The Grand Canyon High School soccer team opened the season on an encouraging note by winning two of four matches at the Round Valley Invitational Friday and Saturday.
The Phantoms nearly won a third match in what was described by head coach Ken Hunter as one of the most exciting matches he’s ever seen. But getting his young players time on the field was the most important goal.
The 2002 Grand Canyon High School soccer team, from left, front row: Becky Richardson, Chris Streit, Eddie Tobin, David Robinson, Jesse Hunter, Justin Kremer, Jeff Towers; middle row, Bertha Martinez, assistant coach; Roberto Guerrero, Jose Ibarra, Oscar Badillo, Brian Skeet, Chris Mickelson, John Gabaldon, Nathaniel Bitsui, Amanda Harner, Carlos Padilla; back row, Omar Badillo, Joseph Wilkerson, Alfred Alarcon, Jacob Wahler, Miles Hunter, Chas Iacampo, Tempy Walker, Kevin Beckerleg, Tomas Alarcon, Matthew Beckerleg, Scott Olsen, Janna Barth, Ken Hunter, head coach. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/GCN)
"I’m pleased with their progress and the way they played," Hunter said. "They’re learning a new system and it’s going to take some time to get it down."
Grand Canyon (0-0, 2-2) opened the tournament Friday with a 4-0 loss to Payson. The Eagles stunned Grand Canyon early with three goals in the first 10 minutes.
"My kids were obviously nervous, you could see it in their handling of the ball," Hunter said. "In the second half, we definitely improved."
After getting into the quick 3-0 hole, the Phantoms only allowed one more goal the rest of the way. Still, it was an 0-1 start in pool play and Grand Canyon had the host school up next.
Although it ended up being a 2-1 loss, the match will go down as one of the most exciting in Phantom soccer history.
"That has got to be one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of," Hunter said. "Both teams went up and down the field and we played really, really well. I was impressed with how they progressed from the start of the day to Friday night."
Playing under the lights, the Phantoms jumped out to a 1-0 lead six minutes into the game. Jacob Wahler intercepted a Round Valley clearing pass and kicked the ball about 30 yards downfield to Tempy Walker, who then scored easily.
Round Valley tied the game a mere one minute later with a goal of its own. The rest of the half was scoreless with a 1-1 tie at the break.
The battle increased in intensity and in the final minutes, a victor would emerge. With 90 seconds left in the game, Round Valley scored on a nice goal from a tough angle. It was a heart-breaker for Grand Canyon.
Hunter was impressed with his team’s attitude.
"There’s a feeling on this team, these guys are a team," Hunter said. "After the game, there were groups of kids huddled together. It’s a tremendous feeling this team has right now."
The team’s 0-2 record advanced Grand Canyon into a consolation bracket for Saturday’s games. The team took on Holbrook and played another thriller that went down to the wire with the Phantoms winning, 4-3.
Grand Canyon went up 1-0 about three minutes into the game when Justin Kremer scored with an assist from Miles Hunter. About four minutes later, Hunter scored unassisted after intercepting a clearing pass.
The Phantoms went up 3-0 in the 19th minute on another unassisted goal by Hunter.
In the second half, Holbrook came back to make it close. The opponent scored two quick goals and then later tied it up, 3-3.
With less than a minute to play, Walker cleared the ball out of the defensive zone to Jesse Hunter, who broke on the goalie and took a shot. The Holbrook goalkeeper made a save, Hunter took another shot and there was another save. Scott Olsen got the rebound and made a shot, but a Holbrook defender got in the way. Finally, Eddie Tobin got his foot on the ball and scored the winning goal with 30 seconds left.
The celebration was short-lived, however, as Grand Canyon then suffered an injury in the final moments. With Holbrook trying to push the ball downfield, there was a collision between one of its players and Grand Canyon’s Alfred Alarcon.
Alarcon went down and the paramedics ended up taking him to the hospital. Hunter said the result was a sprained knee with Alarcon to be out for an undetermined amount of time.
Grand Canyon took on Alchesay in its final match of the tournament. Bertha Martinez coached the team for Hunter, who was at the hospital with Alarcon.
Grand Canyon had few problems as a lot of the younger kids got to play in a 4-1 victory.
Brian Skeet scored the first goal on an assist from Matthew Beckerleg. Jesse Hunter then scored on an assist from Jeff Towers.
In the second half, Grand Canyon’s Janna Barth scored with an assist from Towers. Skeet then found the net again with an assist from Beckerleg.
Grand Canyon is scheduled to host Ash Fork Friday at 1 p.m., in the conference opener. The team will also play at home Saturday with a match against Flagstaff Northland Prep.