Winter Sports Preview

Winter Sports Preview
Boys Soccer
Boys Soccer

High school sports exist in a cycle of 4 years. At the end of that cycle, seniors will say goodbye to their team, but rarely do programs reach the end of this cycle and have the most anticipation in years.
This year’s boys soccer team has 16 seniors and they are ready to write history.
“Having 16 seniors shows how strong we are as a program,” said Senior Chase Udall, “We have played with each other for 4 years now.”
A large group of seniors means the amount of experience on the team is immense, and that expectations are higher than ever.
“This team feels more well-rounded and we have a lot more team chemistry than we did last year,” said Senior Dylan Cunanan.
Cunanan is also one of 3 seniors who have been on varsity since freshman year, adding not only experience but also veteran leadership.
Cunanan said, “Being on varsity for 4 years has taught me to learn from people above me and then this year being a captain I’m able to be a mentor for the younger guys.”
For a team that has been known each other for years and now have the opportunity to all play side by side, there are sure to be some lofty team goals.
Senior Tyler Fusselman accompanies Cunanan and Senior Brayden Johnson as being the only 3 to be on Varsity all 4 years and said the goal is to “make state (playoffs) and see how far we go”.
Sunnyslope is also unique among other soccer programs in that all 3 levels practice together every day which helps build a great community among 60 or so kids.
“I would say the community is very good,” said Fusselman, “We all get along and everyone likes each other.”
This community, along with the amount of experience on the team, is a threat to all the other soccer programs in Arizona.
Senior Chase Udall said, “Not only are we all teammates but we are all friends and we have a strong bond that is a threat.”
Hopefully, this will accumulate to Sunnyslope’s first, first round advancement since 2015-2016 when the team made a run to the DII championship, ultimately facing a loss.
“Our biggest roadblock has been how young we have always been,” said Udall, “Many teams have lost lots of players and their teams have gotten worse, yet we basically have the same team as last year and have gained more.”
This may be the year that Sunnyslope soccer returns to prominence, and for those 16 seniors there is nothing more they would want.
Cunanan said, “I think there will be a high level of success because our team is really hard working and we don’t want to lose; we just have a winning mentality.”

Girls Soccer
Girls Soccer

Girls Varsity soccer debuted for the 2023-2024 season on November 28th, winning 3-1 against the Youngker Roughriders; but can the Vikings keep their winning streak considering that they lost nine seniors last season?
Returning players are confident in their ability to dominate, as Senior Daphne Marroney said, “I have a great feeling about this season” and that “we have a really tight knit team.”
According to Senior Yadira Escobedo, the Vikings have “a chance of making the playoffs this year.”
The team’s positive attitude is no doubt the result of their strict practice routine, as Escobedo and Senior Monica Walker said, “We tend to do a lot of mercedes drills (a big passing drill), which helps to build teamwork and communication skills,” and of course the girls do “a lot of dribbling.”
In addition to the Mercedes drill, the Vikings have other time-honored traditions such as senior night where gift baskets are given to senior players.
“I’m hoping for snacks in my gift basket,” said Escobedo, who gave her senior from last year the same thing in addition to “a poster with memories” from the season.
There are only four senior players this season, so Escobedo is sure to get her snacks – a positive result; but, with the lack of senior players, the team is bound to run differently from previous years.
Senior Monica Walker said “We’ll have to see if we’re better than last year;” Escobedo adds to this, saying “we’re just going to have to adjust to the new girls.”
Even with the change, the Vikings remain supportive of their new teammates.
Walker is “proud of how the team is working together already,” and Marroney thinks “there are some really good freshmen.”

Boys Basketball
Boys Basketball

The Sunnyslope Boys Basketball Team enters the season with high expectations after a thrilling run to the open finals last year.
Armed with new talent, the team believes they can avenge their runner-up finish.
So far, they have done just that with wins over defending State Champion Perry and Nationally Ranked Corona Centennial.
“We’ve played some tough teams early on and we feel like [we’ve] been tested… I think we’ve performed pretty well,” said Freshman Center Darius Wabbington.
As the season continues, the team knows their ceiling is sky-high.
“I knew there would be ups and downs this season [referencing the team’s preseason collapse against millennium], but once we figure it out we’ll be nails,” said Wabbington.
Freshman Guard Delton Prescott, who is averaging 13.8 points on 40% shooting, agrees with Wabbington,
“I really believe that we can win state and I think we’re on the right track,” said Prescott.
Off the court, the team’s flourishing chemistry has fueled their strong start.
“My favorite part of the season so far has been the post game experience. After the games we just have a really good time in the locker room, and I’ve really enjoyed that,” said Prescott.
The bonds have only strengthened with the team’s new additions.
“Being a part of the locker room has been amazing. Me and the other freshmen just fit right in. We’ve been able to hang out with our teammates outside of school which has really strengthened that bond,” said Wabbington.
This chemistry has also been an important factor in the team getting better.
“I love working with my teammates because we push each other to get better every day,” said Prescott.
Wabbington shared a similar sentiment.
“The chemistry that we have has played a huge role in allowing us to accomplish what we’ve done so far.”
This chemistry is a result of the winning culture that Head Coach Ray Portela has fostered- something all the players have bought into.
“We all have a really great relationship with Portela. He wants us to be the best we can be so he pushes us pretty hard. He also jokes with you when the time is right, though,” said Wabbington.
This culture is something the players cherish.
“Everyone likes the coaches and the coaches like everyone, so it’s been a great team to be around,” said Wabbington.
Prescott also spoke highly of Portela.
“I love him and I’m sure he loves me,” said Presott.
The team’s atmosphere, combined with talent, has provided some memorable moments.
“The best moment so far was that ankle-breaker I had against Perry,” said Prescott.
The blend of culture, chemistry, and talent has spring boarded Sunnyslope basketball back into the spotlight as they continue their quest for the school’s first open division championship.

