Tempe Prep Baseball- May Article

Filled with promise from its onset, and generating postseason optimism throughout, the 2014 season for the Tempe Prep baseball team did nothing if not cement its status as a top-tier TPA athletic program. Yet it was the cumulative taxing effect of the season’s length that led to inconsistent performances and the team’s eventual fall, as the Knights suffered a defeat to Pusch Ridge Christian Academy in the Division IV tournament quarterfinals to abruptly conclude the 14’ campaign.

Nearing the start of the playoffs, TPA held tightly to its ranking as third-best in Division IV. But in the penultimate game of the regular season, the Knights were caught off guard and faltered to Joy Christian 6-3. Senior Hayden Harden felt “it was a really close game, closer than we’re used to seeing, but I think it could’ve went either way and it just happened to go their way.” As a result of the loss, the Tempe Prep fell to seventh in the standings, likely making its playoff path more difficult.

Perhaps the best explanation for the drop-off in the team’s performance—two losses and two ugly wins in the five contests before the playoffs—would pertain to the factor of fatigue. Having to play several games in a row or without much rest in between took a physical toll on the players, and consequently poor fielding and inconsistency made the team look shakier than ever down the stretch. Senior Ryan Whalen thought along similar lines, saying that “late in the season we started to kill ourselves with errors, which I don’t think was necessarily for lack of preparation, I think it was just an attribute of the wear and tear of the season.”

In Tempe Prep’s first playoff game against Mogollon High School, the team began a bit rusty following a 10-day hiatus, and again fielding errors deterred it from establishing stability in the early going. Facing a 3-0 deficit through two innings, the Knights responded by pulling even and then grabbing a lead in the next innings, before needing a two-out, walk-off seventh-inning score to clinch a 6-5 victory.

Whalen viewed the result as the “definition of an ugly win,” and said that the team “did pretty much everything [it] could to lose it,” but pointed to prior playoff experience and clutch runs as how TPA pulled through. Senior teammate Ben LeBeau added that the course of the game typified how the whole season went: “we would play down to our opponent’s level, and then we turned it around and dominated.”

In advancing to the Division IV quarterfinals, the Knights would encounter another familiar squad, Pusch Ridge, only this time, they could not overcome their mistakes. Though trailing only 3-1 by the end of the third inning, Tempe Prep suffered from its fielding errors once more, yielding runs in situations where otherwise it would have escaped unharmed. The Knights played their opponents much tougher than the first time they met—in the second game of the season—but still bowed out of the playoffs with an 11-1 loss.

Nevertheless, the Knights did fulfill what they set out to do at the start of the year, thus dispelling any notion that the season was a letdown. “We had three goals at the start of the season,” said Coach Tom Kandler. “They were to win the section, which we did in convincing fashion with the second place team finishing three games behind us. We wanted to win 20 games which we did (tournament games included), and finally we wanted to advance in the playoffs further than any previous Tempe Prep baseball team, which we accomplished.”

Reflecting on his TPA baseball career, LeBeau stated he felt most proud about “putting the baseball program on the map, not only in Division IV but more importantly for Tempe Prep. I know baseball has taken a backseat for years, and I think that finally baseball is on the map…we reached the quarterfinals just like the boys’ basketball team and just like the football team, so that really puts us on the same plane as those other two sports.”

As Coach Kandler speculates about the future, he believes “next year [the team] will be even better than [it was] this year with seven returning starters and a tremendous amount of talent in the returning and incoming classes.” His departing player, senior Ryan Whalen, says “it’s been a fun four years, we’ve gotten significantly better every year, and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for the Tempe Prep baseball program.”

*Published on May 21st.

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Tempe Prep Track & Field- May Article

Perhaps the most successful program in TPA sports in years past, the Knights Track and Field team experienced the trials and tribulations this season that come with having a young group of competitors and participating in meets that included opposing schools from the state’s top two divisions. Despite the difficulties, both the boys’ and girls’ teams had a season filled with accomplishments, accentuated by a fantastic showing at the Division IV state tournament.

In this most important tournament of the year, which marked the conclusion of the 2014 season, both the girls’ and the boys’ teams rose to the occasion and performed better as a whole than at any previous meet: the former placed second among all the Division IV schools, and the latter finished fourth.

One of the track and field team’s coaches, Dr. Hickernell, was very impressed with how the boys and girls finished the year. Among those who led the charge, he noted junior Alex Akiu as one of the team’s better sprinters, sophomore Isaiah Brittain as doing well in throwing events, senior Camille Zimmerman as a top performer in jumping events—winning first in the long jump—and senior Marie Bryant as being  very valuable in the state meet.

