By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
The power to overcome and defy odds. The power to push yourself past limits to a place you never imagined. The power you get from the fire within you.
Sophomore guard Denesia Smith has hardened her will through life experiences, but she doesn’t let them hold back her smile.
“Everyone has their own battles and struggles, so I’m not going to sit here and carp on mine, because there’s someone else who is in a worse condition than me,” she said.
Smith fell on her hip before the current season. She now has misaligned hips, which causes back, hip and lower leg pain during her normal day. On the pain scale, she rates hers at a constant five or six out of 10.
“It was a small little pop and I couldn’t walk,” she said. “Since then, my left side has been locking up, and it’s ‘out aligned.’”
Smith spent her childhood in Houston living in a house with more than 10 residents.
“We all grew up more or less raised as brothers and sisters,” she said. “If one of us didn’t have food, clothing or a drink, then nobody else did. That was just kind of how we were brought up.”
There were days they went without food and it seemed normal to do so, Smith said.
“That was just the way life was,” Smith said. “It wasn’t until later that I realized, ‘hey, we kind of had it rough.’”
During her middle-school years, Smith’s family moved to Arizona after her mother got a new job in Sierra Vista.
Smith attended Buena High School and played on the varsity basketball team during her freshman to junior years. She averaged 10.4 points throughout her time with the Colts.
She spent her senior year at Cienega High School in Vail, where she totaled 258 points in her last high school season and shot a 47 percent field goal average.
The Bobcats made it to the state championship but lost to Senton Catholic High School.
The showdown will forever live in Smith’s mind as the game they should’ve won. A Senton player who now plays alongside Smith at Pima made the winning layup.
“BS call,” Smith said. “It was the last three seconds. The girl on my team right now, Reazsha Benjamin, gets a steal and goes down court on a fast break. The buzzer sounds when she goes up and gets the ball in the hoop.”
Smith says she has footage to prove the game was over before the layup. Benjamin isn’t sure whether her shot beat the buzzer.
“It was hard to tell,” Benjamin said. “I don’t think I did, but because the crowd was so loud and the refs were distracted by everyone, I think it was so hard to say they just counted it.”
Smith is now a court leader for the No. 1 ranked Aztecs.
“Nesi is one of the best athletes I’ve coached here at Pima,” head coach Todd Holthaus said. “She’s does whatever she needs to do so she can be out on the court with her team.”
When she first joined the Pima team, Smith was forced to redshirt due to knee and meniscus problems.
In the year after redshirting, she averaged 37 percent shooting field goals and 63 percent on the free throw line.
With her bad hip this season, Smith currently averages 33 percent shooting three pointers and 45 percent shooting field goals.
Smith goes to a trainer daily to get her hip popped back into place, and to use techniques that PCC athletic trainer Chris Murphy shows her to relieve pain.
“He’s gotta pop my hip back into place and get them re-aligned,” Smith said. “Murph gets it to where the pain is tolerable.”
However well she does in basketball, Smith hopes to find a career in something related to helping others.
“I just want to give and help people, you know,” she said. “In whatever form that may be ― counseling, psychiatry, being a teacher.”
Smith is attracted to the idea of working with children in fourth grade, because she sees how her little sister’s mind is growing.
“She’s still innocent and pure but I see the way she’s starting to learn and put things together,” Smith said. “I just love that whole process.”
She shows the same passion for life.
“You just gotta do what you gotta do and tough it out, you know?” Smith said. “It won’t be here forever. Take it day by day, and it’ll be OK.”
By CASEY MUSE JR
The Pima Community College men’s basketball team faced quality competition in preconference games that offered opportunities for the Aztecs to test themselves before conference play began Nov. 22.
The first conference game, against Tohono O’Odham Community College, took place after Aztec Press went to the printer.
Nov. 9: PCC 133, Arizona Christian JV 87
The Aztecs got off to a hot start in a 133-87 home win against Arizona Christian University’s JV team.
Pima opened with a 20-4 run and took a 65-45 lead into the halftime break. Another 17-0 run at the end of the third quarter put the game away.
Sophomores led the way, with Damon Dubots scoring 27 points and seven rebounds. Emilio Acedo knocked down four 3-pointers on his way to a 21-point, seven-rebound game and Jacob Anastasi recorded a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Nov. 13: PCC 92, Utah State-Eastern 90
Pima faced its first true test of the season and came away with a 92-90 victory over Utah State University-Eastern.
The Aztecs and Eagles battled to a 46-46 halftime tie. Pima took a double-digit lead in the third quarter but surrendered a big run in the fourth to keep the game tight until the end.
Defense won the day as the Aztecs hit a pair of key three pointers and made key stops to obtain the victory.
Acedo led the way with 24 points, shooting 6 for 12 from the three-point line.
Nov. 17: PCC 86, New Mexico JC 99
PCC suffered its first loss of the season in a 99-86 contest against Division I New Mexico JC on the first day of the Native American Classic.
The Aztecs kept it close in the first half, going into the break down three points.
Sophomore Deion James gave Pima the lead on a technical foul free throw with 18 minutes left. New Mexico then went on an 11-0 run to take a double digit lead and control of the game. The Aztecs cut into the lead slightly but were never able to complete a comeback.
James finished the game with a double-double, 25 points and 10 rebounds. Acedo had a solid game as well scoring 19 points.
Nov. 18: PCC 95, Salt Lake CC 102
The Aztecs showed heart in their 102-95 loss to last season’s NJCAA Division I national champion, Salt Lake Community College.
