Fall Preview: Cougars go for 5th-straight state title

Elijah Desmond scores a goal during practice Monday afternoon in Chino Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Elijah Desmond scores a goal during practice Monday afternoon in Chino Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Chino Valley boys soccer

Chino Valley Boys Soccer

Conference: 2A

Region: Central

2016 Record: 21-1

2016 State Tournament: Won 2A state championship.

Coach: Todd Carey, second year

2017 Players to Watch: Senior F Elijah Desmond, junior MF/F Jordan Sanchez, junior G Abe Gamez.

2017 Schedule

Date Opponent Time

8/29 at Snowflake 6 p.m.

9/1,2 Chino Cup^ TBA

9/7 Camp Verde* 6 p.m.

9/16 at St. Johns 1 p.m.

9/20 Round Valley 2 p.m.

9/21 Page 2 p.m.

9/29,30 at OPueb. Class. 4 p.m.

10/3 Phx Cntry Day! 4 p.m.

10/5 Ash Fork! 4 p.m.

10/10 at Leading Edge! 4 p.m.

10/12 at North. Prep! 3:30 p.m.

10/14 at Payson 6 p.m.

10/18 Grand Canyon!+ 5 p.m.

10/19 at Camp Verde! 6 p.m.

10/25 2A State Tour. TBD

10/27 2A State Semis TBD

10/28 2A State Champ. TBD

All home matches at Chino Valley H.S. soccer field/football field

^ Tournament at Chino Valley H.S.

  • State championship ring presentation

! 2A Central Region match

  • Senior Night

Chino Valley’s boys’ soccer team captured its fourth consecutive small-schools state championship in 2016, and the Cougars show no signs of fading this fall.

Second-year coach Todd Carey returns eight of 11 starters from last year’s title squad that finished with a 21-1-0 overall record, captured the 2A Central region crown and beat stalwart Blue Ridge for the fourth time in as many years in the state-title match.

The Cougars’ eight returnees include junior forward Jordan Sanchez, junior defender Jony Beltran, senior defenders Jairo Herrera, Ty Richmond and Kaleb Chacon (first team All-State pick), senior midfielders Elijah Desmond and Mathew Rios, and junior goalie Abe Gamez.

Chino Valley kicks off the 2017 campaign at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, at Snowflake, a 2016 state semifinalist. The Cougars will play a difficult schedule, facing the likes of state semifinalist and traditional rival Camp Verde (twice, Sept. 7 and Oct. 19), state quarterfinalist Phoenix Country Day (Oct. 3) and possibly Blue Ridge at the Old Pueblo Classic tournament in late September in Tucson. (Blue Ridge handed Chino Valley its lone loss last year at this tourney.)

“We know that they’re coming for us — big-time,” Carey said of Blue Ridge. “They have a great program over there. They’re going to be the biggest competition at state for us.”

In 2016, the Cougars outscored their opponents a combined 145-9. Of the nine seniors on that team, only three of them started. In other words, Chino Valley’s pipeline of younger talent has continued to flow and contribute.

“Defensively, we’re going to be better than we were last year,” Carey said from practice earlier this month. “We’re going to be strong offensively, too. We’ve got a lot more guys that can score goals. We’re more diverse.”

The main question mark for the Cougars in 2017 is depth, and how they will compensate for the graduation of All-State forward Arturo Gomez, who booted a team- and 2A-best 38 goals as a senior. Gomez had a knack for scoring in big matches.

“We still have a deep squad this year, but it’s not going to be the same without them – they were all leaders on the field,” Jordan Sanchez said of last year’s trio of senior starters. “We’re all going to have to step up, even the underclassmen. We’re going to have to play more as a team.”

Talented forward Angel Sanchez, one of two freshmen on this year’s team, will take over Gomez’s spot. Aiding Angel is Jordan Sanchez, no relation, whose 25 goals scored in 2015 set a freshman program record. Desmond figures into the scoring mix, too.

“He’s going to fill in for Arturo just fine. He plays incredible,” Carey said of Angel. “We’re gaining a lot.”

Chino Valley plans to stick with its 4-4-2 player alignment on the field this season, although Carey said he wants to “experiment” with a 4-3-3 set because of the speed and quickness he has. At goalkeeper, Gamez may end up splitting time with junior Willie Chinchilla, whom Carey said has performed well.

“Our goal is to win another state championship,” Carey added. “We want to be there for the last game of the season. I like that attitude, and we expect to be there. We’ve got the guys to do it.”

Considering their dominance over the past four years, it’s natural to wonder whether there’s something specific that separates the Cougars from the rest of 2A’s upper tier. Carey said it’s a combination of his players’ passion for soccer and that they’ve played together since they were 5, 6 and 7 years old for the Strikers, a traveling AYSO team.

“We just play one game at a time – we don’t think ahead,” Jordan Sanchez said. “We know every team wants to beat us. We’ve stayed together. We know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we like to work on our weaknesses.”

Former longtime coach Jim Clark also instilled tradition and pride in the Chino Valley program, giving it a swagger, Carey said. At an alumni game several weeks ago, nine former players who now compete collegiately visited the Chino Valley campus to face the current Cougars’ team.

“We mostly try to keep our chemistry – our bond between our players,” Beltran said. “We’re a family here. That’s what makes us better than other teams. We can’t get too confident, though. We still have to put in the work.”

Over the summer, the current Cougars practiced two days a week. Thirty to 35 boys participated in summer-league ball, Carey said.

“The boys are almost out here year-round – playing, kicking the ball,” Carey added as he watched his players run through a drill under the hot summer sun in the outfield at the school’s baseball field. “When we don’t have practice, they’re out there together at the community center playing with each other.”

Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or via email at dcook@prescottaz.com.