The Grand Canyon High School soccer team got into the conference portion of its schedule Saturday morning with a match at perennial power Chino Valley, a Class 3A school that has been dominant in northern Arizona’s fall soccer in recent years.
The Cougars, which had opened its Mountain Region play with a victory over Ash Fork earlier in the week, played a strong first half and then thwarted a Grand Canyon comeback in the second half to take a 5-2 win.
"The kids really worked hard but didn’t play well, if that makes sense," Grand Canyon coach Ken Hunter said. "It was just one of those days when we were losing the individual, one-on-one battles, making mistakes and they were capitalizing."
Chino Valley scored three times on Phantom miscues for the 3-0 lead in the first half. The first two goals came on corner kicks that Grand Canyon wasn’t able to clear out of the zone. Craig Onkin and Zach Coleman scored on those plays.
The third goal by Chino Valley was scored on a penalty kick by Mike Lynch.
The Cougars were awarded the penalty kick after an official blew a whistle on Grand Canyon goalkeeper Nate Bitsui. The Phantom coach said he didn’t have his attention on the play at the time and didn’t see it, but he was told by officials that Bitsui was going after the Chino Valley instead of the ball. Still, Bitsui did come up with the ball on the play. It’s a rarity in soccer to see a penalty called on a goalkeeper.
"The corner kicks they had were a lack of coverage by us," Hunter said. "They’d get two or three cracks at it, the ball was bouncing around. On the penalty, that’s a play I didn’t see. Nate was going after the ball and came up with it, but they called a foul and gave the other kid a penalty kick."
So at the half, Chino Valley held a 3-0 advantage and the Phantoms would need to come out strong quickly in the second half to get back into the game.
That’s exactly what Grand Canyon did and the Cougar lead was trimmed to just 3-2 within the first 15 minutes of the half.
Kevin Beckerleg got things rolling for the Phantoms with a nifty steal from a Chino Valley player. Beckerleg then made an exceptional pass to teammate Miles Hunter, who was all alone behind the Cougar defense. Hunter chipped the ball up over the goalie and Grand Canyon was on the scoreboard.
About five minutes later, Matthew Beckerleg matched his brother’s feat and came away with a steal described by the Coach Hunter as "masterful." He followed with a nice pass to Brian Skeet, who broke free down the wing. Skeet then scored on a perfect shot into the corner of the net.
The Phantoms trailed by just one goal for about the next 10 minutes until Chino Valley could answer with a goal of its own. Jesus Ayala scored and then in the closing minutes, Onkin made the second of his two goals to account for the final score.
Chino Valley’s 2-0 record in the conference has the Cougars tied for first place with Camp Verde. Sedona Red Rock, considered to be the preseason favorite by most coaches, has a 1-0 mark.
Valley Lutheran out of Phoenix has also been successful this early season with two wins in three conference games.
On the previous day, Grand Canyon played a nonconference game against Precision, a new school out of Phoenix. Precision is playing this season as an associate member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association and is expected to join the conference next year.
The team from Phoenix looked impressive in a 6-3 win over the Phantoms. Grand Canyon had a slow start in this one as the visitors jumped out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the first half.
"It was a lack of work early in the game," Hunter said. "They just weren’t working hard early. As the game went on, they played better."
Goals in the 11th and 16th minutes gave Precision a 2-0 lead. Grand Canyon lit up the scoreboard in the 29th minute on a shot by Miles Hunter, who was set up on the play by Skeet. But Precision responded four minutes later to lead by two at the intermission.
"They were a good team, they had skilled players and we were not able to stop them," Coach Hunter said.
Grand Canyon cut the deficit to 3-2 early in the second half on a goal by Tempy Walker, who was assisted on the play by Filiberto Valerio. But again, Precision had an answer and scored just two minutes later to go up, 4-2.
After going up by three, the Phantoms found the net for a third time in the match on a shot by Chas Iacampo. Skeet was credited with the assist. Precision answered with its sixth goal three minutes after the Iacampo shot.
"We had quite a few shots on goal in the second half," Hunter said. "Our goals came on low shots. We couldn’t get anything high past him (the goalkeeper), this kid could get way up in the air."
Over the two games, Hunter said David Robinson and Joe Wilkerson were standout players.
"David Robinson had great games over the weekend," Hunter said. "He played all over the place for me. Against Precision, he played some forward and that’s when we started to get things going. He also played some midfield in that game. Against Chino Valley, he did a little bit of everything — defense, midfield and forward."
The coach said Wilkerson also deserved mention for his effort.
"He worked real hard, playing on defense and some midfield on Friday," Hunter said.
Grand Canyon’s record falls to 4-4 on the season, 0-1 in the region. The Phantoms will see more Mountain Region action this week with a trip to St. Paul’s on Friday. That match will be played in Tempe’s Diablo Stadium.
The Phantoms are tentatively scheduled to play Precision again on Saturday, this time on their field. That matchup had not been finalized as of presstime.