A lot of high school sports teams talk about winning state championships.
Few, obviously, possess the talent, skills and good fortune to reach their goal.
Mingus Union boys soccer coach Duane Badger believes his 2003-04 squad has what it takes to be a contender in the 4A race. This year is something many of his players have been preparing for since middle school.
“I started with this group of boys when they were 12,” Badger said. “I quit coaching Mingus soccer for two years to coach these boys (at the club and youth levels). I picked them up again when they were freshmen.
“We made a commitment when they were 12 to make a run at state. That’s our goal now to go after that.”
Although The Arizona Republic doesn’t list Mingus in its preseason top 12, that may change soon enough. The Marauders return nine starters from last year’s Grand Canyon Region championship squad, plus they add two powerhouse players to their starting lineup – a keeper and a forward.
Defense looks to be this team’s strong suit.
Sweeper Dane Mickelsen is back to anchor the back lines. Mickelsen earned first-team all-region and honorable mention all-state a year ago as a junior.
Fellow senior Josh Collingwood, who made life miserable on Mingus football opponents this fall at linebacker, will try to do the same at stopper this winter. Senior Jerome Kellenbenz and sophomore Scott Plapp will play at defensive back.
One of the top newcomers is goalie Brady Flummer. The junior played at Mohave last season, earning first-team all-region in his league. Flummer helped Mohave enjoy a string of 10 shutouts at one point a year ago. His dad is the new fire marshal for the Verde Valley Fire District.
“He’s a really dynamic kid,” Badger said. “He fits right in. He’s a good communicator, gives good directions … and he just gives it up after every ball. He’s going to bring a lot of confidence to our defense.”
The Marauders’ confidence should extend up through the midfield and front lines as well.
Returning seniors Larry Badger and Cody Rongo will anchor the middle of the attack and serve as quarterbacks to the offense. Returnees James Lawton (junior) and Ray Rivera (senior) will rove at outside midfielder.
Sophomore Ethan Johnson, who played keeper a year ago, will move up to forward. He’ll play alongside senior Scott Wilcox, who returns to soccer after a few years off. Wilcox has a booming leg, which he showcased the past couple football seasons – sending a number of kickoffs through the end zone.
Other returnees are sophomore Mitch Schumacher (defense) and Jorge Molina (offense). Sophomore Jesse Rongo played a few varsity games last season. Senior Geiler Eckman is new to varsity as is junior D.J. Dumas and freshman Ross Ledbetter.
Flummer, Mickelsen and midfielder Larry Badger are this year’s captains.
The Mingus defense looked strong in a recent scrimmage against North Canyon. The Marauders gave up only five shots on goal and one penalty-kick goal to its 5A opponent.
“Our defensive goal this year is the shutout,” coach Badger said. “I think we’ve got a really good shot at accomplishing that goal. It’s not going to be easy because we’re going to play some quality teams, but they expect a shutout every game.”
The Marauders will know where they stack up among the 4A heavyweights pretty quickly. They played Greenway (ranked seventh in 4A by The Republic) in Tuesday’s opener at the Prescott Alliance Tournament and will face a strong Bradshaw Mountain team today (6 p.m. at Bradshaw).
Thursday’s action in the Alliance Tournament brings a date against Coronado (4 p.m.), and Saturday’s action will feature a match-up with either Pinnacle, Prescott, Flagstaff or Sinagua.
Next week Mingus will compete in the Moon Valley Tournament, facing the host school, 5A Shadow Mountain (state quarterfinalists a year ago), Agua Fria and one other foe from the 16-team bracket.
Then right before Christmas, Badger’s team will take aim at Cactus, last year’s 4A state champs, on the road.
“We’ve got a really tough schedule,” Badger said. “If we’re going to play in the state finals, then we need to know (where we stand). All this is in preparation for the region.”
The GCR should be tougher as well. Flagstaff, which tied Mingus for last year’s regular season title, returns a healthy core of players. Coconino lost a few of its big guns but is still strong. Sinagua should be better. Newcomer Payson won a share of the 3A state title with Sedona Red Rock in fall 2002.
Cade Densmore will coach the JV boys this season. Badger said 22 kids are participating in JV right now, about half of those being freshmen. The team got a big boost when football season ended.
“The future looks bright,” Badger said.
So does the present.