Wildcats field inaugural soccer team, host Tombstone on Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci’s soccer bench reacts to a positive play. The Wildcats are in their inaugural varsity season as an independent team. Morenci hosts Tombstone on Friday, Jan. 14.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – They are going up against established programs. Winning and losing are not at the forefront of head coach Maurizio Ciriello’s mind. He is trying to establish players who give maximum effort, play and grow, and get better every week.

The team is the realization of the varsity sport graduated members of the Classes of 2018-19-20 did not have a chance to play on.

Only Oscar Barrio has been in the program since its inception four years ago, all three as a club team going up against local post-high school players working in the copper mine.

Six members of the Class of 2023, Aurora Bennett, Josh Biggs, Matteo Ciriello, Brady Hooper, Tyler Lewis, and Aaron Merz are in their third season, and there lies the nucleus of the team.

 “I think it is very good we have enough interest to play on new teams,” Barrio said.

The soccer and swim (since 2018) varsity sports are recent offerings available for participation by the Wildcats. They join teams in football, volleyball, cross country, basketball, wrestling, baseball, golf, softball, tennis, and track and field.

“There is no game film on us anywhere,” Ciriello said at the season’s start. “Nobody knows what we can do or are capable of.”

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Brady Hooper tries to dribble by a Safford defender.

The initial 27-member varsity roster had three seniors, 11 juniors, two sophomores, and 11 freshmen. The current roster has 24 members following the voluntary defection of three freshmen.

Remaining on the team are seniors Barrio, Rebel Gentry II, and Lydia McCargish; juniors Bennett, Biggs, Kristela Reza Cardona, Ciriello, Brianna Crandell, Hooper, Kathy Lara, Lewis, Merz, Clinton Sipes Jr., and Quinton Wiltbank; sophomores Anthony Ballesteros, Keaton Jasso; and freshmen Nolyn Adams, James Anderson, Tristan Burke, Ciarra Carndell, Bryant Figueroa, Alejandro Gonzalez, Yalitza Rios-Ortega, and Jossue Vaca Jr.

Morenci opened the season with a pair of home losses, 11-1 to 3A South Safford on Nov. 30 and 9-1 to 3A East Globe on Dec. 3, as well as 1-0 at 3A South Tombstone on Dec. 10.

The 3A Independent Wildcats were to host Tombstone on Dec. 16 and participate in a 36-team, 3-day tournament Dec. 28-30 to round out the month. However, the home match with Tombstone was rescheduled for Jan. 14.

Morenci had six matches lined up in January, with Scottsdale Cicero Prep on the 5th, Safford on the 11th, Tucson Santa Rita on the 13th, Cicero Prep on the 18th, Avondale Saint John Paul II Catholic on the 20th, and Globe on the 25th, and one in February with Mesa Sequoia Charter on the 1st.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Quinton Wiltbank brings the ball closer to himself before heading up the field.

The matches at Safford, Saint John Paul II, and Globe are still listed as taking place. Home and away matches with independent Tucson Andrada Polytechnic have been added. The home match is on Jan. 31 while the Tucson match is on Jan. 27.

Chandler Prep’s Bohdie Larson Celebration Classic had Morenci in a field of 11 6A, seven 5A, five 4A, and 12 3A teams at Mesa Red Mountain Park.

The 6A teams were Central Region Gilbert Highland and Mesa Desert Ridge; East Valley Region Mesa Dobson, Mesa Mountain View, Mesa Skyline, and Mesa Westwood; Desert Valley Glendale Mountain Ridge and Glendale Sandra Day O’Conner; Metro Region Phoenix Alhambra; Premier Region Gilbert Perry; and Southwest Region Surprise Shadow Ridge.

Seven 5A teams included Desert West Region Avondale Agua Fria and Waddell Canyon View, Metro Region Phoenix Central, Northeast Valley Region Scottsdale Desert Mountain, Northwest Region Glendale Raymond S. Kellis, and Sonoran Region Marana and Marana Mountain View.

The five 4A teams were Black Canyon Region Casa Grande Vista Grande, Desert Sky Region Queen Creek American Leadership, Grand Canyon Region Cottonwood Mingus, Skyline Region Tempe, and Southwest Region Surprise Paradise Honors.

