8-team tourney kicks off Tuesday
If the second year of the Alliance Tournament even vaguely resembles the first, it should be a heck of a week for prep boys soccer in the area.
Last season's championship match saw Bradshaw Mountain hold off Prescott, 2-1. This year, Prescott appears to be the favorite, at least on paper. But an exceptional field of six other teams will be coming to town to try to keep the Bears and Badgers from making a repeat appearance in the big finale.
"Our focus at this point as a head coach is just to prepare my kids for Tuesday night for Coronado," PHS coach Shean Hilton said, referring to the Badgers' tournament opener. "We want to get the first win out of the way and get as many points as we can."
Teams are awarded six points for a victory, three points for a tie and one point for each goal scored up to a maximum of three. On top of that, teams can earn a bonus point for a shutout. Under that system, teams could earn as many as 10 points in a single match.
The tournament begins Tuesday and will continue through Thursday with pool play games. Then after a day off, the championship round games will be played at Ken Lindley Field with the title game set for 3 p.m.
"We feel pretty good about the pool of teams we have involved," Hilton said. "The only difference this year is Tempe, after Pinnacle decided not to participate. All the teams will be fairly strong this year."
The tournament will be played with two pools – four teams playing games at PHS and the other four competing at BMHS. Joining the Badgers in the Prescott pool will be Scottsdale Coronado, Phoenix Greenway and Cottonwood Mingus. Bradshaw's pool includes Hugh Bell's Bears, along with Tempe and Flagstaff schools Sinagua and Flag High.
"One of the things that is a plus for all the clubs is simply this: every club is guaranteed four full regulation matches, no matter how they do preliminarily," Hilton said.
The tournament will serve as the season-openers for Prescott, ranked No. 3 in 4A according to one statewide boys soccer poll. The Badgers' only competitive action so far this year was a scrimmage against a rebuilding Flagstaff squad.
Hilton said the high ranking only serves as a target for his team and that his Badgers will not play into the hype.
"The kids are responding well to training, they're bringing a physical presence to training," Hilton said. "But they're excited and well-adjusted at this point. They had a good showing against Flagstaff and we'll continue that on Tuesday."
The Bears head into the game with a 1-0 record after a 6-1 season-opening victory over Page on Tuesday. Bradshaw will enter this year's tourney with a lot of new faces. Coach Bell lost eight seniors off last year's squad, and is still getting to know his team after missing some time recently at the JUCO national tournament in Texas. Bell assists Mike Pantalione at Yavapai College.
"We hadn't hardly practiced, so I liked the way they played," Bell said. "They just got on the field, got with the program and did OK. Page was not that bad of a side, they had quite a few seniors and juniors."
In the win, the Bears used 14 players, including two goalkeepers that each played a half.
Bell believes most participants in this year's tournament are improved over last year.
"Based on last year's field, all the teams, I believe, with the possible exception of ourselves and maybe Flagstaff, have improved," Bell said. "We lost a lot of seniors … Flag lost about 10 guys and Mingus lost about eight guys. The other five schools, I believe, are stronger."
Local fans would like nothing more than another Prescott-Bradshaw matchup in the championship.
"It was a great match, a wonderful match," Hilton said. "It was everything Hugh and I envisioned it would be. Don't' get me wrong, both teams earned the right to play in the championship match.
"This is not about Prescott beating Bradshaw, it's about bringing both communities together for the love of the game," he added. "Prescott vs. Bradshaw is obviously a great rivalry and we embrace that, but we also want to improve the level of play up on the mountain, so to speak, and we want people in the Valley to take us seriously."
The tournament is co-sponsored by PHS and Bradshaw, and was founded by Hilton and Bell.
"It allows our players to stay home and play in our respective communities," Hilton said. "Hugh and I got together a number of years ago and decided we should run a tournament the way we think it should be run … organized, efficient and something more appropriate for our players to prepare for region play. The big thing is more matches."
Another focus of the tournament is to target 10- to 12-year-old boys who are pondering whether or not to take up the sport.
"We're trying to promote the game, create a little fire in these young men," Hilton said. "If we can get them involved in clubs to be trained properly, by the time they get to high school, we can focus on tactical training."
On Saturday, members of the Yavapai College soccer team will also be on hand to promote the sport, along with Roughriders coach Pantalione. Hilton said young kids, as well as high-schoolers who may want to play in college, will be able to walk through Yavapai's locker room at Ken Lindley Field and learn more about the program.
There is a $3 per game admission ($1 with student ID), or for $10 fans can purchase a pass good for every tournament game, including those played at both PHS, BMHS and Ken Lindley Field.