman.
One of the freshmen, Matt Lautt, has turned into a nice surprise with what Robb calls his “mature” play. Lautt had never played competitive volleyball until this year.
Of course, after years of coaching the club and high school ranks, Robb has been able to turn raw talent into success over the years.
In 1994, in only her second season as head coach, Robb turned the Eagles girls teams into state champions when Ironwood was still at the 4A level.
She continued to coach Ironwood’s girls through the 2001 season, after which she decided to give up coaching high school during the fall in order to follow her daughter’s games for Sandra Day O’Connor High School in North Phoenix.
When the Peoria Unified School District decided to add teams for Ironwood and Sunrise Mountain High in Peoria, the schedules corresponded with Robb’s schedule.
“This worked out perfectly,” Robb, 42, said about getting back to high school coaching.
When practices began, 28 players tried out, which was more than Robb expected. She trimmed the roster almost by half, but has already seen progress.
“They’re scrappy as all get out,” Robb said. “They don’t realize that they’re supposed to lose. They don’t know that some of these teams we play are (great).”
Some players call the team’s spirit part of a big family. Players and their families take in every postgame meal at Macayo’s at 59th Avenue and Bell Road, and each Friday night one parent hosts the rest of the team for dinner.
“I know some people say their teams are like families,” Waddell said. “But we really are.”
Perhaps that family feeling also contributes to Robb’s feeling that coaching the boys team has been easier.
Maybe if it was the girls team, picking a restaurant would become an ordeal.
Fortunately for Robb, the boys have similar tastes.
“Everybody loves chimichangas,” senior setter Sean Mauzy said with a big smile.

Published at glendalestar.com • April 29, 2004

high schools

Apollo softball keeps winning after changes

by Jason Stone

Championships are not won on paper. Rankings do not always measure talent. Sports are often not fair.
The Apollo High School softball team learned a cruel lesson last season: No matter how highly touted a team is coming into a season, the players still need to back up their prestige with performance.
That lesson came the hard way, however. A team loaded with talent last year went from being one of the top ranked teams in the state to fizzling out so bad at the end of the season that it didn’t even reach the state tournament.
“I think the problem was right here,” senior pitcher Sarah Moder said, sticking her left index finger up against the middle of her head. “We had high expectations and didn’t get it done.”
If last year’s Apollo team was supposed to be the one that got the Hawks over the top, this year’s team was supposed to be the one that went down the drain.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASix seniors — including powerful catcher Brie Griffin — graduated from the team, and the program lost longtime coach Brent Ackzen when the administration decided to go in a different direction with more on-campus coaches.
But instead of folding the tent, new coach Sue Prado-Ortiz has reloaded the machine, making the Hawks once again a force to be reckoned with in the Desert Sky Region.
“We’re starting a new tradition here,” said Prado-Ortiz, who coached the junior varsity team for 12 years before replacing Ackzen. “We have the right mix of people and a lot of support n not only from the school, but from the community.”
That right mix has turned into a 7-1 start in the region and an 18-6 record overall.
Not bad for a team that wasn’t supposed to do anything this season, some players said.
“I love not being ranked,” said Moder, the team’s workhorse pitcher. “I know people weren’t expecting anything from us with losing six seniors and our coach. I’m fine with that.”
Yes, rumors of Apollo’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Save a disastrous inning against region-rival Greenway last week, Apollo could be undefeated in region play.
The Hawks gave up a mind-boggling 13 runs in one inning in a 14-7 loss to the Demons last week. That is the only thing that has kept the team from region perfection.
But the players know that the annual battles with Greenway are far from over this season.
“It just seems like every year we go back and forth with Greenway,” said senior shortstop Antoinette Estrella. “We always seem to (split the regular season) games, then they get us in the third one (at regionals),” Estrella said.
Estrella and the other Hawks are trying to reverse the playoff trend this season, something many predicted would not happen before the season.
Part of the Hawks’ early-season success has been the production of underclassmen Nina Ramirez, Kayla Bryant and super sophomore Ashley Featherton.
With Moder, Ramirez and Bryant, Apollo has one of the best 1-2-3 pitching punches in 4A.
“We’re set at pitching,” Moder said with a smile.
Moder has taken what Prado-Ortiz calls the “tough losses.” The senior has a 6-5 record but a sparkling 1.52 ERA. But the three pitchers combined have only given up barely more than one earned run per game.
Featherton entered the week batting .507 and seven Hawks players were batting better than .300, including Estrella’s .371 clip and Moder’s 357 average.
“We have a passion for the game,” said Estrella, who has played various positions in her time at Apollo. “We grew up together.”
Like at many schools, Apollo’s softball players have been playing with or against each other for years in club softball.
Estrella and Moder, the two key seniors on the team, have known each other since they were 7.
Moder has become a vocal force on the team, keeping players in line when they are slacking off and letting her presence be felt.
“I’m a demanding person,” Moder said. “I want people to play to their full potential. That’s the way I’ve always been coached. You can’t just say, ‘Come on, sweety.’ Sometimes you have to raise your voice. But the good thing with this team is nobody takes it personal and they know it’s trying to help them.”
Whatever it is, works so far. Despite the breakdown against Greenway last week, Apollo is only a game behind the Demons in the standings with four games to go and one game left against Greenway.
The Hawks also were one of the only teams to come close to beating undefeated Cactus, the class of 4A this season. Apollo narrowly lost 2-1, which would have broken the Cobras’ winning streak that has covered two seasons.
It has made Prado-Ortiz’s decision to coach all the more worthwhile. The longtime Glendale Union High School District P.E. coach had originally decided to give up coaching after last season when she had a baby eight months ago.
But after the job opened up when the administration decided to keep only on-campus coaches, Prado-Ortiz said it was “too good to pass up.”
The Apollo players are proving her right.