Pima fell behind 56-36 at halftime but went on a 19-4 run halfway through the second half to claw their way back into the game.
Acedo and Freshman Isaiah Murphy were key during the comeback run.
The Aztecs got as close as one point but were never able to overtake the lead. Murphy finished the game with 28 points.
Nov. 19: PCC 120, Pascua Yaqui 113
Pima won a shootout against Pascua Yaqui 120-113 on the final day of the Native American Classic.
The Aztecs took a 59-47 lead into the halftime break. They would lead by as much as 21 points but allowed a late barrage from Pascua Yaqui that cut into the lead.
Sophomore Dakota Kordsiemon led the team with 26 points. Freshman Ilunga Moise had a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Freshman Alize Travis contributed 24 points, and sophomore Zach Evans finished with 21 points as well.
“All of our players weren’t even able to play tonight.” Evans said after the game. “If we all play and play together, I believe that we are good enough to make nationals.”
Nov. 30: at Chandler-Gilbert CC, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 3: Glendale CC, West Campus gym, 4 p.m.
Dec. 7: Eastern Arizona College, West Campus gym, 7:30 p.m.
By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
The No. 1 Pima Community College women’s basketball team started the season 6-1. The Aztecs played in two pre-conference tournaments: the New Mexico Junior College Thunderbird Classic in Hobbs, New Mexico, and the Native American Classic at PCC. They opened conference play Nov. 22 with a win.
Head coach Todd Holthaus earned his 200th Pima win on Nov. 17.
“I’ve been privileged to coach people and alongside those I hold dear,” Holthaus said in a press release. “I’m very fortunate to do what I do.”
The Aztecs also avenged last season’s national semifinal loss to Illinois Central College in a rematch on Nov. 19.
Nov. 3: PCC 71, Western Texas College 64
The Aztecs’ first ‘W’ came at the Thunderbird Classic against a Division I team, Western Texas. Pima held the lead from the first minutes of the game.
Pima shot 43 percent from the field. Sophomore Bree Cates led the team with 13 points.
Nov. 4: PCC 54, New Mexico JC 79
Pima lost to the host school on the second day of the Classic. The Aztecs never held a lead and shot 6-for-28 from three-point range.
Sophomore Sydni Stallworth led the team with 12 points. She also had two rebounds and two assists.
Nov. 5: PCC 62, Howard College 56
PCC closed out the Thunderbird Classic with a win against Division I Howard College from Texas.
The Aztecs were behind by three points to begin the third quarter but went on a 13-0 run to turn their deficit into a double-digit lead.
Nov. 17: PCC 80, Gillette College 52
The first game in the Native American Classic saw Holthaus get his 200th Pima win. The Aztecs never let up pressure and finished the game with 18 offensive rebounds.
Sophomore Denesia Smith led the team with 15 points. Freshmen Izzy Spruit and Alliyah Bryant had three 3-pointers apiece. Spruit also had five steals.
Nov. 18: PCC 90, Elite 1 Academy 36
The Aztecs dominated, holding Elite 1 Academy to single-digit points in the second and third quarters.
Spruit hit five 3-pointers and finished the game with 17 points. Fellow freshman Reazsha Benjamin had 10 points. Stallworth finished with 16 points, five assists and four steals.
Nov. 19: PCC 96, Illinois Central College 73
After a tight first half, Pima outscored the No. 11 Cougars 34-16 in the third quarter and went on to win 96-73.
Pima lost 77-74 to Illinois Central in the NJCAA Division II tournament last March.
Cates finished with a game-high 26 points. She also had five rebounds and three steals.
Sophomore Erin Peterson had 16 points and four rebounds, while Stallworth contributed 16 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Smith had eight points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals, and fellow sophomore Moana Hala-ufia scored 14 points.
“This win was for last year’s graduates,” Holthaus told the team after the game.
Nov. 22: PCC 88, Tohono O’odham CC 51
After leaving the Native American Classic unscathed, the Aztecs defended their home court against Tohono O’odham Community College. PCC took control of the game early and never let up pressure.
Stallworth led the team with 19 points, and shot for 57 percent from the 3-point line. Spruit had 13 points, three steals and two assists in the game.
By CASEY MUSE JR
The Pima Community College football team finished the 2016 season Nov. 12 with a 37-32 home defeat to No. 9 ranked Mesa Community College.
The game was close throughout, with Mesa busting out of the gates to score first. The Aztecs answered right away on a 57-yard touchdown pass from freshman Justin Martin to freshman Jalen Edwards to tie the game.
The second quarter remained close as Martin answered another Mesa score with a 6-yard touchdown run. The Aztecs trailed 20-14 at halftime.
Pima had arguably its biggest play of the game on the first series of the third quarter.
The Aztecs forced a punt by Mesa that was blocked by sophomore Brandon Yamamoto and scooped up by freshman Logan Stewart for the game-tying score.
The momentum shifted another time as Mesa scored on its next two drives to take a commanding 34-20 lead.
Pima did everything it could in the fourth quarter, beginning with a 69-yard touchdown reception by sophomore Jeff Cotton to cut the lead to 34-26.
One final Mesa field goal was answered with a 7-yard touchdown by Martin.
The Aztec defense got a crucial stop on the next series to set up the offense with one final opportunity to win.
Pima showed plenty of heart during its final drive, earning a fourth-down conversion on another quarterback-keeper from Martin.
However, the drive stalled on a final deep ball attempt to Cotton. This forced the Aztecs to turn the ball over on downs one last time with three seconds left.
