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The eighth-graders have ruled the early winter sports season at Camp Verde Middle School.

Cale Cook, a seventh-grader for the Camp Verde Middle School boys basketball team practices his free throws before practice gets underway in the Camp Verde Elementary School gym. The Cowboys are 2-1 early in the season.
Tanna Decker and Destiny Dowdle helped keep the girls team undefeated through three games, while Jason Collier propelled the boys team to its second win as the Camp Verde Middle School basketball teams swept Mayer Elementary School on Thursday, Nov. 19.

Another eighth-grader, Korben Uhler, carried a CVMS wrestling team struggling with eligibility issues to ninth place out of 21 teams Nov. 14 at the 24th annual Mingus Mountain Wrestling Tournament.

For the full story, more photos and season schedules, please see the Wednesday, Nov. 25, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

There isn’t a better way to replace a four-time state champion than with a four-time state championship team.

Senior Alex Casillas, top, a 113-pound wrestler at Camp Verde High School, attempts to pin his brother, Ezekiel, a junior, during practice at the Sterrett Wrestling Complex. Casillas is one of three state champions leading the Cowboys into their opening meet Tuesday, Nov. 24, at home against six other schools.
That is the mission the Camp Verde High School wrestling program will begin Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 2:30 p.m. with a seven-team home meet.

As a team, the Cowboys take their first step toward an unprecedented fourth straight state title while attempting to replace the graduated Ryan Allred, who accomplished the feat individually Feb. 13 at the Division IV state wrestling championships.

“That’s in God’s hands,” said Tracy Tudor, who returns two other state champions from last season, his first as CVHS head coach. “The main thing is, to stay together as a brotherhood.

“If we keep it together like a team, we’re going to do all right. If we don’t, and we’re just individuals, we will fall apart. I don’t care how good you are.”

Senior Alex Casillas and junior Hayden Uhler, along with 2012 state title winner Matt Mejia, form what Tudor feels could be a solid core of state champions from 106 to 138 pounds.

“Then we’re a little bit sparse,” Tudor said. “We’ve still got veterans, but in the middle, it’s just a little bit weak. We’re pretty lean this year as far as numbers [go].”

So to overcome challengers such as Benson, St. John’s, Round Valley, Willcox and Nov. 24 opponents Morenci and Window Rock high schools, the Cowboys need their full complement of wrestlers.

“Window Rock’s got a full team,” he said. “They’ve usually got two to three good kids. You never know.”

Academic ineligibility has already chipped away at those hopes, however, as poor grades have sidelined as many as five CVHS wrestlers for the opener.

“We’re not full-strength,” Tudor said. “Our quality this year is probably better than last year. We’ve got kids, but we’re not deep.”

Tudor is not even sure yet of the status of the 113-pound Casillas and 138-pound Mejia for the seven-team home meet — nor of junior West Phillips, the new wrestler at 106 pounds with sophomore Skyler Pike electing, for personal reasons, to take the season off.

For the full story, schedule and more photos, please see the Wednesday, Nov. 18, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

As Oct. 29 proved, there remains one constant at the end of a Division V soccer season: Camp Verde High School will be back.

Junior Katrina Esparza dribbles the ball upfield from her midfield position for the Camp Verde High School girls soccer team in the Cowboys’ 8-1 win over Holbrook High School in their regular-season finale. Esparza and fellow junior Savanah Cooley alternated in goal with freshman Brina Church, who had eight saves but let one more goal through in a 3-2 first-round loss at Round Valley High School in the Oct. 29 state tournament.
While the seventh-seeded Cowboys girls team fell less than 10 minutes short of a road upset of No. 2 seed Round Valley High School, 3-2, a young No. 12 boys team found itself on the other end of a 5-1 decision at fifth-seeded Phoenix Country Day School.

“It just wasn’t our night,” said head coach Dave Miller, whose Cowboys [4-7-1] were deadlocked with the Eagles at halftime after also tying them, 1-1, and beating them 1-0 in earlier regular-season matchups. “We played them tough all year long, but we just didn’t move the ball as well as we did earlier in the season.”

CVHS tied the Eagles before halftime on a goal by junior John Castillo, off an assist from sophomore Nate Schultz.

“As time wore on, we started taking a few more chances and left the defense a little more exposed. We had them that way earlier in the season, but those guys came together at the right time of year.”

Although sophomore Preston Maynard’s “excellent goalkeeping” kept the Cowboys in the game, the Eagles’ goalkeeper only needed to make two saves to secure the victory.

“We’re young,” Miller said. “We’ll have a boatload of seniors next year, but we were trying to play the ball up.”