Rachel Matsumoto capped off her excellent three-sport junior year by breaking the TPA girls’ record for the 800-meter run with a time of 2:24.91. Coach Hickernell praised the Lady Knight for being “versatile all over the place,” of course particularly in the aforementioned event. Teammate Luke Sandoval added that “she always tried her best and kept improving and ultimately got her goal of beating the record.”

Coach Hickernell also expressed how delighted he was with the boys’ 4×800-meter relay team. As the first alternate in their event, the group of four runners—composed of Sandoval, Andrew Chang, Peter Chang, and Jacob Matsumoto—had to be prepared and warmed up to jump into the race if another team was not there. Eventually, the four were allowed to run as an additional team, and in attempting to prove that they belonged, each runner ran a personal best 800-meter time and the team achieved 13th place in a field of 19.

Though the team lacked experience, Coach Hickernell stated that it was a “strong effort by a young team” throughout the season, and believed it was “very impressive that we were finishing second and fourth with a young team…that’s very promising for the future.”

As he looks ahead to the future, Coach Hickernell says that he’s “sad to see the seniors go,” but looks forward to seeing “the excitement that the freshman, sophomores, and juniors have [next season]. They really have a lot of team spirit, they’re pulled together as a team, and that’s just really exciting to see.” Graduating senior Luke Sandoval also remarked that “it was a very close-knit group,” and though only joining the team in his last high school year, felt that “overall it was a very positive experience.”

*Published on May 21st.

Tempe Prep Baseball- April Article

No longer is the Knights baseball team in the shadows of the Tempe Prep sports scene. With postseason appearances in each of its last two seasons, and compiling a 12-2 record in non-tournament games and dominating its section in the 2014 campaign, the team has now morphed into yet another TPA sports giant.

Prior to the 2012 season, the Knights had never qualified for the playoffs. Yet in just a span of three years, the team has made remarkable strides. Compared to the stalwart programs of Tempe Prep athletics—such as football and basketball—senior outfielder Hayden Harden believes “[baseball] is definitely a competitive sport now,” and that “it’s definitely established its place.”

The Knights baseball program has also experienced a change at the managerial position this year, as Tom Kandler—TPA’s third coach in four years—steps in for the departed Ron Davini, who first guided the Knights to winning ways. Harden, who is the Division IV-leader in stolen bases, feels Coach Kandler “is a great fit for TPA” and “understands the way TPA works,” as well as acknowledges the importance of him bringing experience as a coach to the team.

Throughout the 2014 season, the Knights have not necessarily relied on a flashy offense, but instead have used their tremendous grit to reach base and scratch out runs at every opportunity. Coach Kandler maintains that Tempe Prep has “depended on team speed, not giving up big innings and playing sound defense so far this season. We don’t have a lot of power in our line up so we have to manufacture runs and so far we have done a great job of that.”

Junior Max Dallyn has particularly shined through fourteen league games, posting an impressive .553 batting average and a team-leading .809 slugging percentage, and fulfilling admirably the role of driving in runs: the catcher leads the team in RBI with 31, a total ranking among the best in Division IV.

Another junior, Dominic Amorose, has also stepped up and had a greater impact for the Knights, progressing into the role as the number-one pitching option for the team. In six league starts, he has gone a perfect 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA, relying on a signature-pitch curveball and backing it up with a decent fastball.

Amorose’s development as a strong ace of the staff bears even greater importance as he had to take the reins from former star pitcher Forest Redlin, the first TPA baseball player to go on and play at the college level. Teammate Hayden Harden affirms that “Dominic has handled it very well. He’s a different kind of pitcher than Forest. Amorose gets more outs with balls in play, [with] groundballs and flyballs.” While Redlin was a strikeout pitcher who just powered through batters, “[Amorose] is a little more finesse.”

For senior infielder Ryan Whalen—who has also emerged as a key component of the pitching staff in his first action on the mound since his freshman year—the departure of the team’s former top player even had a positive effect. “This year, we lost Forest [Redlin] who obviously was the best player. It’s had to be a lot more of a team effort, which I think has been good for us. It’s made us more multi-dimensional as a team, which I think will serve us well for the rest of the season.”

As his first season at the helm approaches the playoffs, Coach Kandler believes “[the team is] building a program that hopefully will become one of the best small school programs in the state.  With a strong junior high program and the addition of a Junior Varsity schedule I think we are well on our way to that.” Whalen adds that he’s “really excited to see what [the team is] going to do. I think that if we play really well we can win state. I think that’s a possibility…anybody’s beatable [in our division]”.

*Published on April 23rd.

Tempe Prep Volleyball- April Article

For the second time in as many months, a Tempe Prep student-athlete has accepted a scholarship to pursue his or her sport at the university level. Senior Kaitlin Shroll, a four-year varsity starter and two-time MVP for the TPA volleyball team, signed with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in late March to continue her volleyball career.

