1. YC football team makes state title game
Yuma County is like the little boy outside his neighbor’s house. All he can do is sniff and smell the apple pie sitting on the windowsill.
In 2010, that little boy finally got a taste of the delicious pie when Yuma Catholic became the first county school in 44 years to play for a state football championship.
To accomplish the feat, the Shamrocks reached into their bag of tricks to beat Thatcher 22-20 in the Class 2A semifinals on Nov. 20.
After Andy Determan’s 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown knotted the score at 14 midway through the third quarter, YC surprised Thatcher by attempting and recovering the onside kick. A touchdown and a successful two-point conversion on a fake extra-point attempt later, the Shamrocks had the 22-14 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Awaiting YC was Phoenix-Northwest Christian, who YC lost to 14-10 a month earlier on a last-minute 82-yard touchdown pass.
The rematch at Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff was just as dramatic.
Trailing by 24 with 1:07 left in the third quarter, YC rattled off 21 consecutive points to make it 30-27 with 2:31 remaining. However, the rally fell short when quarterback Tommy Pistone’s pass on fourth-and-8 fell incomplete.
The Shamrocks finished the season 12-2 and state runner-up. Although both losses came against NWC, YC won its 12 games by an average of 30.4 points. YC is expected to return most of its roster, losing just nine seniors to graduation.
Perhaps Yuma County won’t have to wait another 44 years for a trip to a football state championship game.
2. Scorpions stop paying players as president flees
Things started so promising for the Yuma Scorpions in 2010.
There was a new affiliation agreement with a better level of talent that had the Scorpions poised to win the Golden Baseball League’s South Division title in the first half. Fans were even starting to trickle back to Desert Sun Stadium after an affiliation deal in 2009, implemented 48 hours before the start of the season, resulted in a league-worst record.
That would have been an improvement on how the rest of the season played out for Yuma.
First the team, with Ricky Smith as president, stopped paying the players. Also, players claimed they didn’t receive meal money on a trip to Tucson. The team denied that, but the on-the-field results seem to back up the players. They were swept by the Toros, including a 20-2 loss. But when the team returned home, they took two of the three for Tucson, a team they had swept earlier in the year as well.
A handful of the best Scorpions about a month later got a reprieve, as a fire sale sent their all-stars across the GBL. In the second half, Yuma went 14-31 after missing the playoffs in the first half by mere percentage points.
But by the second half, Smith had left town, still owing both the league and businesses in town money. The GBL is in the process of suing Smith, although his whereabouts are unknown.
And while both the league and the Venezuelan Baseball Federation — with whom the affiliation deal was signed — denied hiring Smith, a Google search would have turned up numerous news stories and court documents how Smith has a history with this type of controversy. While with president of World Hockey Association Junior Hockey League, Smith was accused of not paying various vendors associated with the team.
Despite the rough year both off and on the field, the league is planning on the Scorpions playing 2011 in Yuma. The team has signed a handful of players, including one who started last year with the team before being signed by the Detroit Tigers.
3. Cain Velasquez wins UFC Heavyweight Title
The fight was brief, lasting only 4 minutes and 12 seconds, but the implications will last a lifetime.
On Oct. 23, Kofa alumnus Cain Velasquez landed enormous shots with his heavy fists to knock out UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, who had lost only once before. The win led the former King to claim the heavyweight crown.
Velasquez became the first fighter of Mexican heritage — in mixed martial arts or boxing — to hold the title in the heavyweight class.
It was Velasquez’s ninth victory, eight of which have come by knockout.
A 2001 graduate of Kofa, Velasquez won two state titles during his junior and senior year while wrestling at the school. After graduating, he enrolled at Iowa Central for two years, where he claimed the NJCAA National Championship in the heavyweight division.
He then transferred to Arizona State and was selected as the 2005 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year.
Velasquez began his MMA career in October 2006 with a win over Jesse Fujarczyk and hasn’t looked back.
Though no official announcement has been made about when, where or against whom Velasquez will first defend his heavyweight title, there have been several reports indicating that he’ll fight Junior dos Santos on April 30 at UFC 129 in Toronto.
