The outside temperatures have topped 100 degrees, so we’re working from home with the shades drawn until further notice. With two months left until prep football training camps open in the cool mountains of Arizona, there is little current news, so MaxPreps is looking ahead to the top 10 storylines for the 2010-11 season.
1. New state tournament formats: Starting with the individual sports (track, cross country, swimming, badminton, golf, wrestling, tennis), the Arizona Interscholastic Association will phase out Divisions I and II for Classes 5A and 4A, returning Arizona to five classifications by 2011 (except football, which will keep six state tournaments) while also eliminating about 35 percent of travel during region and tournament games. The power points system will also be tweaked. The results? Money saved, a higher level of state playoff competition and more meaningful state championships.
2. Can Centennial rebound? The Coyotes had a 39-game winning streak and a national ranking in hand before Marcos de Niza (Tempe) shocked them in the Class 5A Division II semifinals, ending their three-year reign as state football champs. Centennial (Peoria) lost a lot to graduation, but coach Richard Taylor's cupboard is never bare. Expect a season fueled by revenge.
3. Busken at Basha (Chandler): After an eight-year exile, Busken is back coaching high school football in Arizona. Busken led Mesa Mountain View to three Class 5A state championships and an 82-9 record from 1995-2001, including a Class 5A-record 40-game winning streak. But he resigned in the spring of 2002 amid allegations of verbally abusing players, allowing hazing rituals and excessive athlete-on-athlete contact after being warned to desist by the school district. Has he learned his lesson? The media, school and district officials, the AIA and countless parents will be watching his every move. They'll also be watching to see if he can help a successful program take the next step and start competing with its more renowned sister schools, Chandler and Chandler Hamilton.
4. Year of the lineman: Arizona is not known as a hotbed for football recruiting, but it has produced a bevy of college and NFL linemen. This year promises to be one of the best. Chandler Hamilton’s Christian Westerman (committed to Texas) and Tyler Johnstone, Chaparral (Scottsdale)’s Andre Yruretagoyena, Saguaro (Scottsdale)’s Cyrus Hobbi and Glendale Cactus’ Ryan Nowicki headline a deep cast that could be heard from for years to come.
5. Fabulous Fiesta: The newly formed 5A-I Fiesta Region was expected to dominate football last season and it didn’t disappoint. Four teams made it to the state quarterfinals, three made it to the semifinals and two made it to the title game, with Chandler Hamilton topping Mesa. Hamilton and Brophy College Prep (Phoenix) should be title contenders again, Chandler is dangerous with dual-threat QB Brett Hundley, Red Mountain (Mesa) returns the majority of its state playoff team and Desert Vista (Phoenix) always has the talent. There are no nights off in this region.
6. Whither Jahii? After pulling his commitment from Oregon State, Mesa point guard Jahii Carson returns for his senior season with a host of colleges lining up to land him. First things first: Carson has unfinished business after his top-ranked, top-seeded Jackrabbits were upset in the 5A-I basketball quarterfinals by Phoenix St. Mary’s while playing without their injured starting shooting guard.
7. Knight moves: With five freshmen leading the way, St. Mary's wasn’t supposed to go this far this fast. But the Knights earned the state’s top seed and advanced all the way to the 2010 5A-I girls state basketball championship game before falling to Cinderella story Mesa Dobson (the No. 10 seed) on a last-second shot. Next year? Watch out for the Knights. And the year after. And the year after that …
8. Swinging for the fences: Phoenix Mountain Pointe slugger Kevin Cron needs just 12 homers to break Tony Espinoza's state career record of 44, set at Eloy Santa Cruz from 2001-04. Cron already tied Phoenix Desert Vista star and Diamondbacks draft pick Corey Myers’ single-season mark with 22 homers in 2010, his junior year.
9. Who will fill the void? 2010 was a remarkable year for softball pitchers. Problem is, most of them were seniors. Mesa Red Mountain’s Mel Willadsen outdueled Phoenix St. Mary’s’ Dallas Escobedo, the nation’s top prospect, to win the 5A-I title, Peoria Centennial rode the arm of Morgan Montemayor to the 5A-II title, and Alexa Cash had 315 strikeouts and an ERA below 0.50 to lead Vail Cienega to the 4A-I crown. It’s a tough act to follow.
10. Gator bait: Xavier College Prep (Phoenix) is, without question, the best girls athletic program in the state. Last season, the Gators won every fall state championship in which they fielded a team (volleyball, golf, cross country, badminton, swimming), then opened the winter season by winning the 5A-I state soccer title before the basketball team fell in the quarterfinals to end the string. In the spring, the softball team fell in the state quarterfinals, the track and field team finished third and the tennis team was the runner-up to Tucson Salpointe. What will Xavier do for an encore?
Craig Morgan is a freelance writer who has covered professional, college and high school sports in the Phoenix area for the past 18 years. He currently serves as the Phoenix correspondent for CBSSports.com, covering the Arizona Cardinals and other local teams. He also writes a weekly column and other features for The Arizona Republic. You can reach him at email@example.com.