West Valley Preps
Ashley Armenta, Brenna Scott and the other Mountain Ridge girls soccer seniors could have rolled their eyes and concentrated on their club careers.
Another new coach — the third in their four years? Even if Peter Evans is the brother of former coach Doug Evans and was the JV coach last season, it would mean another new system of play.
Instead, the five seniors on the Mountain Lions’ roster, led by captains Armenta and Scott, have helped the new coach enact a turnaround. Mountain Ridge has not vaulted to the 6A elite, but this year’s 6-2 team has already exceeded the win totals (five) of the past two seasons.
“We always had the talent. I just think putting it together was the big issue. These two girls are leading the team. They’re very vocal and they have their own style,” Evans said. “I think we were lacking a little bit, as far as leadership in years past.”
Sophomores Ally Rybarczyk and Madalyn Wneta lead the Mountain Lions in goal scoring, with six and five respectively. But the heart of the team is the senior partnership that began on the fields of Christ’s Church of the Valley at age 10.
As a midfielder, Armenta said she is able to pinpoint where Scott will be based on the number of years the duo has played together.
“We definitely know each others’ runs and how we play. We know each others’ strengths,” Scott said.
The duo debuted on the varsity as freshmen in 2015-16. It was Kiera McMorrow’s final season as coach.
That year, Mountain Ridge played in Division II — basically today’s 5A. The team finished 6-5-4 and just missed a playoff berth.
“It was really intimidating because I was just a freshman and trying out with a lot of girls that were older than me. When we both made the varsity our freshman year, the seniors were very welcoming to us. It’s more fun now being in the seniors position and being the helping hands to all the underclassmen,” Armenta said.
In between were the two five-win season under Doug Evans. By the spring, Doug told Peter he needed a break from coaching.
Peter Evans was the Liberty girls varsity coach in 2016-17 but returned to Ridge — where he coached the boys team in 2013-14.
Evans said he did not know many of the current varsity players before the season.
“Transitioning from coach to coach kind of makes for a rocky start since we don’t have that gel with the coach and the team. But it’s always been the same girls. Getting used to the new coaching style has been rocky but by the second or third week we get used to it,” Scott said.
Peter Evans said he wanted to make the year more enjoyable. He emphasized a more attacking style.
Thus far, the Mountain Lions have adapted well, with an average of four goals per game.
“It’s an exciting time to be starting off this strong. In past seasons I’ve been nervous to start out,” Armenta said.
While Rybarczyk, Wneta and Scott (four goals) account for almost half of the Mountain Lions’ 32 scores, most of the team’s newfound attacking prowess begins with Armenta.
“Ashley is just all over the field. She’ll win the ball in the air and she’ll just distribute,” Evans said. “She runs the center and a lot of things flow through her.”
She also has more options than in previous seasons. Fourteen different Mountain Ridge players have scored at least one goal.
The schedule resumes after winter break and the Mountain Lions have matching 3-1 records in regular season and tournament play.
Mountain Ridge is ranked No. 12 in 6A entering the new year. Its season resumes Tuesday night, hosting Avondale Westview.
“We have a lot of really great offensive players this year. In just the first two games, most of our offensive players have scored,” Scott said.
More than skill, Armenta credits a good connection between upper and lower class men for the fast start. Evans said junior captain Ellie Chorpenning also is a vocal leader.
While he’s switched jobs several times recently, Evans said he is at Mountain Ridge for the long haul. His seniors sound equally committed to setting the program on the right path and defining it for years to come.
“We definitely want to grow together and set a program as Ridge soccer. We try to do a lot of team bonding outside of soccer,” Armenta said.
Evans said for the program to find its niche, the girls have to outwork other teams. In that regard, he is most impressed by a 4-0 away victory against Mesa Skyline Dec. 7.
The Coyotes, he said, were out working the Mountain Lions in the first half. His team adjusted and put in the effort to pull away after halftime.
Scott is one of the workers on the team, with her game-breaking speed.
“Brenna has excellent speed. We’ve put her outside and put a ball in space. She can outrun anybody on the field. She very good with the ball at her feet, with a great cutback move to find that cross,” Evans said.
The team will need every bit of effort to stay afloat in the brutal Desert Valley Region and achieve its goal of reaching a play-in game. Its 6-0 loss to last season’s 6A runner up Gilbert Perry could be as bad as it gets.
But neighborhood rival O’Connor and Phoenix Pinnacle are regular 6A contenders. Scottsdale Chaparral won the last two 5A titles before moving up.
And Evans knows first-hand how talented Liberty’s senior class is.
“They’re all friends with the O’Connor girls and the Liberty girls. They know the Pinnacle girls. It’s one of those things we can’t ignore. It’s going to be a tough last part of the season Evans said. “They’re building confidence every game. I believe by the time we get to region play, they’ll believe they can win any game. And I know, talent wise, we can hang with the other schools in the region.”
College looms after the season. Scott said she would like to play college soccer, but she may focus on the Barrett honors college program at ASU.
Armenta also is headed to Tempe, but will not be playing for the Sun Devils.
“I know how hard it can be to play a sport at a collegiate level. That was a decision I had to make with my family and we decided college soccer would probably not be the best because of my major. I’ve gotten into the ASU engineering program for chemical engineering — and that takes a lot of studying and effort. I don’t think its practical to study this and play college soccer,” she said.