4. Cibola’s Bernie Montoya wins state cross country title
Bernie Montoya was a newbie.
Thus, Montoya wasn’t suppose to unseat the coach’s son as the team’s best runner. He was also not suppose to be the best runner in the Gila Valley Region. If those stakes weren’t high enough, Montoya wasn’t suppose to win a state championship either.
But the Cibola sophomore accomplished all of those feats.
Montoya outlasted Phoenix-Brophy’s Will Firth and Phoenix-Alhambra’s Jorge Martinez, the two-time defending champion, to win the 2010 AIA Division I boys state cross country championship tournament on Nov. 6.
And to think, at this time last year, Montoya was introduced to cross country after spending his freshman year playing football. It seems Montoya made the right decision to trade in his football cleats for a pair of running shoes.
It also helps to have the genes in the family as his older brother, Leonardo, used to run cross country, too.
After spending the summer training with coach Kris Norton’s son, Ryan, Montoya enjoyed one of the finest seasons ever as he won at least seven cross country meets, including the state title.
For the encore, Montoya will have to do something newbies never have to do: take the target off his back.
5. Antelope’s Johnny Salcido becomes AIA 1A/2A heavyweight champion
Antelope’s Johnny Salcido was a sleeping giant.
Too bad Pima’s Leland Schmidt and his coach woke him up.
Salcido, who had lost twice already to Schmidt earlier in the season, pinned Schmidt with seven seconds left in the first period to win the 2010 heavyweight final of the 1A/2A state wrestling tournament on Feb. 13.
Salcido received a first-round bye before recording pinfalls in his next two matches to advance to the finals.
But before the championship bout, Antelope’s coaches overheard Schmidt’s coach ask Schmidt how did it feel to be a state champion. When Antelope’s coaches told Salcido what they heard, Salcido said he felt disrespected.
Although Salcido used the insult as motivation, he still had adversity to face. Schmidt was leading 6-1 until Salcido turned the tables on him. After the win, Salcido said he was surprised by how quickly the match ended.
Salcido, who became the school’s 11th wrestling champion and the first since 2003, has loftier goals this season. If Salcido repeats, he will be the second Antelope wrestler to win multiple titles, joining four-time champion Aaron Simpson.
So far this season, Salcido was named the Sid Grande Classic’s co-Most Outstanding Wrestler.
6. Cocopah Speedway reopens
Motors roared to life. The lights came on. There was the smell of burning racing fuel in the air. The grandstand filled. Officials took their positions. And then it happened: Cocopah Speedway officially came to life for the first time in 11 years on the night of Sept. 11.
It was an event that was greeted by anxious race car drivers and a milestone, standing-room-only audience of racing fans filled with excitement and anticipation.
The track formerly known as Yuma Speedway and Yuma Speedway Park had not hosted an oval racing event since the end of the 1999 season. During the time in between, it was purchased by the Cocopah Indian Tribe, which announced in early 2010 that it was ready to move forward and renovate the facility, bringing racing back to Yuma.
The man behind the movement was neither a tribal official nor a council member, but a racer himself. Yuman David White — who began his racing career on the local track, had been racing in the Imperial Valley after the Yuma track’s closure and longed to go racing again in his own backyard — spearheaded the effort.
After months of work that included a massive refurbishing of the facility, including reinstalling all of the electrical and plumbing, which had been removed by vandals, and extensive work on the grandstand, the track was deemed ready to open.
A limited schedule, called the NAPA Auto Parts Racing Series, was announced and on Sept. 11 the facility, staffed almost entirely by volunteers, opened to rave reviews.
Four more popular racing events and one Monster Truck show later, the track closed for a winter break and is scheduled to reopen Feb. 5.
7. AWC makes second straight bowl game
In the two seasons AWC has returned to national prominence in NJCAA football, the Matadors have made trips to Mississippi and Texas as rewards for their Top 10 seasons.
Both times have been heartbreaking losses by less than a touchdown.
The Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove against Blinn, a team two hours away in Brenham, Texas, was the latest defeat. The Matadors erased a 17-0 deficit before losing 31-27. They lost the Mississippi Bowl to Eastern Mississippi 27-24 in 2009.
Not only was it the second straight bowl win, but it was the second straight Western States Football League title for the Matadors. Although they’ve beaten Snow College three times in the past two seasons, they’ve finished behind the Badgers in each of the last two season-ending NJCAA polls.
Running back Reggie Bullock just barely reached the 100-yard mark in the game to cap his Matador career with 15 straight 100-yard rushing games. He also earned the the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year honor, the first Matador to win that award.
Next year, should the Matadors qualify for a bowl, they won’t have to travel nearly as far. The Caballeros de Yuma and AWC announced plans to host a bowl game at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The bowl is pending NJCAA approval, which according to school officials is simply a formality.
8. AWC soccer makes district final
If cliches were literal, then Arizona Western lost out on a trip to the NJCAA National Tournament on a coin flip.
In reality, they lost at home 1-0 to Ostero (Colo.) on penalty kicks.
The loss ended the most successful run in school history. The Matadors ended Yavapai’s 20-year streak of winning the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. The Roughriders didn’t even make the Region I final, losing to Pima in the semifinals. The Matadors topped the Aztecs at the AWC soccer field in the final, advancing to the West District tournament. With just three teams in the tourney, AWC advanced automatically to the final as the host school.
But the year wasn’t without its controversy. Mohammed Takiyudin, who was tied with two teammates to lead the Matadors in points, did not play in the playoffs. Late in the season, other ACCAC leveled charges against Takiyudin that he had played professionally in his home country of Ghana. The NJCAA absolved him of those charges, but the coaches at Pima, Yavapai and Phoenix College remained adamant that Takiyudin was an ineligible player. Some coaches even went so far as to promise to keep researching the matter into the summer. Takiyudin said he was hurt by the accusations and returned home to Ghana.
But AWC officials have said that Takiyudin is eligible and would welcome him back next season as the Matadors hope a coin flip has nothing to do with their success or failure.
9. Prop 100 passes
First it was travel restrictions. Then it was an all-out freeze on new funding.
But none of that could stop Yuma prep sports from being hit with the death penalty, as the Yuma Union High School District struggled to muster funds to keep the fledgling programs afloat.
What did stop the bleeding, however, was the passage of Proposition 100.
A temporary one-cent sales tax increase, Prop 100 breathed new life into the local schools — including athletics.
For Yuma Elementary School District 1, it was a critical measure. The district had already turned athletics over to parent volunteers and showed no sign of picking up the weight again.
Along with a surge in tax credits, the passage of Prop 100 helped turned that tide.
It wasn’t, however, a cure to all of the area’s woes. During the year, YUHSD’s travel restrictions were made even stricter; the one trip allowed to the Phoenix area per team was struck down.
Capital funds still remain frozen, which has continued to plague some programs and there was still an estimated $2 million budget gap that YUHSD has to make up.
The long-term gameplan also remains in question, as does a timeframe for the return to business as usual for travel and other team needs.
10. YC soccer makes state semifinals
Seeds are for the birds. At least that’s what Yuma Catholic’s girls soccer team proved this past year.
Ranked as the No. 12 team in their division, the Shamrocks caused a pair of upsets in the 1A/2A/3A state tournament as they cruised to a semifinal matchup with Phoenix-Northwest Christian.
In the opening round, YC defeated No. 6 Florence 3-0 and four days later, the Shamrocks topped No. 3 Fountain Hills, 3-2, to come within one win of the state championship game.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Yuma Catholic lost to Northwest Christian 2-1 after an overtime and penalty kicks. It was a devastating loss for the squad, which had barely qualified for the playoffs in the first place.
The state tournament run was powered by freshman forward Morgan Frank, who netted seven of the Shamrocks 13 postseason goals while filling in for injured players. She scored YC’s only goal against NWC.
The Shamrocks are picking up this season where they left off. Already, YC is off to an 8-2 start that includes a win against NWC.