Staff photo by Jared Dort
Trademark: Defensive specialist Alfonso Pesquiera steals a ball away from a Blue Ridge forward during last week's game. Camp Verde has always been a solid defensive team in the past, and this year is no different.
The following season he came up with a motto, one that he preaches before the first day of practice. The way Miller sees it, a season in Camp Verde should run 24 games long. That’s 20 regular season games and four in the postseason.
"If you play 24 games in the season you’re playing in the state championship. That's been our goal all along the way," Miller said.
Fast forward to this season. Since 2000, Camp Verde has made three more appearances in the semifinals. All of those campaigns ended short of the finals. Miller and his squad is out to reach that magic number at this year’s state tournament. Once again, they’ve made it to 23.
"Our goal is to be playing on the first Saturday in November. We circle that on our calendar," Miller said. "In the past we’ve had all the numbers to get to 23, but that’s not our goal. Win, lose or draw, we’d like to play in No. 24."
Miller is not the only one who’s experienced that feeling of coming up one game short. The senior nucleus has been witness to three years of frustration. Seth McCabe, Andy Brooks, Trevor Hammond, Zach Davis and Isaac Orellana have been there, and done that.
They played in the 2001 loss to Blue Ridge, the 2002 defeat by Sedona and last year’s loss to Show Low.
"They think it’s their turn. They feel they’ve earned it," Miller said. "When everything’s said and done, we know we have the players and experience to make the 24th game a competitive match."
Getting to that final game, like every year, will not be easy. To do it, Camp Verde must get past Precision, a scrappy team from the Metro Region.
The team is all too aware what Precision has to offer. They played each other in the Metro last year, splitting the two-game series and sharing the region title.
The Panthers feature a high-powered offense that’s already put up 12 goals in the state tournament, but the Cowboys’ defense has allowed just two. In fact, opponents have been held to just 1.3 goals per outing.
"Defense has always been the hallmark of a Camp Verde team. Our defense plays hard 80 minutes of every game. They’re rarely subbed," Miller said.
Possessing a defense that stingy directly benefits the offense, which has been nothing short of spectacular. With the guys in the back holding it down, players like McCabe, Brooks and Casey Thompson don’t have to worry about helping out. That’s allowed the big three to put up 50 of the Cowboys’ 79 goals this season.
Camp Verde is solid on both sides of the ball, but getting to 24 might involve another factor — luck.
"It’s like that old saying, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good.’ We’ve been good the last four years," Miller said. "There’s a certain amount of luck to make it to the championship in anything. That’s the beauty of the sport. There’s always an intangible aspect of the game, and I think that’s luck."
It’s safe to say the Cowboys haven’t seen much luck in the playoffs during that four-year stint. In 2002, they met Sedona, the eventual champs, in the Final Four. In 2001, they met Blue Ridge, another title winner, in a shootout.
This year’s game may come down to shots from the mark, as well. Of the 12 games played in the tournament so far, three have been decided after double overtime. It seems as if once the competition tightens, widespread victories narrow.
Sedona narrowly edged Show Low in PKs.
"We’ve been working on it a lot in practice. It’s an aspect of the game we need to be prepared for. Right now, we’re ready to send 10 players to the line who can put the ball in the net," Miller said.
In 2000, both Camp Verde and Sedona were eliminated by shots from the mark.
"That was my first year. I’ve learned a lot since then," Miller said. "We’ll be ready for it."