Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The conference winning 13-member Safford 8th grade squad included, from front left, Athina Aguilar (18), Jazzlyn Mortensen (13), Neveah Dominguez (3), Abrianna Luna (11), Aleena Romero (2), and Avery Clifford (9). In back are assistant coach Luis Laborin, Mckenna Macario (7), Marlee Hughes (16), Alexa Gonzales (8), Payton Abalos (1), Jasmyn Gonzales (12), Lanae Shurtz (19), Jaycee Gable (23), and head coach Mary Laborin.
By Raymundo Frasquillo
SAFFORD – There is no state tournament for middle school teams, only an area conference meet. The members of the Eastern Arizona Junior High Association took part in the three-day conference meet. Eight teams played in the best-two-of-three set format last month.
Top seed Safford went two sets to defeat No. 3 Thatcher for the meet title on Oct. 20. The Bulldogs went two sets to top both No. 4 Fort Thomas and No. 8 Solomon during the semifinals on Oct. 19 and the quarterfinals on Oct. 18, respectively.
Thatcher reached the meet finale with a 3-set win over No. 2 Morenci during the semifinals and a 2-set win over No. 6 Duncan during the quarterfinals.
It was Fort Thomas over No. 5 Pima and Morenci over No. 7 Globe Destiny in the other quarterfinal pairings.
The 13-member Safford squad was introduced to high school fans at the final home match the following week. It included Payton Abalos, Athina Aguilar, Aleena Romero, Avery Clifford, Neveah Dominguez, Jaycee Gable, Alexa Gonzales, Jasmyn Gonzales, Jazzlyn Mortensen, Marlee Hughes, Abrianna Luna, Mckenna Macario, and Lanae Shurtz.
Thatcher’s 14-member 8th-grade roster listed Brecklyn Allen, Olivia Barton, Brindy Bryce, Tessa Bryce, Evie Bull, Annie Daley, Marlee Farris, Mattilynn Gallett, Taylor Henne, Erynn Johnson, Kacee McCluskey, London Rhoton, Jaiden Wakefield, and Lillie Welker.
7th Grade Tourney
The seventh-grade tourney had No. 1 Thatcher over No. 8 Solomon, No. 4 Fort Thomas over No. 5 Morenci, No. 2 Duncan over No. 7 Destiny, and No. 3 Safford over No. 6 Pima during the first round or quarterfinals. It was Thatcher over Fort Thomas and Duncan over Pima in the semifinals. Thatcher bested Duncan to finish as the meet-winner.
Several of the participants have moved on to winter sports and may have already played in season openers. Middle school programs are largely to see how much interest students have in particular sports. Participants may have been first-timers to the sport. If they enjoyed taking part and wish to get better at it, off-season preparation, as well as summer camps, are available before they set foot in high school during the next Fall term. Gold Ball trophies are earned through hard work, dedication, and a desire to improve. If that is how they wish to end up in four years following their senior seasons, the ball is in their court, so to speak.