Martin finished the game with four total touchdowns, two passing and two rushing.
The final score did not read the way the Aztecs wanted but the team fought until the very end. That was the theme for this entire season.
Pima finished the 2016 season at 3-6 overall and 2-5 in WSFL/ACCAC conference play.
Cotton was selected first team All-WSFL/ACCAC and first team All-Region at wide receiver.
Sophomore Jordan Agasiva was named first team All-WSFL/ACCAC and first team All-Region as an offensive lineman.
Sophomore Kana’I Picanco was named second team All-WSFL/ACCAC and second team All-Region at linebacker.
Sophomore Paul Davis was selected second team All-WSFL/ACCAC and second team All-Region at defensive back.
“This was a disappointing season,” head coach Jim Monaco said after the Mesa game.
“However, we learned a lot throughout the season,” he added. “We were very young, we were hurt. We could have quit on the season but we didn’t and for that you have to be proud.”
Look ahead to 2017, Monaco said he’s excited to have an opportunity to come back and lead the program again.
Freshman defensive back Beau Griego also plans to return. “I’ll be back, excited for next season,” he said.
Cross country completes season
Four athletes represented the Pima Community College cross country teams at the NJCAA National Championships on Nov. 12 in El Dorado, Kansas.
Sophomore Samantha Felzien represented the women’s team. Sophomores David Fernandez and Armando Antonio Jr. and freshman Alonso Sodari represented the men’s team.
Felzien finished 45th of 316 runners in the women’s 5K (3.11-mile) race, earning a time of 19:30.68.
The men participated in a 8K (4.97-mile) race.
Fernandez earned the best finish for Pima, in 33rd place of 303 participants. His final time was 26:13.84.
Antonio Jr. finished in 130th with a time of 27:58.11, and Sodari finished 170th with a time of 28:23.00.
Many of the cross country runners will now participate in track and field in the spring.
-By Casey Muse Jr.
Stallworth will play in Alaska
After sophomore Sydni Stallworth finishes her season with Pima Community Colleges’ women’s basketball team, she’ll play at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
The 5-foot-3-inch guard signed a letter of intent on Nov. 10.
“I really liked the chemistry and I felt comfortable,” Stallworth said in a press release. “I was kind of nervous, but my parents and coaches helped assure me, ‘Why wait to make this decision?’”
Last season, Stallworth helped the Aztecs to a 28-8 record and a third-place finish at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament. She was selected to the All-Tournament team.
Stallworth was also named ACCAC Division II player of the year and participated in the NJCAA National All-Star game in Niceville, Florida.
She averaged 16 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game in the 2015-16 season.
-By Nicholas Trujillo
An Issue 5 story about the Pima Community College women’s soccer team contained incorrect information.
The team won the Region I, Division I championship in 2015 and 2014, and advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament. The Aztecs finished in sixth place nationally in 2015 and in 11th place in 2014.
PCC fell to Paradise Valley Community College 3-0 this season, taking second place in conference.
Aztec Press regrets the error.
By CASEY MUSE JR
The Pima Community College football team (3-5, 2-4 in WSFL) came close to completing a big comeback in a road contest against Glendale Community College on Nov. 5, but lost 30-24.
The Aztecs battled in the first half to a manageable 16-10 deficit, but it was all Glendale in the third quarter. The Aztecs were outscored 14-0 and entered the fourth quarter down 30-10.
Freshman quarterback Justin Martin and the offense found life on their opening drive of the quarter when Martin connected with sophomore receiver Caymen Metcalf for a 17-yard touchdown.
After the Pima defense forced a punt on the next drive, Martin connected with sophomore Jeff Cotton on a 48-yard touchdown reception to make it a one-score game with just over five minutes left in the game.
Another good series by the Aztecs defense gave Martin and company one last shot to obtain the win. Martin found Cotton for a 35-yard reception to get the Aztecs past midfield, but the offense stalled and time ran out.
Martin finished the game with three touchdowns.
On Oct. 29, PCC used a huge offensive second half to end a three-game losing streak. The Aztecs took down the Phoenix College Bears 69-27 in resounding fashion.
The home game began with a tight first quarter that saw one Pima touchdown matched by a Phoenix College field goal.
The Aztecs broke the game open with their best offensive quarter of the season in the second. Pima scored 28 points and took a 35-13 lead into the halftime break.
The team added another 34 points in the second half while dismantling Phoenix College’s defense.
Martin had another solid outing with 14 pass completions for 320 yards and one touchdown.
He also ran the ball 11 times for an additional 81 yards and two touchdowns. His longest rushing touchdown was an athletic 19-yard scramble.
Freshman Christian Wilridge had 10 carries for 79 yards and one touchdown. Cotton had six catches, 152 yards and one touchdown.
The offense finished the game with 634 total yards.
Pima’s defense did its job as well. Freshman Dominique Fenstermacher returned an interception for a 46-yard touchdown at the end of the first half.
By MARIA ANGULO
The Pima Community College women’s soccer team lost 3-0 to No. 1 Paradise Valley Community College in the Region I, Division I championship final on Oct. 29.
The Aztecs won the championship in the previous two years and advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament. They finished in sixth place nationally in 2015 and in 11th place in 2014.
Paradise Valley set the tone early in the 2016 game, scoring three goals before the eight-minute mark.
The Aztecs played defense for much of the first half, and were outshot 12-9. Sophomore goalkeeper Daniela Sanchez finished with nine saves.