In her four years as a Lady Knight, Shroll played the position of outside hitter as a full rotation player, covering ground all across the volleyball court and performing several different tasks such as digging, setting, serving, and hitting. Shroll—who was also twice a team captain—set school records in career kills, with a total of 793, and in career digs, with 1,097, during her superb TPA career.

Her coach, Lisa Barlow, praised Shroll for “her excellent athleticism, hitting, passing and defensive skills,” and noted that Shroll “played a major role in [the] team’s success for the past four seasons. Kaitlin is an honest, confident, hard-working student athlete with outstanding moral character both on and off of the court. She has always been a team player and takes great pride in her team, rather than her personal accomplishments.”

Shroll began to explore college options in her freshman year, and from the start, she decided to include volleyball opportunities as part of her search. Shroll points to her participation in club volleyball as a key part of the process, as it fast-tracked her search through valuable exposure to interested coaches. “Each year I would narrow down my list of potential colleges,” says Shroll. “Toward the end of my junior year, coaches were approaching me and talking about potentially coming to play for their schools.”

Having first made contact with Embry-Riddle in her sophomore year, Shroll only considered the Eagles volleyball program as a true frontrunner at the end of her junior year. After further evaluating her options and facing tough decisions, Shroll ultimately chose Embry-Riddle, stating that the school “won out due to its outstanding educational program and the opportunity to play volleyball with a scholarship.”

Apart from progressing with her volleyball career, Shroll plans to study Aerospace Engineering during her time at Embry-Riddle. In this line of study, she will work towards advancements in atmospheric and space flight. And as is the case with so many Tempe Prep student-athletes, Shroll will continue to make her presence felt both in and outside of the classroom.

*Published on April 23rd.

Tempe Prep Men’s Basketball- March Article

Van Dusen (23) drives to the hoop for a layup attempt.

Van Dusen (23) drives to the hoop for a layup attempt.

The Tempe Prep men’s basketball team lost in the quarterfinals of the Division IV state tournament, marking the final game for a senior class that spearheaded the program’s most successful years.

Seeded as the 12th best team in the state tournament, Tempe Prep faced 21-seed Valley Union in its opening playoff game. While the Knights held an advantage for most of the contest, they did not reach a comfortable lead until the second half, where it grew to double-digits, eventually keying a 53-31 victory.

Valley Union’s tight zone defense created difficulties for TPA at first, but as a result of running at their opponents more in the second half, the Knights started to convert more shots. In order to cope with the change of pace, Valley Union defenders were forced to come out and guard Tempe Prep shooters more frequently, and thus played out of their usual defensive scheme. Having disrupted their opponents’ defensive plan, the Knights would take advantage and add 15 more points to their lead.

Senior point guard Luke Sandoval noted that although “there were too many turnovers,” the opening game against Valley Union “helped us get focused for our game against St. Gregory,” the team the Knights would face as they progressed into the second round.

The matchup against 5-seed St. Gregory posed some similarities to the previous game for TPA: in addition to encountering another zone defense, the Knights would also have to make several in-game adjustments due to unfamiliarity with the opposition, a challenge that often surfaces in the state playoffs that features a wide array of squads that might not have played before in the regular season.

Tempe Prep got off to a blazing start in the game, as shots fell easily to begin, leading to a 20-8 advantage by the end of the first-quarter. Though St. Gregory trimmed the lead to eight by halftime, and even got within two points in the third-quarter, TPA eventually sealed a 59-47 victory with a dominant final quarter of play.

Coach Lambros was particularly amazed at how balanced the scoring was in his team’s second round victory, as four different players reached double-digits and another had eight points. “[It] truly goes back to not having any one superstar on the team, but five, and those five playing together.” Coach Lambros also noted the Knights’ very efficient free throw shooting (14-17) during the game; what once was perceived as a liability and even the cause behind losses during the season was now a part of the game that Coach Lambros felt confident about.

But that was as far as the Knights would advance in the tournament, as a 58-36 quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Desert Christian concluded the 2013-14 season. The devastating loss could be best described as a tale of two halves: while Tempe Prep shot out to a 28-27 lead by halftime, it came out flat in the second half, getting outscored 31-8.

Senior Ryan Van Dusen believed that his team “started out the contest with plenty of energy but possibly too much energy. We were confident in our ability to play with our opponent, yet each player put too much pressure on themselves to make plays.”

Concerning his team’s performance in the second half, Coach Lambros said “it was if we were running in mud. It was not for lack of effort or desire or for lack of shooting, we just could not get anything to drop through the basket.”

Van Dusen also remarked that it simply felt like an off day for the team, and added that “our failure to adjust and face the fact that we were out of sync and had to adapt was the main cause of our defeat. Desert Christian did not do anything spectacular or especially well but they were a balanced team which easily took advantage of an unbalanced day for us as far as our emotions, playing style, and rhythm were out of sync.”