Published at glendalestar.com • April 21, 2004

colleges

Ex-Cobra steps up for Glendale CC softball

by Jason Stone

When Glendale Community College softball player Brittani DeRuiter was picking a college to continue her softball career after this year, her checklist included more than just the quality of coach or school.
What sold DeRuiter the most about attending Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colo., is something most 20-year-old women would be interested in.
“I made sure there was a mall,” DeRuiter said. “I love to shop.”
Shopping for clothes, however, will be giving way to looking for items for the apartment she will be sharing with current GCC catcher Laurie Peterson.
Both players have orally committed to the school — it is too early to officially sign –and will be living together near campus next fall.
“We’re already planning our apartment,” DeRuiter said. “We’re still figuring out what each other has.”
While both players sort out their material possessions, GCC coach Laura Dodrill said she knows one thing both women have is talent.
DeRuiter and Peterson make up the Gauchos’ most effective battery and DeRuiter, a one-time star player for Cactus High School, has turned into a stabilizing force for the GCC pitching staff.
“She’s our workhorse,” Dodrill said. “She keeps us steady. There is ice in her veins.”
GCC, which entered the week with a 27-22 record and 17-15 mark in Arizona Community College Athletic Conference games, plays all of its ACCAC games as doubleheaders. Dodrill has called on DeRuiter to pitch the first game of each doubleheader.
“There is a little more pressure pitching the first game because we want to get off to a good start,” DeRuiter said. “But I like the pressure.”
And when the second-game pitcher struggles, Dodrill has not hesitated to put DeRuiter back on the mound.
Normally, DeRuiter gives way to first baseman Dani Pope in the second game and DeRuiter moves over to first base for the second game.
“(DeRuiter) has the strength to (pitch in both games),” Dodrill said. “And she’s used to the pressure. She played at Cactus, which is one of the top programs in the state, and she’s used to performing at a high level.”
A glance at DeRuiter’s 16-9 win-loss record might not seem like much, but DeRuiter has a sparkling ERA of 0.97, which is good enough for third in the ACCAC.
A little more run support might have had DeRuiter over 20 wins already.
“I don’t look at the ERA, really,” DeRuiters said. “It’s just a number. The number I care about is wins.”
DeRuiter also cares about children. She plans to continue studying elementary education at Mesa State and wants to be a kindergarten teacher after college. She is hoping to bring focus to children much in the same way she focuses in on opposing hitters.
“I don’t let Brittani hit when she’s pitching because I want her to totally focus on the mound,” Dodrill said. “She can do both, though, and she’s one of our better hitters.”