Pima mounted more shots on goal in the second half, but never scored.
Paradise Valley swept Pima this season. The Aztecs lost 1-0 on the road in the first game of the season, and fell 3-2 at Kino North Stadium in September.
PCC advanced to the championship game by beating the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Coyotes 2-1 on the road in the Oct. 26 semifinal.
The Aztecs scored first in the 28th minute with a goal by sophomore Destiny Jones. The Coyotes tied the game in the 35th minute.
The game went to overtime, and the winning goal came in the 102th minute from Pima freshman Alexis Hernandez off an assist from sophomore Maury Urcadez.
“We worked for it and it feels like a dream,” Hernandez said. “It was a perfect ball from Maury. They were getting tired at the end of the second half and we got more chances. We just kept pounding.”
Sanchez ended the game with nine saves.
Pima, playing with six sophomores and 14 freshmen, ended its season with a 16-6-1 record.
Urcadez was named first-team All ACCAC/All Region. Hernandez, Jones and Sanchez were named to the second team. Sophomore Sonia Garcia was honorable mention.
By CASEY MUSE JR
The Pima Community College men’s basketball team opened the season with two decisive non-conference victories, a 127-68 win over Vegas Impact and a 138-63 win over Three Kings Prep Academy from Windsor Ontario, Canada.
Pima was scheduled to play Arizona Christian Academy Nov. 9. The game took place after the Aztec Press went to the printer.
The Aztecs were in control for the entire Nov. 6 game against Vegas Impact. They started the game on a 23-0 run and took a 64-25 lead into the halftime break. The second half was more of the same, behind 52 points from the bench unit.
Six Aztecs scored double points. Sophomore Dakota Kordsiemon notched a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Deion James lead the team in scoring with 23 points. Freshman Ilunga Moise was a factor off of the bench, with 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Aztecs also controlled the game against Three Kings Prep Academy, posting a 83-26 lead at the half.
Freshman Isaiah Murphy led the way with 22 points, shooting 10-of-13 from the field. Three other players had 17 points each.
Pima continues home play with games scheduled Nov. 13-22 at the West Campus gym.
The Aztecs return six players from last season’s team, including one redshirt.
Sophomore guard Keven Biggs returns to the team looking to embrace a new leadership role. Biggs averaged 10.1 points and 1.7 assists per game in a 2015 season that saw the Aztecs make their third consecutive appearance in the Region I, Division II playoffs.
He will look to improve upon those numbers and lead the backcourt unit this season along with fellow sophomore Zach Evans.
Also look for sophomore big man Justice Bessard to evolve into a team leader. Bessard stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall and averaged 8.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 2015.
Head coach Brian Peabody will lead the team in his fourth season at Pima.
Peabody had more wins at the high school level (443) than any coach in Tucson history, and has worked each season to rebuild PCC’s program.
PCC had a 12-10 conference record in 2015, its best mark in 15 years. The Aztecs have not won an ACCAC championship since 1980.
Cochise College and Phoenix College tied for the best conference record last season at 16-6.
“It is all about execution this season,” assistant coach Joe Hickle said.
By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
The Pima Community College volleyball team finished its season with an 8-20 overall record, 2-14 in ACCAC conference play.
The season ended with two road losses.
After losing in straight sets on the road at South Mountain Community College on Oct. 26, the Aztecs traveled to Mesa for their final match. They again dropped three straight sets, 25-18, 25-20, 25-13.
Pima took an early lead in the first set but was unable to keep momentum going for the second and third sets.
Freshman Mattea Reeb accumulated 20 assists and one ace, while freshman Trae Johnson posted six kills, 12 digs and two aces.
The team averaged 10 kills and assists per set during the season’s 28 matches and 103 sets.
Sophomore Aleksandra Palmer led the team in kills with 261 and points with 274. Freshman Anissa Conrad led in digs with 449. Johnson topped the team with hitting efficiency at .211.
Though it was a rough season, head coach Dan Bithell is excited and optimistic about next season.
“We’re looking toward next season to improving on what we need to,” Bithell said.
By FRANCISCO ZAPATA
A post-game altercation involving Pima Community College and Phoenix College players and fans controversially disqualified the Pima men’s soccer team from further postseason play.
The Aztecs won their third consecutive Division I, Region I title Oct. 29 after defeating Phoenix College 3-1.
The win qualified PCC for a four-team NJCAA West District Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Nov. 4. A win at that tournament would have guaranteed Pima a spot in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament, where they finished third last year.
Instead, the post-game brawl ended Pima’s season. It began when a Phoenix College athlete struck a Pima athlete on the Kino North Stadium soccer field.
Some Pima players stopped their post-game celebration and dashed to the aid of their teammate. Fans hopped the fence and ran onto the field.
According to video evidence presented by PCC Athletic Director Edgar Soto, one fan punched the Phoenix coach. Three Pima players were punched by opposing team members, but no Pima players threw punches.
The Phoenix College athletic director emailed Soto on Nov. 2, apologizing on behalf of the Phoenix players who initiated the fight. She also thanked Soto and his staff for de-escalating the situation.
During a Nov. 2 press conference, Soto applauded the men’s team for showing discipline.
“Our student-athletes did an outstanding job,” Soto said. “Not one of our student-athletes retaliated or threw a punch.”
After providing a statement to the NJCAA about the post-game altercation, Soto received an email on Nov. 1 from NJCAA Executive Director Mary Leicht.
