West Valley Preps
GILBERT – Northwest Christian’s best rebounders this winter are – surprisingly – on the girls soccer team.
The Crusaders scored all three goals in their 3A state semifinal Feb. 13 after their attack was deflected in the box and knocked in.
The #2 seed Northwest Christian girls (13-4) used those rebounds to grab a 3-0 lead by halftime at Williams Field High School in Gilbert. Then Jeff Penzone’s defense shut down #6 Fountain Hills (14-7-1) in the second half to cruise to the program’s first finals appearance since 2010.
“Our freshmen are good players, but they’ve developed. This group has connected so incredibly – their fellowship, support and how they help one another out. It is unbelievable for a coach to watch that,” Penzone said. “Fountain Hills is a good team. They’re missing one of their good players because of an injury and another one got a red card in the last game, I think. But we were relentless – pedal-to-the-medal all game.”
They will be the team in black jerseys again Friday night – a fact the players celebrated post-game. #5 seed Anthem Prep (13-2-1) stunned #1 Yuma Catholic (16-2-1) in Tuesday’s first semifinal.
The Northwest Christian girls and Anthem Prep make the long trip back to Williams Field for the finals, which begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15.
The Crusaders defeated the Eagles 3-1 at home Jan. 29. But to Penzone, that might as well be a year ago and the teams know each other well.
“We’ve played them once. And I’ve coached (youth soccer) up there. Their little forward Olivia (Friedman) was on my under 10 team. Their head coach Scott (Gibbons) have coached together at Anthem soccer club,” Penzone said.
His team came out flooding the Falcons’ area in the semifinal and rarely relented. In the seventh minute, the Fountain Hills keeper deflected sophomore Rachel Cooning’s cross.
But freshman Makenzi Wise made no mistake with the rebound and it was 1-0.
The final two Crusaders goals came in the final five minutes of the half and were virtually identical. Both times, the Northwest Christian girls earned a throw in near goal and let Logan Maszton do her thing.
Maszton launched a pair of flipping throws right into the box and caused defensive breakdowns. Both times, Fountain Hills could not clear and paid for it.
Junior Belle Ress put away the first opportunity with 4:45 on the clock. Maszton’s younger sister Lauren, another freshman, did the same at the 2:17 mark.
“With the weapons we have for long throws and corner kicks, we are able to take advantage of it,” Penzone said. “Logan’s ability to throw caused chaos, 100 percent.”
In the second half, the Crusaders still dominated the ball and only allowed one dangerous scoring chance.
“I have the upmost respect for that program. Jeff Penzone and I coached together at Southwestern College, which is now Arizona Christian. He’s been a part of their boys and girls program and both have been excellent,” Falcons coach Matt Wiehl said. “I told our girls that excellent teams make it hard on their opponents and that’s exactly what they did.”
Fountain Hills is a young team that dealt with injuries and a lack of depth all season.
But this proud program – state champions in 2014, 2016 and 2017 – probably maxed out this year in just making the semifinals.
“All season this team has suffered from some type of adversity. The numbers have been low. The injuries have been frequent. But their spirit has been super impressive and it’s not something I’m going to forget,” Wiehl said. “Before the playoffs, we discussed how we can use the players that have been to the state championship to our advantage.”
Penzone’s last game as Northwest Christian boys soccer coach in 2014 was the Division III state final against Scottsdale Coronado.
Friday night, he’ll have the opportunity to watch that same matchup in the 3A boys final before his Northwest Christian girls make the night a Crusaders doubleheader.
“When I was with the boys, we had one other doubleheader and it was (2009?). It’ll be great because the boys were unbelievable last night – one of the best games I’ve seen,” Penzone said. “Both the boys and girls programs are blessed with the kids they’ve got and the workrate and winning attitude they have.”