Title repeat a possibility for Corona del Sol boys basketball
Many boys basketball observers were concerned about the players Corona del Sol lost off last year’s state title team.
Coach Sammy Duane was excited about the ones he had returning.
The Aztecs were a state title favorite when last year started behind Casey Benson, Calaen Robinson, Andrus Peat and Avery Moss. Corona lost once in the third game of the year and then ran the table to capture the Division I hardware.
But this season was different. With the graduations of Moss and Peat, Corona del Sol lost the front line which so dominated opponents. And without Robinson, defenses could now zero in on slowing down Benson. With valid questions surrounding the Aztecs’ lack of size and secondary scoring, Corona was pegged as more of an underdog in the race for this year’s championship.
The season began slowly with a shaky effort in the opener against Glendale Mountain Ridge and then a loss to Gilbert in the Fear the Hop Tournament, but since then, Corona del Sol has dominated. The second-ranked Aztecs defeated No. 9 Marcos de Niza, 71-37, on Tuesday night to improve to 17-2 on the year.
Casey Benson had 26 points as Corona del Sol led from start to finish. The Aztecs still haven’t lost to an Arizona opponent since falling to the Tigers, as their lone blemish came on the final day of the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge against a talented West Hollywood (Calif.) Pacific Hills squad.
Even though Robinson, Peat and Moss were big losses from last season, Duane pointed out that eight talented players returned from that title team. And it was a group heavy on experience after the long playoff run.
“It was a different team and there was a whole different way we were going to go about things, but we had a quiet confidence about ourselves,” Duane said. “We knew we were going to be pretty good, but we didn’t know how good we were going to be. The things we are starting to do now are things we had to do.”
The biggest questions were interior defense and rebounding, but Corona del Sol has worked hard as a team to turn those potential weaknesses into strengths. Benson is the star, but Bryan Siefker plays fantastic defense and makes the hustle plays which give the Aztecs momentum.
It took Corona del Sol a few games for its players to each understand their roles, but since then the Aztecs have been as good as anyone in Arizona. An eight-point win over Dobson on Dec. 7 opened the Aztecs’ eyes to their potential, and the team hasn’t slowed down since.
“We started believing a little bit when you get a big win like that,” Duane said.
Corona del Sol is undefeated in power point games and is the No. 1 seed in Division I. The team has games left against Hamilton, Dobson, Mountain Pointe and Marcos de Niza, among others, but it seems destined to enter the playoffs once again as one of the favorites.
There may have been questions about Corona del Sol early on, but it wouldn’t be a surprise any more to see the Aztecs make a run at another state championship.
“We’ve always felt confident in ourselves, and that’s all that matters,” Benson said. “We don’t really look at what other people are saying about us… It’s a different makeup, losing those two big guys and Calaen. We have some different pieces, but we’ve jelled really well together so far.”