“Due to the bench-clearing incident, all student-athletes and staff from both institutions will be charged with a violent ejection,” Leicht wrote. “In the case of PCC, a two-game suspension will result in an insufficient number of student-athletes to participate in the 2016 NJCAA Division I Men’s Soccer West District Playoff.”
Soto said the email left him in disbelief.
“It was a shocker to me when I got it that morning,” he said. “If anything, I was waiting to hear back and be commended and thanked for having our athletes behave in the proper way.”
A rule implemented by the NJCAA on April 1 sparked Pima’s elimination.
The general sportsmanship rule, Article 18, Section 2, A.1.c, says a violent ejection is warranted when “any bench personnel other than the head coach leave the bench area or designated warm-up area when a fight may break out or has broken out.”
Soto strongly disagreed with the NJCAA’s ruling.
“Where this rule is unclear and where we disagree with the NJCAA is how this rule was interpreted,” he said. “This was a post-game situation, there was a celebration, there was an incident that took place.”
Records from the head referee show four Phoenix student-athletes were given red cards during the game, three for fighting and one for verbal abuse of officials.
No Pima players were carded, but head coach David Cosgrove was red-carded early in the first half for arguing with officials. It was his third ejection in 19 years as Pima head coach.
“I was removed from the game, and rightfully so,” Cosgrove said.
At the Nov. 2 news conference, Cosgrove tried to gather himself as he stood before media outlets, parents and players.
“I’m really proud of my kids,” he said. “In the worst possible scenario on a soccer field, they handled themselves exactly how I wanted them to.”
Cosgrove took responsibility for his players’ actions, but felt they behaved properly.
“The instructions are very simple before the game,” he said. “Walk away, put your teammates before yourself and if somebody’s in trouble, go get them out of trouble.”
The NJCAA said running toward the brawl to restrain or protect teammates “escalated the incident, as evidenced in the game video.”
Pima’s elimination sent Yavapai College to the West District Tournament. The Roughriders were eliminated in the first game, losing 3-1 to Trinidad State College.
Pima has appealed the NJCAA ruling, but a decision will come too late for this year’s team.
Sophomores lost an opportunity to compete for a national title and to play in front of university scouts.
However, a favorable appeal would remove returning freshmen from suspension for the first two games next season.
PCC finished the 2016 season with an 18-3-1 record and ranked No. 9 in the nation.
The team was also on a nine-game winning streak.
Pima advanced to the championship game by eliminating the Arizona Western College Matadors in a 2-1 home victory on Oct. 27.
That game was also action-packed, with aggressive play from both sides. Play was stopped numerous times and the referee disciplined players while trying to control the sidelines.
Visit aztecpressonline.com for detailed accounts of the games.
“I have tremendous pride in what we’ve accomplished,” Cosgrove said. “The kids were fantastic. I couldn’t be more proud.”
By FRANCISCO ZAPATA
After 1,980 minutes of game action in which the men’s soccer team outscored opponents 71-23, three minutes of disruptive postgame behavior by a defeated opponent crumbled Pima’s postseason hopes.
When the clock struck zero for the 2016 Division I, Region I Championship game on Oct. 29, Pima players joyfully ran onto the field to celebrate their third consecutive region title. They overcame a 1-0 deficit against Phoenix College to secure a 3-1 victory.
I went to congratulate PCC players as they jumped in jubilation. At the same time, a Phoenix player got in the face of a Pima player as he headed toward his team to celebrate. Another opposing player charged at full speed to ram the same Pima player.
Pima players instinctively reacted to protect their teammates. As Pima head coach David Cosgrove preaches, “Put your teammates before yourself. If somebody’s in trouble, go get them out of trouble.”
Amidst the drama, I watched Pima players protect their own while being physically attacked. They were brutally struck by Phoenix players, with one knocked to the ground in agony.
I saw sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Anderson abandon his celebration to attend to a teammate who had just been punched. I also saw Anderson try to break up the altercation while screaming to players and fans, “Get back! Get Back!”
Many other Pima players and employees did the same.
Throughout all the chaos, I didn’t witness a single Aztec throw a punch in retaliation. Incredible restraint, right?
Wrong, according to the NJCAA. That kind of level-headed behavior warrants an edict that “all student-athletes and staff from both institutions will be charged with a violent ejection.”
NJCAA considered the post-game incident a bench-clearing incident. The key word here is “post-game.”
If an opponent physically attacks a teammate after the game, while you are already on the field celebrating, surely you’ll come to his aid.
If you return a punch, we have a different situation. In this case, however, none of the three athletes who were hit or anybody else on the Pima team threw a punch.
The NJCAA agreed to hear PCC’s appeal on Nov. 4, after initially saying there could be no appeal. The NJCAA has 10 days to respond.
That comes too late for the Aztecs. Their season ended prematurely and they were robbed of an opportunity to take another shot at the national title.
Pima players can only ponder what could have been, if not for three minutes of post-game mayhem.
By EDDIE CELAYA
The Pima Community College men’s soccer team was the victim of a bench-clearing brawl, resulting in its elimination from the post season and leaving the athletic department to deal with a situation worthy of its own Netflix series.
A press conference was held in the West Campus Creative Writing Center to deal with the fallout after the Arizona Community College Athletic Association championship game.
PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert led off the news conference by thanking the players and head coach Dave Cosgrove for their demeanor during the incident and throughout the season.
“I want to thank all the players for the outstanding season you delivered not only for yourselves and this college but for this community, it was outstanding,” he said, to the applause of parents in attendance.