A dozen 3A teams included Central Region Fountain Hills and Phoenix Country Day; East Region Queen Creek American Leadership-Ironwood, Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin, Florence, and Thatcher; Metro East Region Chandler Valley Christian, Gilbert Christian, and Gilbert American Leadership-North; Northwest Region Parker; South Region Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian; and Southwest Region Buckeye Odyssey Institute.

Safford – 13, Morenci – 1

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci junior Aaron Merz tries to control the ball against Safford defenders during the Nov. 30 match.

Ballesteros scored the lone goal for the Wildcats in the first half, avoiding a shutout during the second pairing with the Bulldogs. Morenci trailed 2-0 at halftime.

Florence – 3, Morenci – 2

Ballesteros scored both goals for the Wildcats in the second half, avoiding a shutout. Morenci trailed 2-0 at halftime.

Florence (1-9 overall, 0-6 seeding, 0-2 region) fell 2-0 to Marana (4-7-2, 2-3, 0-0) in its prior pairing plus 7-2 to Vista Grande (2-6, 0-4, 0-0) and 13-0 to Mesa Mountain View (8-5, 2-3, 0-0) during the previous day.

Skyline – 10, Morenci – 0

The coyotes led 6-0 at halftime and added four more goals in the second half.

For the match, junior Emmanuel Juarez had a hat-trick with three goals, senior Carter Jones added two, and seniors Cristian Beltran and Colin Jones, junior Josue Guzman, sophomore Victor Nunez, and freshman Anthony Vasquez one apiece.

Skyline (4-6, 1-2, 0-0) edged Marana 1-0 in its next pairing and fell 3-2 to Mountain Ridge (8-2-1, 3-1, 0-0) and 1-0 to Agua Fria (3-3-2, 0-3-1, 0-0) during the previous day.

Parker – 5, Morenci – 0

Parker (4-6, 1-2, 0-0) edged Marana (4-7-2, 2-3, 0-0) 1-0 in its next pairing and fell 3-2 to Mountain Ridge (8-2-1, 3-1, 0-0) and 1-0 to Agua Fria (3-3-2, 0-3-1, 0-0) during the previous day.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Anthony Ballesteros moves in for a possible steal attempt against Safford earlier in the season. The Wildcats opened the season in Lawson Stadium versus Safford on Nov. 30 and faced the Bulldogs in Safford on Jan. 11.

Paradise Honors – 5, Morenci – 0

The Panthers led 2-0 at halftime and added three more in the second half.

Freshman Ethan Olari with three goals, and both senior Jeffrey Souders and junior Christian Rosas with one apiece, accounted for the match scoring.

Paradise Honors (3-4, 1-2, 0-0) blanked Parker by the identical score a few hours earlier and fell 3-0 to Agua Fria and 6-0 to Mesa Mountain View during the previous day.

Tombstone – 1, Morenci – 0

The drills reviewed during the practice sessions paid dividends as a lone first-half goal decided the match. It favored the host Yellow Jackets on the recently dedicated Mike Hayhurst Field in the “Town too tough to die.” Tombstone freshman Kevin Dorame scored from inside the goal area.

“We communicated more on defense,” Barrio said adding, “and our offense worked better together.”

Globe – 9, Morenci – 1

Sophomore Keeton Jasso scored the only Morenci goal on a free kick with 29:42 left in the second half.

Globe freshman Josh Barnes scored the first of three goals at the 20:03 mark of the first half, adding a second at 14:45, and his third at 34:38 in the second half.

Sophomore Ryan Sluyter made it 3-0 at 7:35 in the first half and senior Trey Satter made it 4-0 with four-tenths of a second left in the half.

Freshman Marty Shank gave Globe a 6-0 advantage at 31:14 and Sluyter added his second goal at 21:51. Satter and Sluyter added the final two goals, the last with 10:32 remaining.

The 3A East Tigers have finished over .500 once during the previous 15 seasons (2006-20), 13-1 in 2013.

Safford – 13, Morenci – 1

Morenci scored a lone goal, a Ballesteros header on an assist from a Jasso corner kick.

The Bulldogs led 7-1 at halftime and returned to score six more goals.

Junior Derek Nabor and sophomore Teagun Walker contributed three goals apiece, and seniors Caden Breshears and Marcos Guillen, junior Romeo Bryce, and freshmen Eric Klajda and Edward Morales one each.

Sophomore goalie Xander Webb was credited with two saves.

The 3A South Bulldogs had posted a combined 16-26-1 overall record under 4-year head coach Carlos Aguilar.