Published at glendalestar.com • April 14, 2004

high schools

Ironwood track star has state titles in reach

by Jason Stone

Mike Stratton has one rule for running a track relay: Do not, under any circumstance, drop a baton.
Not in a race. Not in practice. Not when carrying it to check the mail at home.
“If it gets dropped anywhere, I won’t use it,” said Stratton, a senior track star for the Ironwood High School boys team. “I think I made the freshmen scared to drop it. I’m sure it’s been dropped, but I didn’t see it. If I did, you might as well (throw it away).”
When you are the No. 1-ranked athlete in the state in one event and a good bet to place high in a couple of other events at next month’s 5A state meet, you have earned the right to use any superstition that works.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor Stratton, it has worked out just fine.
Stratton enters the final month of dual meets as the No. 1 high jumper in 5A and is working toward a state championship in the 800 meters and as a member of the Eagles’ 4×800 relay team.
High participation — largely thanks to the installation of an all-weather track during the summer n has given Ironwood a season to remember so far.
The Eagles’ boys team placed third at the prestigious Tempe Relays last week and the team took fourth at the North Canyon Invitational in March and first at the Tolleson Invitational a week before North Canyon.
Stratton has had a big hand — er, foot — in the team’s success so far.
“I just can’t stand losing,” said Stratton, who earned a scholarship to Glendale Community College and plans to teach P.E. and coach high school track when he graduates. “I’ve always been competitive.”
At 19, Stratton is one of the older athletes in the state, but that does not necessarily give him an advantage n at least in his best event.
Stratton stands 6-foot-1 on a good day, which is relatively short for a high jumper. But that has not stopped him from being the favorite at next month’s 5A meet in Casa Grande.
Despite a severe knee injury that kept him out of the 800 meters at state last year, Stratton somehow managed the strength to compete in the high jump.
The then-junior, who a week earlier took third at the region meet, turned in a jump of 6 feet, 6 inches, which was tied for the best. But because it took him three extra tries, he ended up third in the final scoring.
Entering this year, however, Stratton’s top jump of 6-7, earned him the No. 1-ranking among 5A jumpers.
As for the 800, an event Stratton admits he hates but runs anyway because he is good at it, Stratton has already finished first at the Tolleson meet and second at the North Canyon event, giving him a good shot to win it all at state.
A state title in the event would add to the accomplishment he turned in as a sophomore when he ran the 800 in 1 minute, 53 seconds, a state record for 10th graders.
“I have very big goals,” Stratton said. “I also want to help the team.”
One or two good athletes usually are not enough to win dual meets, but they could mean everything at a state competition.
With Stratton’s two shots at state glory, as well as his role as the anchor leg of the relay, Ironwood could surprise some teams at the state meet.
Just about the only thing that might stop Stratton at state n barring another injury n is if he drove himself to Casa Grande.
After a recent practice, Stratton’s “older” Mitsubishi Mirage was parked inches away from the car of football coach Larry Allen, who yelled to the senior to move his car.
“You wanna let me out?” Allen asked with a laugh.
Stratton ran to the car and needed three attempts to start it to allow Allen by.
“This is about the only thing in my life that’s not fast,” Stratton joked about his car.
To opponents, Stratton’s speed is no joke, something they have all learned the hard way.

Published at glendalestar.com • April 14, 2004

colleges

Hills hurls no-hitter for Glendale CC baseball

by Jason Stone

Glendale Community College’s baseball team has risen to near the top of the NJCAA baseball poll.
Last week, one of its pitchers made some national news of his own.
Starting pitcher Thomas Hills notched the Gauchos’ first no-hitter in more than 25 years April 10 when he blanked Pima 2-0.
Hills, a right-handed sophomore from Alhambra High School in Phoenix, was named the NJCAA Division 2 National Player of the Week for the feat.
In the game, Hills walked two and struck out four while improving his season ERA to 2.28. His ERA entered the week ninth best in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.
The win was also big because it was GCC’s only victory in four games last week. The Gauchos entered the week ranked second in the NJCAA among Division 2 teams.
The Gauchos lost the second game of the doubleheader to Pima 9-2. GCC also lost close games to Cochise 2-1 and 3-1 to fall to 13-13 in the league and a tie with Cochise in fourth place in the Cactus Division.
Among Division 2 teams, GCC still held the best record by two games over Mesa. The top Division 2 teams will meet in a best-of-three series at the end of the season to determine the region champions.
Other Division 2 teams include Phoenix and Scottsdale (both 7-19).
GCC will try to make up some more space in front of Scottsdale when the two teams square off in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.
SOFTBALL: Gauchos take 2 from Eastern Ariz. — Wins in three of their four region games last week gave GCC’s softball team a firm hold on third place among Division 2 teams in the ACCAC.
GCC swept Scottsdale 1-0 and 9-1 and split a pair of games with Mesa, winning 3-2 and losing 5-2.
The Gauchos entered the week at 17-15 in the region, three games behind second-place Mesa and eight behind Division 2-leading Phoenix.
The top four Division 2 teams qualify for the postseason tournament.
GCC was scheduled to face Division 1 Arizona Western (19-11 ACCAC) and D-2 Paradise Valley (8-22) in doubleheaders this week.
Pitcher Brittani DeRuiter is expected to pitch the first game of both doubleheaders as she did last week. DeRuiter picked up the victories in the first game of each doubleheader to improve her overall record to 16-9. DeRuiter’s 0.97 ERA entered the week as the ACCAC’s third best.
GCC also still owns two of the league’s best hitters in Dani Pope and Laurie Peterson. Pope entered the week batting .417, while Peterson was right behind at .415. Ashleys are at the top of the ACCAC batting list as Phoenix’s Ashley Bray (.580) and Pima’s Ashley Monceaux (.509) lead the league.

Published at glendalestar.com • April 14, 2004