As Lambert continued, he informed the audience of the National Junior College Athletics Association ruling.
“Unfortunately, yesterday we received some bad news,” he said. “That bad news was that our men’s soccer team, and many of the players, would be disqualified from playing the next two games. I think you know what that means.”
Lambert expressed disappointment at the ruling, and then introduced PCC Athletics Director Edgar Soto to further address the crowd.
“We have a situation where interpretation of a rule and how it is looked at is at issue,” Soto said. “The rule, which was implemented April 1, basically says that ‘if there is any attempt’ made towards an incident going on, it will be treated as if it’s a bench-clearing situation.”
Soto explained that the NCJAA interpreted the rule, Article 18, to include end of game situations. “Where this rule is unclear, and where we disagree, is how this rule is interpreted during a post-game situation; there was a celebration.”
Soto then made clear that PCC’s coaches and players reacted appropriately. “Our young men, our coaches, did an outstanding job,” he said. “Not one of our student-athletes retaliated, threw a punch. They knew what was on the line.”
Soto acknowledged that an unidentified PCC fan did “hit the head coach from Phoenix College,” and that coach Cosgrove was ejected earlier in the game for a red card. However, Soto noted it was Cosgrove’s third red card in 19 years.
Questions from the audience followed, with local news outlets and parents attempting to understand both what led up to the brawl and the subsequent punishment.
Soto pointed out that with the implementation of Article 18 by the NJCAA in April, there was no right to appeal. “There is no appeal process, but we are exploring all our options and will continue to do so.”
Soto continued, detailing what evidence was submitted to the NJCAA from the referees on the field. “The head official sent a report, he sent it saying four student athletes had received red cards post-game.”
Soto also sent a statement.
“We watched the video, and when I sent my statement in I mentioned nobody from PCC was involved in any pushing or shoving,” he said. “I thought I was going to get something back from the NJCAA commending us.”
As the press conference continued, parents of Aztec players began to question the NJCAA’s rationale and interpretation of the incident.
Michael Anderson, father of goalkeeper Taylor Anderson, was frustrated by the apparent duplicity of the NJCAA’s rule. “How can they make a decision like this when it’s post-season?” he said. “Then not let there be an appeal? It’s a double standard.”
Soto concurred, adding that in reaching out to the NJCAA, he had proposed a re-thinking of Article 18. “If this is the rule, this is something that needs to be explored by our national office, our region, our ADs, to do something to possibly change this rule.”
Another parent asked if the NJCAA’s ruling would affect the player’s permanent records or playing careers. Soto was quick to point out that current freshman would have to serve a one-game suspension next season.
“As far as the sophomores, what bothers us is that our sophomores were probably going to make the national championship and be seen by anywhere from 50 to 100 college scouts, so their opportunities to get looked at and scouted are not there,” Soto said.
The focus then shifted to video evidence taken from multiple cameras, including Phoenix College’s gamecast.
“We did get some video from fans as well,” Soto said. “Every video we’ve seen, none of our student-athletes retaliated, punched anybody or any of those situations.”
Parents then began to complain about how the video evidence was utilized by the NJCAA to arrive at its decision. “This whole statement is pretty much going off what they see in a piece of video,” Anderson said.
Lambert assured the crowd that PCC was pursuing all options but that the executive director of the NJCAA, Mary Ellen Leicht, said other colleges had been in similar situations.
“The policy is such that it is a no tolerance policy, and she kept reiterating that,” Lambert said.
Soto then pulled up an email sent earlier in the day from Phoenix College’s athletic director Samantha Ezell. In it, Ezell assumes responsibility for Phoenix College’s role in the incident.
“I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you for the actions of our student-athletes, it was clear we initiated the fight and the entire incident,” Ezell wrote.
Soto then addressed the motivation behind the NJCAA’s implementation of Article 18 by citing the Netflix original series “Last Chance U.” The series concludes with an episode detailing a bench-clearing brawl and its aftermath.
“That’s why this rule was put in, because of that situation directly,” Soto said.
The proceedings became emotional as Cosgrove addressed the crowd.
“First I want to say, my relationship with PCC goes back almost 30 years as a student-athlete and as a coach,” he said, pausing to compose himself.
The room fell silent.
“At no point have I ever felt such great support from administration. The universal support of the administration is somewhat emotional.”
Cosgrove then praised his players. “In the worst possible scenario on a soccer field, they handled themselves exactly the way I wanted them to.”
After finishing his statement, Cosgrove took questions from the media and parents. A reporter from the Aztec Press asked if the officials had let the game get out of hand.
“I’m not comfortable discussing officiating,” Cosgrove said. Almost immediately, multiple parents interjected.
“Yes,” they said, in unison.
“I’ll let the referee report speak for itself,” Cosgrove said. “I will say though, in all transparency, I was removed from the game, and rightfully so. That decision was not inappropriate.”
The proceedings then changed tone again, as another video of the incident was shown. That’s when Sean Stoermer, father of midfielder Justin Stoermer, began to speak.
“They made this decision out of haste, I’m sorry I am speaking out,” he said. “Because they’ve showed these sophomore players a grave injustice and denied them opportunity. There is always room for interpretation, if they get this video, I highly recommend they reconsider.”
Soto confirmed that he would send all additional video to the NJCAA for consideration, and that PCC would be sending a letter to the NJCAA’s national office.
The rest of the conference consisted of a blow-by-blow analysis of the first videotape. Parents also thanked Cosgrove for the part he played in their children’s lives.
