This might just be a pretty good fall for Grand Canyon sports. The soccer team under first-year coach Ken Hunter and the volleyball team under veteran coach Matt Yost are both scheduled to open the season on Friday.
It could be the beginning of a journey to the state playoffs.
In this week's newspaper, you'll find a 28-page special section previewing Grand Canyon's soccer and volleyball teams. You can also read about all of their opponents in their respective leagues.
Grand Canyon's soccer team has never qualified for the playoffs. There was that memorable season back in 1998 when the Phantoms fell a game short of the postseason. That's the closest they've ever been to the playoffs.
Soccer is a pretty big sport at Grand Canyon. Many of us who are parents watch our children hit the soccer field each Saturday over the summer to play. A lot of those kids grow up on the sport and develop some fairly decent skills by the time they reach high school.
The Phantoms have a freshmen class that features some pretty good players. I've been watching a lot of those same kids excel in not only soccer, but other sports. Last year, they led the middle-school soccer team to a perfect record and league championship.
But then the players start competing at the high-school level. And instead of Parks, Ash Fork, Seligman and Williams in the league, they go against large schools like Chino Valley, Sedona and Camp Verde. It's a much tougher road to victory.
Hunter impressed me in an interview last week by stating that the team will not use a tough league as an excuse for losing. It's the lede to my feature story on the Phantoms in the special section.
In the Fall Sports '02 section, I offer readers my opinion on who will finish where in the conference. I picked Grand Canyon to qualify for the state playoffs this year — not only because they have some quality athletes on the field. But because they will have a better chance mathematically. The Mountain Region features eight teams and five will make it to state. Last year, the league had six teams and the top three qualified.
In volleyball, Grand Canyon got a taste of the postseason last year by upending Fredonia and Ash Fork at regionals to make it to the show in Apache Junction.
The 1A North volleyball race will be just as tight this year — only it will be a race for second place. Joseph City, the defending state champs, return all of their starters and could likely beat some very good teams in classes above them.
It's difficult to admit that you probably won't beat a team, but realistically, the battle will be for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. Grand Canyon, Fredonia, Ash Fork and Seligman have legitimate shots at it.
In the sports special section, I also picked Grand Canyon's volleyball team to go to state. The Lady Phantoms will be hosting regionals and with quickness, defense and height at the net, I think they'll do it again.
Wouldn't that be something? Two fall sports teams qualifying for state in the same year. That's never happened before.
To top it off, maybe Grand Canyon Middle School's soccer team will repeat at I-40 Conference champions. The middle-schoolers went undefeated last year, something they've done two or three times in recent years.
Good luck to the Phantoms and let's all support our local team with good game attendance. See you in the gym and on the field.
(Brad Fuqua is editor of the Grand Canyon News).