Even younger, though, is head coach Pat Allen’s CVHS girls team, which had state runner-up Round Valley down 2-1 in the second half behind goals by freshmen strikers Lupe Orta and Tyra Smith.

For the full story, please see the Wednesday, Nov. 11, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

Although Camp Verde High School came together as a team to eke out a 28-21 win at Mohave Accelerated Learning Center, one senior linebacker continues to help fight a greater battle after making his 100th tackle for the Cowboys [4-6].

Senior linebacker Jesse Etienne, accompanied by mother Sarah, left, along with his Rimrock family on Senior Night, finished the season ninth in Division V in tackles as Camp Verde High School defeated Mohave Accelerated Learning Center, 28-21. Etienne, whose parents allowed him to transfer to CVHS to help care for an aunt in Rimrock, tied for second on the team in tackles in the win Friday, Oct. 30.
“I didn’t have to, but she’s an older woman,” Jesse Etienne said of his aunt, Mary Walsh, of Rimrock, whom he helps on Sundays and at other times through her fight with Stage 4 cancer. “It was my decision to stay out here and just help [her] out.”

In the final game of his high school career Friday, Oct. 30, Jesse Etienne wrapped up 11 Patriots to lead the team in tackles for the season and finish among the top 10 tacklers in Division V.

 “I just want to do my hardest every play, take all my emotions out on the field, just go for it [and] go all out,” Etienne said. “I used to not be so athletic. I had asthma, and I couldn’t even run a lap before practice, but I just kept trying.”

The Cowboys finished in third place in Section III as senior Trevor Heyer was the team’s statistical leader, catching four passes for 82 yards, completing three other passes for 63 yards, and leading the defense with 13 tackles to boot.

 “I came right out here in August and wanted to get involved in the program right away,” Etienne said. “First day of school, I felt really welcome. It’s a really good community. I really feel like a family on this team.”

But the senior transfer from Sports and Medical Science Academy in Hartford, Conn., is helping Walsh in her fight against stomach cancer which has metastasized into her breasts and brain.

“I help out as much as I can around the house most Sundays,” Etienne said. “Mow the lawn, watch the kids, do whatever they need to be done.”

Etienne left his parents in Hartford to assist Walsh and her sister Katherine Mekrut — his grandmother — as well as two first cousins who are 3 and 5 years old, respectively.

For the full story and final standings, please see the Wednesday, Nov. 4, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

For a Senior Night match Thursday, Oct. 29, good news and bad news awaited second-year Camp Verde High School head volleyball coach Dan Gagnon.

Junior Shelby Ritzenthaler jumps high to slam the ball across the net for Camp Verde High School at home against Many Farms High School. The Cowboys lost their Oct. 10 section opener, three games to one, and all other section matches afterward.
The good news was that it was the final match of a winless Division IV, Section I schedule after which Gagnon would lose four seniors: Dusty Dowdle, Allee Drake, Laramie Mahan and Gabby Ontiveros.

“I have four seniors, and they all lead in different ways,” Gagnon said. “Dusty is just loud and fun; Gabby, my setter, is real quiet and together. Allee is doing her job, consistently hits the ball. Laramie works hard, really puts her heart on the floor.”

Unfortunately, with just nine players on the varsity roster this season, that was also the bad news.

“I had 18 girls show up, and I kept all 18, because I can barely make two teams out of it,” Gagnon said. “Improvement from game, to game, to game, is something to focus on.”

For the full story and more photos, please see the Wednesday, Nov. 4, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

After a hiatus from the postseason last year, the Camp Verde High School boys soccer team has a score to settle in its return to the Division V state tournament Thursday, Oct. 29.

Senior Lucy Showers vies for control of the ball during Camp Verde High School’s home match last week against Holbrook High School. The Cowboys defeated the Roadrunners, 8-1.
As the final State seed, head coach Dave Miller’s Cowboys will return to fifth-seeded Phoenix Country Day School for their third game of the season with the Eagles beginning at 6 p.m.

Actually, the first-round match-up could be considered more of an extension of the two teams’ previous game Oct. 20, which ended in a 1-1 tie through two overtimes that neither team could break after sophomore outside midfielder Wesley Loveall kicked in the tying goal in regulation.

“We know them pretty well,” said Miller, whose team outshot the Eagles with 22 shots on goal to their 19 on Oct. 20. “They’re just like us: They play for opportunity and try to score from that in more of a counterattacking offense.”

CVHS struck first in the rivalry Sept. 24 for a 1-0 win at home behind sophomore striker Nate Schultz’s goal.