“I just want to say, I think for everyone in here, you’ve been with a lot of our boys since they were small all the way up to now,” Anderson said. “You’ve never done any wrong, everything positive, and I just want to thank you right now.”
The crowd broke out in applause.
By FRANCISCO ZAPATA
The No. 2 Pima Community College men’s soccer team secured its third consecutive Region I, Division I championship Oct. 29 in a 3-1 home victory over the No. 5 Phoenix College Bears.
PCC (18-3-1) now heads to a four-team NJCAA West District Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Nov. 4.
The No. 9 ranked Aztecs will play No. 16 Trinidad State Junior College (15-4) in the second semifinal match-up on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m.
The first semifinal game will feature host No. 10 ranked Lamarie County Community College (17-2) vs. College of Southern Nevada (15-3-2) at noon.
The winners will advance to the West District championship game on Nov. 5 at 12:30 p.m. and are guaranteed a spot in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Tyler, Texas. The national tournament is Nov. 14-19 at the Pat Hartley Soccer Complex.
Oct. 29: PCC 3, Phoenix College 1
Pima’s championship win marked its third straight NJCAA Region I, Division I title. The Aztecs have now defeated the Bears in the last three championship games.
In comments before the game, head coach Dave Cosgrove predicted a battle.
“I think Phoenix College has the best talent, player-for-player,” Cosgrove said. “They’re playing unbelievable soccer.”
The first half was scoreless as each team struggled to find its groove. Both teams narrowly missed scoring opportunities as shots hit the goal post multiple times.
The action-packed second half opened with a Pima scare as sophomore Hector Banegas was carted off the field in the 50th minute. Banegas returned to the game 15 minutes later.
A minute later, the Bears scored the game’s opening goal.
Pima freshman Gavino Carranza helped the Aztecs respond when he scored three minutes later directly off a free kick. He was later named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
At the 56-minute mark, freshman Julian Gaona converted a pass received from sophomore Justin Stoermer into a 2-1 lead for Pima.
The Aztecs put their stamp on the championship when freshman A.J. Valenzuela scored in the 80th minute.
Valenzuela was assisted by sophomore Lorenzo Rodriguez, who had an impressive outing after replacing injured freshman Chris Cooper in the first half.
Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Anderson made three saves to keep the Bears from clawing back.
The Aztecs split with the Bears during the regular season. Pima beat Phoenix 2-1 at home in August but was shut out 4-0 on the road in early October.
Oct. 27: PCC 2, AWC 1
Pima reached the championship game by eliminating No. 3 Arizona Western College 2-1 in a Region I, Division I semifinal home game on Oct. 27.
Banegas scored the winning goal during a game in which emotions ran high.
Cooper scored a header in the eighth minute, with fellow freshman Andrew Bianchi providing the assist. Pima went into the halftime break up 1-0.
The second half was action-packed with aggressive play from both sides. The referee stopped play numerous times due to fouls, and disciplined players while trying to control the sidelines.
The opposing coaches engaged in verbal confrontations regarding the physical play. Cosgrove was intent on protecting his players, whom he felt were on the bad end of many foul challenges.
“Western played fantastic, I know it was competitive,” Cosgrove said. “And a little bit out of what’s acceptable.”
The Matadors’ Fabian Munoz was the villain for Pima due to multiple fouls that had the packed Kino North Stadium fans shouting at officials.
After Munoz leveled the score for the Matadors in the 76th minute, he ran in front of the Pima bench to celebrate. He kissed the team patch on his jersey while teammates rallied around him.
The Matadors lost their composure late. Three AWC players were temporarily removed from the game due to picking up yellow cards for arguing with the official over a foul call.
Banegas took advantage of the substitutions when he beat the goalkeeper to the far post to score a dramatic game-winning goal for Pima in the 88th minute. Bianchi provided a pass to earn the assist.
The stadium erupted as Banegas ran towards the Pima bench in triumph, where he was tackled by teammates in jubilation. The victory was Cosgrove’s 300th win as Pima head coach.
“I think discipline makes a big difference in games,” Cosgrove said “We were disciplined and they weren’t, and they paid the price for it.”
The Aztecs played to a scoreless tie in Yuma in September and beat the Matadors 6-0 in the final regular-season game on Oct. 20 at Kino.
Banegas’ goal in the semifinal game was his 17th of the season, though he refused to take full credit for winning the game.
“We’re a team,” he said. “It’s not just me, it’s all of us.”
PCC advanced to the playoffs with seven straight victories.
Oct. 13: PCC 3, Glendale CC 0
Pima traveled to Glendale Community College and secured its fourth consecutive victory with a 3-0 shutout.
Freshman Julian Gaona continued his stellar season with two goals in the first five minutes. Sophomore Kyle VanAlstine and freshman Tatsuma Yuki provided the assists.
Cooper scored in the 71st minute off an assist by Banegas.
Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Anderson provided three saves.
The Aztecs swept the home-and-away series versus Glendale, beating the Gauchos at Kino North Stadium in a 5-4 thriller in September.
Oct. 19: PCC 3, Mesa CC 1
Pima men’s soccer picked up a 3-1 home victory over the Mesa Community College Thunderbirds.
Banegas scored from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Cooper was brought down in the penalty box.
Cooper continued to stretch the Thunderbirds’ defense by taking on defenders with his speed and quick feet. He scored the game’s second goal in the 60th minute off an assisted by Yuki.
The Thunderbirds capitalized on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute, cutting Pima’s lead to 2-1.
