Trips to Las Vegas to represent Arizona in the 8th Annual Sollenberger Classic are about a month away, but seem much closer with the opening of practice Monday for Mountain Pointe and Salpointe high schools.
Mountain Pointe, with its best season behind it in terms of advancement that fell short in its first title game ever, gets to try its hand against Vegasbig-school power Bishop Gorman on Aug. 23. The Pride returns enough talent and perhaps more to make a run at a return-title-game visit, led by fourth-year starter Jalen Brown (wide out and defensive back) and offensive lineman Natrell Curtis. Coach Norris Vaughan has molded Mountain Pointe into a consistent title contender as he begins his fifth season. Vaughan is 40-11 for the inaugural Ahwatukee school and the Pride has reached the playoffs each year he has been at the helm.
Bishop Gorman has been a worthy foe for Arizona teams in its other appearances at Sollenberger, losing tight games to Brophy and Hamilton and besting Chaparral in 2011. It will be a tough opener for sure for Mountain Pointe. The Pride, however, follows up the Bishop Gorman game with matchups vs. North, Cesar Chavez and Maryvale. Their ultimate success or failure comes the four games after that — Chandler, Hamilton, Desert Vista and Brophy.
Salpointe, which opens its season a day later (Aug. 24) in Vegas against Nevada big-school runnerup Liberty High (Henderson, Nev.) has some firepower of its own from last year. Wide out Cameron Denson, quarterback Andrew Cota and transfer Kalien DeBoskie supply coach Dennis Bene with an aerial arsenal difficult to slow. Salpointe bowed out in the Division II semifinals last season with a loss to Centennial. This only a couple weeks removed from dealing eventual champ Ironwood Ridge its only loss of the season. Bene has compiled an impressive record in 12 seasons at Salpointe (112-28), but has yet to come away with a state title.
After its game with Liberty, Salpointe takes on Sabino, Crespi (Encino, Calif.) and Sunnyside. Crespi handed the Lancers one of their two losses last year. After a week off following the Sunnyside game, Salpointe faces Marcos de Niza, a D-II semfiinalist in 2012. Games it should win vs. Marana Mountain View, Rincon and Vista Grande are next. The Lancers final tough test potentially comes in its ninth game against defending D-II champ Ironwood Ridge.
The rest of Arizona schools pretty much begin workouts en masse on Monday Aug. 5. The first full slate of prep games around the state is Friday Aug. 30.