“The first game was an emotional situation in which we played 10 players after we lost a player to a red card,” Miller said. “We were all over the place. Even though we were a man down, we looked like we were a man up. The boys refused to lose.”

Miller plans to only have a three-man bench at most, running out sophomore Preston Maynard in goal all game and juniors Jose Guzman, Sam Maynard and sweeper David Perez to run the defense, backed up by freshman Joseph Jones.

“It’s hard to get away from him,” Miller said of Jones. “He has speed and tenacity as a stopper.

“We have a clearing-type defense: We try to keep everything in front of us from the midfield, forward. We let the midfielders do their job, either from outside or center — put the ball into space and let the strikers attack.”

He hopes that in his 20th season as head coach, the road to the fall Arizona state boys soccer championship returns its route through Camp Verde.

“We’ve only missed the playoffs twice,” he said. “It’s become a habit.

“Our goal was to make it back. Now, we’ve set a new goal: To make it out of the first round.”

The boys [4-6-1] will be joined in the tournament by the CVHS girls team, seeded seventh, which will travel to Round Valley High School for its first-round game at the same time.

For the full story, please see the Wednesday, Oct. 28, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

Camp Verde High School can finish no higher than third in Division V, Section III after a 54-6 Senior Night loss to Paradise Honors High School.

Camp Verde High School sophomore quarterback Payton Sarkesian evades oncoming defenders in the Cowboys’ 54-6 loss to visiting Paradise Honors High School on Senior Night Oct. 23. Sarkesian ran for 56 yards and passed for 180 yards.
The Cowboys [3-6] fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter and faded under four more in the second quarter Friday, Oct. 23, behind the massive line of the state playoff-bound Panthers [7-2].

“The size of [the] line was challenging for us, as we knew it would be,” head coach Steve Darby said. “After a great week of practice, we just came out flat.”

While the pressure of the Panthers’ two six-foot, 300-pound linemen proved to be too much on both sides of the ball for the Cowboys, it did not help that a “rising star” for Darby, sophomore slotback Jon Taylor, suffered a season-ending injury during that same week of practice. Taylor had taken over for senior Dakota Brueland, who had ended his own season with a broken shin Oct. 9 at North Pointe Prep.

“In pregame, we noticed there wasn’t much energy, and it showed in the game,” Darby said. “We have the potential to play so much better, and that’s the frustrating thing.”

For the second straight game, senior Jaysen Leonard couldn’t get the Cowboys’ running game going, finishing with just 13 yards rushing after leading his section in the category. Panthers junior Brandon Brown and sophomore Sekou Tyler would combine for 339 yards on the ground to both overtake Leonard for the section lead.

“Some of our seniors had never played football before, but that didn’t stop them from giving us everything they had,” Darby said. “This was a great lesson for the younger kids.”

Leonard would end the contest tied with senior linebacker Jesse Etienne for the team lead in tackles with 11 on the night. Senior cornerback Trevor Heyer added 10 but could not augment his six interceptions, which continue to lead not just Section III but all of Division V.

Senior Bryce Wantland scored the only CVHS touchdown on a four-yard fly sweep within the first minute of the second quarter and led the team with 84 all-purpose yards. The Panthers, however, responded with 28 straight points that put the game away by halftime.

For the full story and standings, please see the Wednesday, Oct. 28, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

In every Camp Verde High School football season, a little rain must fall.

senior Bryce wantland does his best to shake off the defense of Joy Christian School during a  34-yard pass reception Friday, Oct. 16, at Camp Verde High School. Most of the first half of a 47-0 shutout home loss for the Cowboys was played in the rain.

During the first half of their Friday, Oct. 16, battle for the Division V, Section III lead with undefeated Joy Christian School, the precipitation poured down on the side of the Cowboys.

“We were happy to see the rain come,” head coach Steve Darby said. “When you’ve got a real wet field, wet ball, wet hands ... I think we really surprised them. I think they underestimated us.”

Senior Trevor Heyer made his Division V-leading sixth interception to spark a stout second-quarter defensive stand, limiting the Eagles to two touchdown runs by senior quarterback Matt Mitchell and a slim 13-0 halftime lead.

“We got the first interception this quarterback’s had all season,” Darby said. “We were chasing their quarterback all night long. I don’t think he’s used to having people in his face like that.”

But in the second half, the rain stopped falling, and with it fell a two-game Cowboys winning streak, 47-0, as Joy Christian poured on five touchdowns.

“This is the second-lowest total that they’ve scored on anybody this year,” Darby said. “I’m not proud about losing, but this is a pretty stacked team. It seemed like our guys kind of ran out of gas in the second half.”

For the full story and standings, please see the Wednesday, Oct. 21, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

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