While Mesa was pushing forward for the equalizing goal, Pima mounted a counter attack with 42 seconds remaining.
Gaona received the ball just past midfield, then outraced three defenders toward the goal. He shot from the right side of the penalty area and struck the top left corner of the net.
“It was a great game to prepare for the playoffs,” Gaona said.
By CASEY MUSE JR
Pima Community College quarterback Justin Martin is enjoying an amazing freshman season, but the kid had no idea any of it would happen the way that it has.
Martin grew up a big fan of the game.
“I’ve been playing football since like sixth grade,” Martin said. “I played for the Tucson Redskins on the west side of town.”
Martin has always been an all-around athlete and never had a designated position until college.
“I started out at running back but I practically played every position on the field back then,” he said. “I realized that I just loved touching the football.”
Before long, Martin was playing his own games on Saturday mornings and studying his idols on Sunday.
“I used to love Cadillac Williams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” he said. “When I started watching them on TV, I started to think. ‘I can do that.’”
Martin took his talents to Cholla High School for freshman year and was soon called up to varsity.
“It was a rough year on the field,” he said. “I didn’t get too many reps starting out but the experience was important.”
By sophomore year, Martin was starting at quarterback and safety but it was another rough year for his team.
Things changed dramatically for Martin at this point in his life and career. “My step-dad took an assistant coaching position at Pueblo High School, so I transferred,” he said.
Playing for his step-dad was a dream come true for Martin.
“He plays a big part in my life, a really big part,” he said. “I appreciate him and love him as if he were my father.”
Martin brought a certain “it” factor to Pueblo, which did not necessarily have a winning culture.
“I hated losing with a passion,” he said. “We had to start changing things around. We also got a new head coach that year.”
Martin led Pueblo to the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, an accomplishment that is still held in high regard.
“We lost first round but the experience was still amazing,” he said. “It took until my senior year for me to make the playoffs. I enjoyed the moment.”
As high school was winding down, Martin began to contemplate college. After weighing his options, he committed to PCC for the 2016-17 season.
“I was actually brought into training camp as a receiver, believe it or not,” Martin said.
“We had some quarterback issues all throughout camp,” he added. “I remember one day just tossing the ball around and next thing I know the coaches are asking me to throw in drills, and I was moved to quarterback.”
At that moment, Martin said, he realized he was meant to play quarterback. He has no intention of switching positions again.
Martin has built strong relationships with his teammates, including sophomore running back Sirgeo Hoffman and freshman receiver Jalen Edwards.
He has also developed an important relationship with head coach Jim Monaco.
“Monaco is a great guy,” Martin said. “He really just wants the best for us and he is always going to fight for us. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to play for him.”
After Pima’s 21-9 loss against Arizona Western College, Monaco had encouraging words for Martin.
“You’ve got all the talent in the world,” he said during a post-game huddle. “You’ve got to keep your head up and lead this team.”
Martin’s 1,147 passing yards and 11 touchdowns are some of the highest marks in the conference.
He hopes to continue playing football throughout college and wants to play Division 1 someday.
For now, he’s thankful for the opportunity to do what he loves and extremely proud to be a Pima Aztec.
By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
As the season drew to a close, the Pima Community College volleyball team never found a consistent path to victory. Their season record was 8-19 overall, 2-13 in ACCAC.
“We’re kind of struggling to find some identity at this point, in terms of what kind of team we think we should be,” head coach Dan Bithell said.
The Aztecs played their final regular-season game on Oct. 28 at Mesa Community College.
Oct. 12: PCC 1, Yavapai College 3
The Aztecs avoided a sweep on the road against the Yavapai Roughriders, losing 3-1 in four sets.
Pima rallied for a comeback in the third set, but was sent home in the fourth. Set scores were 25-15, 25-14, 21-25, 25-21.
“I think if I could put my finger right on it, it could be something that we could fix quickly,” Bithell said. “It’s a combination of things. We’re maybe not completely bought in to the process of getting better every day.”
Freshman Kaitlynn Maxon led the team with 15 kills, while freshman Trae Johnson finished with 10 kills and 13 digs. Freshman Anissa Conrad had 26 digs and one ace.
Oct. 14: PCC 0, Chandler-Gilbert CC 3
In their final home match of the regular season, the Aztecs were swept 3-0 by the Coyotes.
Pima, which lost both matches against Chandler-Gilbert this season, struggled to keep any lead in three sets. Final scores were 25-18, 25-21, 25-18.
“We have really good days and some maybe not-so-good days,” Bithell said. “I think we’re struggling to carry over what we do in practice to matches.”
Sophomore Aubrey Lomeli and Aleksandra Palmer each finished with seven kills. Conrad had 17 digs and freshman Kylie Riesgo had a team-high 17 assists.
Lomeli, Palmer and Victoria Davis were recognized in a sophomore ceremony after the game.
Oct. 19: PCC 0, Central Arizona 3
The Aztecs put up their dukes in Coolidge but were swept in straight sets, 25-22, 25-23, 25-23. The loss marked their seventh in a row.
Lomeli finished the match with 12 kills and two aces, while freshman Hannah Gerard had 16 assists and two aces. Conrad amassed 24 digs and Maxon contributed 12 kills.
Oct. 26: PCC 0, South Mountain CC 3
Failing to reproduce last month’s result, the Aztecs fell to the Cougars on the road in straight sets, 2-16, 25-15, 2-20.
Lomeli finished the match with seven kills, eight digs and one ace. Freshman Mattea Reeb amassed 29 assists and six digs.