Tag Archives: soccer

high schools

Cactus soccer tries for seventh title

by Jason Stone

When longtime Cactus boys soccer coach Jack Altersitz hung up the whistle for good last year after leading the Cobras to an Arizona-record six state championships since 1980, the program could have gone into the tank.
But the Cobras are proving that its strength lies more than with its coach as Cactus played this week for another 4A state championship.
The Cobras advanced to the title game with a gutsy 3-1 win over Catalina Foothills in overtime last week.
The Cobras were scheduled to play Sabino in the championship Saturday at Arizona State University, but the game was washed out by rain.
The game was rescheduled for Tuesday at Dobson High School in Mesa, but the game was played after press time.
Results of the game will be available in next week’s edition of The Glendale Star.
“The guys were ready to play (Saturday), so we (were) disappointed,” first-year coach Garrison Harmann said before the championship game. “But we made it that far, so we might as well win it.”
Cactus last won a state championship two years ago, the second of two straight.
The Cobras have also won it all in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1996, all under Altersitz, who retired from teaching and coaching after last school year.
Cactus also played in the 1993 championship game, but lost to Ironwood, which was a 4A school at the time.

Published at glendalestar.com • February 21, 2005

high schools

Glendale makes mark in state with world team

by Jason Stone

If it’s true that soccer is the world’s most popular sport, then Glendale High’s boys soccer coach Brian Fitzgerald should be happy that the world has come to him.
The Cardinals have a roster that would make any competent immigration official take notice, but it hasn’t stopped the team from jelling into a potent team.
Players from Columbia, Mexico, Liberia, Togo and Turkey — and a junior varsity player from Iraq for good measure — dot Glendale’s roster, bringing a challenge Fitzgerald is happy to have.
“Other teams communicate better than us,” Fitzgerald said about his world stew. “But it’s getting a lot better. At first, the kids weren’t really sure about one another.”
With a team of players that speak English, Spanish, French and Turkish — among parts of other languages — it is not hard to see why the Cardinals might have a hard time being on the same page during practices and games.
But if communication is the only thing hurting Glendale, the team is in good shape. The Cardinals entered the week at 11-2-1 and are trying to earn a region championship in the tough 4A Skyline Region.
Togo-born Malik Alokpovi is the big reason Glendale has turned its world mix into one of the best 4A teams in Arizona.
Alokpovi, a junior who speaks French, English and a little Spanish, has scored a state-high 26 goals in 13 games despite being double and triple teamed during most games.
Coming to the U.S. in 2001, Alokpovi taught himself English but brought his world game to Glendale.
Alokpovi racked up 21 goals as a sophomore and outdid himself two weeks ago when he already surpassed that figure.
His worth to the team was felt last Friday night when he was forced to sit out a trip to San Luis because of receiving two yellow cards in the previous game.
Alokpovi’s absence hurt the Cardinals offensively and defensively in a 5-1 loss.
When Alokpovi is in the game, however, he not only gets his own goals, he takes the pressure off other attackers, allowing the offense to open up for players such as Martin Torres, Edgar Renteria and Juan Macias.
“Personally, I enjoy playing with people with a different background,” said Alokpovi, who also goes by the name Jack. “It’s interesting.”
Prior to the season, Fitzgerald figured he’d have a decent team this year with “Jack” back – plus the return of senior goalie Omar Ortega, who missed most of the region season last year with a broken finger.
But a handful of seniors left last year and the Cards opened 2005 with a youthful roster.
“This is a young team,” Ortega said. “We have a lot of first-year varsity players, but they have all stepped up. These guys just surprised us.”
Fitzgerald is losing only three senior starters after the season and has its entire midfield coming back next year.
That makes Glendale a possible threat in 2006 as well — especially with Alokpovi commanding a senior presence.
“Defenders are already scared to face him,” Ortega said. “His speed is what makes him good. He faces up on the goalie instead of cutting in at angles.”
And Renteria, a sophomore center midfielder whom Fitzgerald calls the team’s “X factor,” will be back for his junior year.
“When he’s playing well, we’re playing well,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Published at glendalestar.com • Jan. 20, 2005