Girls Basketball
Girls Basketball

The Sunnyslope Girls basketball team enters the 2024 season with high expectations and a hunger for greater success.
“This year I think we can go further than we did last year and possibly win state,” said Junior Forward Amelia Mickelson.
The team looks to break through the barrier that is the first round.
“Last year was probably the third year we’ve lost in the first round, so hopefully we can have enough success this season to get past that,” said Senior Guard Abbey Roth. 
The team has had some shake ups, though. Most notably, Longtime Assistant Coach Kristen Clyder took over head coaching duties this year.  
“I’m really excited that she’s our coach. I always looked up to her when she was our assistant coach, so I’m really happy she’s our head coach now,” said Mickelson. 
Roth shared a similar opinion.
“We’ve had some changes with our coaching, but hopefully that can help us go farther than we did last year,” said Roth.
Success on the court is not the only thing the team is looking forward to.
“My favorite part of basketball is definitely the bonds I’ve made with my teammates, so I look forward to strengthening those this season,” said Roth.
Mickelson shared a similar sentiment.
“I’m most looking forward to spending time with my teammates and getting to know them better,” said Mickelson. 

Girls Wrestling
Girls Wrestling

Last year, Sunnyslope’s girls wrestling team finished 9th at state thanks to Taylor McManus, Janette Perez, and Carissa Escaraega; however, with McManus and Perez graduating, and Escaraega unable to continue wrestling, this season will be left to primarily new wrestlers.
Despite the teams’ lack of Seniors, it sounds as though both the coaches and team are confident in their ability to maintain their status as state qualifiers.
Coach Davin Woldrige said that although the team is young, they are also passionate, excited to learn, and picking up wrestling very fast–“Anytime you lose a group of seniors like we had, there’s gonna be differences but we’ve had some juniors step up and take their position.”
One such wrestler, Junior Joyce Robinson, has been wrestling since her freshman year and now has stepped up as team captain.
In terms of goals for her Junior season Robinson said, “I would like to work on my self confidence and focus, a main goal this season is to win my sectionals and have fun while my high school wrestling career lasts. I would also love to place at state and even make it to finals.”
Before every match, Robinson finds it helps to meditate, listen to music, give herself pep talks, and pray.
Overall for new wrestlers, Robinson says, “I find that finding peace within yourself and finding what works for you, helps a lot with getting nervous before your first match or even preparing yourself for that next tournament or dual meet.”
With such an experienced coach like Woldrige and talented juniors to take up the torch, Sunnyslopes’ 2023-2024 girls wrestling season looks promising.
In Robinson’s words, “Just be yourself and try your hardest. This sport isn’t easy and it will at some point have a mental toll on you, but it creates some amazing memories, families and friends!”

Boys Wrestling
Boys Wrestling

Sunnyslope’s Varsity boys wrestling team sent four wrestlers to the state championship last year, but three of these four were seniors; so what will this years team look like without them?
So far, according to three-year wrestler and current Senior Gavin Mitchell and Coach Tayt Tolman, the season has been “business as usual”.
Mitchell says that one of the first and biggest traditions that the wrestlers have taken part in this year is the lock-in, “It’s basically where we’re locked in the school for about 12 hours and you can mess with people.”
In addition to the lock-in, Senior and six-year wrestler Eric Cotto is looking forward to “cutting weight and getting healthy again,” as well as “spending time with friends and traveling.”
It is these seniors’ goals to make it to State this year just like the seniors before them and it seems that Tolman has similar expectations.
Tolman expects big things from the team this year, he sadi to watch out for “our returning 3-time state qualifier and 2-time state place Malachi Aispuro and our transfer student who is also a multi-state qualifier and placer Cilus Cabral,” in addition to the returning varsity wrestlers, who were one match away from qualifying for state last year–”Gavin Mitchel, Eric Cotto, Colin Liftshitz, Kameron Blacksheep and expect a breakout season from Nate Nelson.”
Despite the team’s loss of last year’s talented seniors, the wrestlers and coaches seem confident that the current wrestlers will have no problem following in their Viking alumni’s footsteps to state.
So far Tolman believes the team’s “chemistry is good, and the kids are willing to work and work for their team,” and ultimately said, “We will empty our tanks and put our best foot forward with no regrets. Wherever the chips land we will walk off the mat knowing we left it all out there.”

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About the Contributor
Sam Porell, Sports Editor
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