Although the Knights could not replicate their 2013 tournament success, Coach Lambros says he “could not be more proud of [his] team and how hard they played this season,” and feels that “all is not lost.  Tempe Prep’s basketball program is on the rise.  Our Froshmore and JV teams had great seasons and we have a great foundation laid for future years.”

*Published on March 24th.

Tempe Prep Women’s Basketball- March Article

Zimmerman (20) played a key role in TPA's quarterfinal run.

Zimmerman (20) played a key role in TPA’s quarterfinal run.

After having reached the Division IV state finals in each of the two previous seasons, the Tempe Prep women’s basketball team bowed out in the quarterfinals of the 2014 state tournament.

To commence the tourney, the 12th-seeded Lady Knights won handily over Pima High School, the 21-seed, by a score of 52-20. Standout senior Camille Zimmerman led the way in the victory with an all-around superb performance, totaling 25 points, nine rebounds, five assists, eight steals, and seven blocks.

The subsequent matchup against Valley High School proved much more of a challenge, but dominant play by Zimmerman once again secured another tournament win. The Lady Knights emerged triumphant 59-50 over their opponents, as Zimmerman notched a double-double (38 points and 17 rebounds) and did much of her damage at the charity stripe: the senior converted an astounding 18 of 18 free throws.

Yet the season—as well as Zimmerman’s illustrious Tempe Prep career—came to a halt in the quarterfinals, as eventual champions Gilbert Christian knocked the Lady Knights out of the tournament by a tally of 50-36. TPA fell behind early in the contest, going into halftime with a 10-point deficit. A spirited fourth-quarter comeback found the Lady Knights within five points late in the final quarter, but a 13-4 Gilbert Christian run thereafter sealed the loss.

Zimmerman’s performance is often representative of her team’s, and such was the case in the final game of the season: Zimmerman only made 4 field goals on 29 attempts, and the Lady Knights shot a woeful 18% as a team. But Zimmerman affirmed that Tempe Prep’s poor play was not so much a result of overwhelming defense by Gilbert Christian. “We had a lot of open shots, we had a lot of good looks at the basket…it was just an off day.”

Freshman guard Karlie Vullo (24) attempts to pass to her teammate.

Freshman guard Karlie Vullo (24) attempts to pass to her teammate.

Despite failing to make it past the quarterfinal round, Coach Calahan remained resolute in viewing the season as a very successful one. “Though we did not reach our goal of a state championship, we were very pleased with our advancement to the Elite Eight. With lots of sickness, nagging injuries and academic issues, we faced many obstacles along our journey.”

Zimmerman echoed her coach’s sentiments, and pointed to a loss against Salt River High School that galvanized the team, after which it went 8-1 to close out the season. “We had a rough start to the season, but we definitely got better. I think our big turnaround point was our first Salt River game in January, which we did lose by one point, but that was one of the best games we saw everyone play so far. And then from there on, we started having a lot of people score in games and very high-scoring games.”

*Published on March 24th.

Tempe Prep Football- March Article

Senior Andrew Stough signs his letter of intent to play football at ACU.

Senior Andrew Stough signs his letter of intent to play football at ACU.

On every first Wednesday of February, high schools across the nation celebrate National Signing Day. A critical juncture in the college football offseason, this day features high school football players who sign binding letters of intent to play at the university level. As much as the event is promoted throughout the country, it usually passes without a trace on the Tempe Prep campus. Yet on February 5th—2014’s edition of signing day—senior Andrew Stough signed a letter of intent to play football at Arizona Christian University.

Stough first became a starter on the Knights football team halfway through his sophomore season, playing on the offensive line. Since then, he started every game in the remainder of his career, as well as played on the defensive line as he progressed into his upperclassman years. During his time with the TPA football program, his coach, Mr. Brittain, described him as a “leader amongst his peers” who possessed a “tireless work ethic in the weight room.”

Stough will now step into a unique situation, as the Arizona Christian football program begins its inaugural season in the fall of 2014. Though he was first contacted by ACU as a prospective student, Stough really began to consider the school when asked if he would be interested in playing football there. After meeting his potential future coaches and visiting the school campus, Stough finally decided to commit on National Signing Day, signing a letter of intent that would include a $2,000 scholarship.

While he still needs to work out the financial aspect of attending ACU, Stough says he “[looks] forward to just playing again, being on the field with [teammates], and playing with other people.” He will become only the seventh player from Tempe Prep football to go on and play at the college level. Coach Brittain adds that “his goal has been to play college football for the last few years and through his hard work, dedication and God-given size, his dream is about to become a reality.”

*Published on March 24th.