high schools

Cactus stopper grabs national honor

by Jason Stone

Ryan Hartgraves is not sure what he wants to study in college, but he knows what he wants to do with his life afterward.
“I want to do culinary,” the Cactus High School boys soccer player said. “Anything with food.”
If that’s Hartgraves’ goal, he may want to finish cooking his soccer career first.
The Cobras junior sweeper received a big national honor last week for his soccer play.
Hartgraves was one of only four juniors nationally — and the only player from Arizona — selected to the 2004 NSCAA/Adidas High School Boys All-American team.
Seventy-four players were selected nationally, based on nominations from coaches.
Former Cactus coach Jack Altersitz, who retired at the end of last season, nominated Hartgraves before leaving.
“I honestly didn’t know about it until a reporter called me,” Hartgraves said. “I was shocked. I didn’t even know about it until I went to look it up.”
The reporter happened to be from the Chicago Sun-Times, which asked Hartgraves to write about his experiences in a weekly journal at www.studentsports.com.
“Basically, I just write about what it’s like to be at this competitive level and this type of player and what the life is like,” Hartgraves said.
Cactus’ six state championships in soccer are the best in Arizona, but it seems the Cobras’ reputation is now spreading nationally with honors like this.
“It’s a great program,” Hartgraves said. “Coach Altersitz started a great program. He’s just a god. And our new coach (Garrison Harmann) is doing a great job. It’s got to be a tough job (replacing Altersitz), but he’s doing good so far.”
Hartgraves and his parents will be traveling to Baltimore next week to receive two plaques — one for himself and one for the school.
Earning the plaque for Cactus is appropriate since Hartgraves said he has wanted to play for the Cobras as long as he can remember.
Two of his close cousins — Jeremy and Jessica Ashing — played on the Cactus boys and girls teams, respectively, during the mid-1990s, and Hartgraves said he remembers going to their games.
“It always made me want to play there,” Hartgraves said.
The 17-year-old also plays club soccer in the East Valley for Tempe 88 Pros.
When he’s not playing with his school or club, he’s usually watching soccer.
His girlfriend, Paige Anderson, is a player on Mountain Ridge’s girls team, and he watches soccer on TV whenever he gets the chance, he said.
The focus on soccer is starting to pay off, Harmann said.
“I would say Ryan is our best all-around player, and we have a lot of talented guys on the roster,” said Harmann, who played at Goldwater in Phoenix and assisted the team under Altersitz. “But he still has room to improve. He’s not a superstar yet, but he can become a superstar.”
Hartgraves realized he had a chance to be special in the sport when he was 10 or 11, he said. His AYSO recreation team was so good, most of the team joined a club league, which raised the level of play considerably.
When Hartgraves realized he could keep up with the club players, he figured he might have a future in the sport.
“I hope this pays for my college education somewhere,” Hartgraves said. “If I want to get a college scholarship, it will have to be out of state because ASU and U of A don’t offer scholarships. But I’m OK with that.”
If Cactus wins a seventh state title, the Cobras will be OK with anything.

Published at glendalestar.com • Jan. 5, 2005

colleges

Freshman helps lead way for Gauchos

by Jason Stone

Rob Coombs knew he had a leader when he recruited Katie Valencia to his Glendale Community College women’s soccer team.
Coombs had so much faith in the freshman from Flagstaff, in fact, that he named her one of three captains for this year’s team — and the only freshman of the three.
But his judgment at giving Valencia a big leadership role on the team was justified the most, he said, after the team’s worst loss of the season.
Pima Community College pummeled GCC 8-1 last week in a game that Coombs called “brutal.”
But the game ate away at Valencia’s psyche and the 18-year-old did not want to let the feeling go away.
“She called me up after the game to talk about the team and where the program is going,” said Coombs, who is in his second year as GCC’s coach. “Nobody else called me to talk about the game, but she really cares about where the team is headed.”
Valencia has been a player that Coombs said, “pretty much embodies what I like in a soccer player.”
“She’s hard-working and she puts the team ahead of herself.”
Valencia’s selfless play has actually resulted in some personal achievements.
The center midfielder has scored six goals, placing her fourth among Arizona Community College Athletic Conference freshmen.
Not bad for a player who never had a home field in high school and practiced more in a gym than on a soccer field.
“It’s weird, because everybody here talks about ‘protecting the home field,’ when we have a home game,” Valencia said. “In Flagstaff, I never had a home game.”
Flagstaff High usually practiced and played their home games in Camp Verde — an hour’s drive from Flagstaff. Practices were usually moved into the gym because of snowy spring weather in Northern Arizona.
That did not stop Flagstaff from becoming one of the top teams in the state, however. Valencia said the team worked on extra conditioning when it could not get on a field and that paid off when playing at lower elevations.
In fact, it was in a state playoff game against Cactus last year that Coombs made the big sell to Valencia.
Coombs, who also is the girls coach for the Cobras, approached Valencia’s family before Cactus’ 3-2 overtime win and persuaded the family to take a trip south.
“I didn’t even really think about playing college soccer,” said Valencia, who played club soccer from age 4. “But then I decided to give him a call over the summer and GCC has a pretty good nursing program, which I wanted to do.”
And now she’s thinking about moving to a university after her two years are up at Glendale.
Valencia has kept a Mia Hamm poster in her apartment, giving her inspiration to continue her soccer career, perhaps at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
“I loved living up there,” she said. “It’s all in your perspective.”
From GCC’s perspective, recruiting Valencia was a big move forward.

Published at glendalestar.com • Sept. 30, 2004

high schools

Altersitz ending banner career at Cactus

by Jason Stone

It did not take Jack Altersitz long to get out of town.
Just days after classes ended last week at Cactus High School, the long-time teacher-coach had completely cleared out his room and hit the road with his son on a cross-country car trip to the East Coast.
After a quick return home in June, Altersitz will trek even further when he will fly to Spain for a summer break at the end of the month.
Nothing like a little retirement to get the travel-happy Altersitz going as soon as possible.
“I just needed the excuse,” said Altersitz, with a laugh.
While only 53, Altersitz took an early retirement from teaching after logging 30 years in the books.
And partly because he had to give up his classroom — which has doubled as the soccer program’s makeshift locker room and memorabilia shrine — Altersitz decided to give up coaching as well.
“I couldn’t imagine not having a place to go,” Altersitz said, glancing around his classroom, which was half-filled with boxes and stacks of awards yet to be packed. “I didn’t want to do that.”
PHP494BE0D7007BDInstead, Cactus lost its greatest coach ever.
Six state championships is double the next highest for any Arizona soccer coach — Salpointe’s Wolfgang Weber and Marcos de Niza’s Jack Smythe have three each — and it is one more than Cactus softball coach Jeff Griffith, who picked up his fifth two weeks ago.
“I have a pretty good feeling Jeff is going to pick up (state championships) No. 6 and 7 the next couple of years with his (talented) sophomores,” Altersitz said with a smile. “I’m OK with that.”
Cactus fans are OK with the way the soccer program was built from the ashes of a new school in 1980 to what is viewed as the top soccer school in Arizona.
“I don’t think anybody has ever gotten how hard it is to win a state championship,” Altersitz said. “It hasn’t been easy, although it might look easy. But we did have a good formula.”
Cactus’ state titles came in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1996, 2002 and 2003.
Sprinkled around those and more than 300 career wins were 13 region championships — spread over four different regions.
Altersitz said he believes the key to the program’s success is not overloading his players with information.
“I think coaches today tell players too much,” Altersitz said. “They have too much to think about. I liked to keep it simple.”
The soccer program’s success is one of many teams that have had lengthy runs of winning at the Greenway Road school.
Altersitz likes to refer to Cactus as living “in a bubble,” getting many of the top athletes from the West Valley across the board. He attributes that and a lengthy list of veteran coaches as reasons the school usually wins in most sports.
“We are, for lack of a better term, old-school coaches,” Altersitz said, refering to Cactus coaches Larry Fetkenhier (football), Jim Graham (girls basketball), Mike Tirella (baseball), Paul Williams (track) and Griffith. “We’re willing to work and take a loss if it means keeping a kid in line.”
Six Cactus coaches ended the year with 20 or more years in service, and Tirella is creeping up with 17 years under his belt.
But Altersitz has scratched his name off the list. But that is OK by him.
“The way they’ve structured the retirement plan, it was a no-brainer for me to retire this year,” Altersitz said. “But I never thought it would happen (at 53).”
Soccer trophies will eventually be moved into the gym trophy case, but Altersitz took with him the newspaper clippings and other memorabilia he collected over the years.
“I was going to take more, but I decided to leave it,” Altersitz said, looking around his room. “I have enough.”
Cactus soccer fans probably wish they had more.

Published at glendalestar.com • May 26, 2004