Year That Was 2021

Year That Was: October’s Top Five Developments in Southern Arizona



Ironwood Ridge golf state champs again (Andy Morales/

Ironwood Ridge entered the final round of the 2021 Division II State Championship on Oct. 26 up by only one stroke over Section I rival Salpointe but the Nighthawks put together an incredible final day that saw the program finish ahead of the Lancers 573 to 588. The 1-under-par second round of 283, and the 15-stroke victory, helped the Nighthawks win their third state title in a row at the Omni Tucson National. Ironwood Ridge because the first team from Southern Arizona to win three titles in a row and only Central (1965-1967), Chaparral (1999-2002), Cactus Shadows (2016-2018) and numerous Xavier teams recorded state championship streaks of three or more in a row in the state. Xavier did it three times with championship streaks of 8, 12 and 16 in its history. The team members coached by Doug Krautz and their finishes in the state tournament: (6th) Raina Ports (+1), (t9th) Celia Schrecker (+2), (t9th) Zoe Newell (+2), (14) Hannah Ports (+5) and (21st) Makenna Brown (+10).


FC Tucson graphic

FC Tucson’s playoff dreams finally turned into a reality following a 4-2 win Oct. 30 at Kino North Stadium over the Richmond Kickers. Making the playoffs was like a fantasy for the club at the end of June, when they were 3-6-1 and had just parted ways with former coach John Galas. After the win over Richmond, the Men In Black clinched the fourth-seed in the USL League One heading into the postseason with an 11-10-7 record with 40 points. They are the first FC Tucson team to make it to the USL League One playoffs. “What a night for the community, what a night for our fans. It’s certainly very emotional for me,” said head coach Jon Pearlman, who replaced Galas on an interim basis before becoming the permanent coach last month. “I was given the opportunity and I’m just continuing to be grateful that we can continue to play for our fans-in front of our fans. I believe in this team. Once we went on a run, I believed this was a playoff-level team. We put ourselves in great position. We relinquished that position (with some late-season setbacks), but ultimately, Richmond’s a good matchup for us.”


Pima women’s soccer team (Pima photo)

Former Ironwood Ridge standout Alyssa Kopach scored two match-winning goals Oct. 30 to help send Pima to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament as the champion of NJCAA Region I, Division II for the first time since 2015. Kopach scored the winner in a 2-0 victory over Mesa in the championship final in the 20th minute on an assist from former Catalina Foothills standout Caitlyn Maher. Former Cienega freshman Delaney Buntin scored in the 66th minute to close out the match. Kopach scored a golden goal in a 1-0 victory over Scottsdale in double overtime to send the Aztecs to the final against Mesa.


Salpointe’s Mackenzie McRee (Andy Morales/
Ironwood Ridge’s Brasen Briones (Andy Morales/

Salpointe senior Mackenzie McRee picked up her second individual state title on Oct. 26 thanks to a 3-under 138 to hold off Makenzie Cooper of Canyon View (140) and Marley Moncada of Cienega (140). McRee won the 2018 state title as a freshman. Cooper and Moncada are also seniors and they were followed by another senior in Salpointe standout Susie Gietl (141) and Desert Edge junior Evan Heinz (141). Ironwood Ridge sophomore Brasen Briones put together an incredible 8-under 138 to take the boys state championship. Briones is the first champion from the Tucson area since 2016 and the sophomore will be part a large contingent of golfers competing for the top sport next year with only three seniors finishing in the top ten.


Adia Barnes and husband Salvo Coppa (Andy Morales/

An extremely long 606 days separated the last time Arizona’s fans could enter McKale Center to when the Wildcats beat Eastern New Mexico 84-25 in an exhibition on Oct. 28. So much happened in between that last game against Cal on Senior Day on March 1, 2020 (lost by the Wildcats in an upset) to when Adia Barnes’ team won the tip as the 5,948 filed in. COVID-19 … Barnes giving birth to a daughter (who turned 1 on Sept. 15) … Aari McDonald’s last season with no fans in the stands because of the pandemic … a historical and magical run to the national championship game … Sam Thomas delighting everyone announcing she will return for a fifth season … Cate Reese adding to the elation saying she will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility and play two more seasons for Barnes. McKale’s fans also had their first glimpse of Taylor Chavez in an Arizona uniform. The Surprise Valley Vista High School graduate transferred from Pac-12 rival Oregon during the off-season. She joined two other newcomers from Power 5 schools — Ariyah Copeland of Alabama and Koi Love of Vanderbilt. Aaronette Vonleh, a freshman from Portland, was in the first wave of reserves showing she came to Tucson meaning business. Although it was an exhibition — the regular-season opener is Nov. 9 against Cal State-Northridge at McKale Center — the evening still carried a lot of meaning because of the anticipation of Barnes’ return to McKale with her program one of the best in the nation.

NEXT: A look at the top five developments of November 2021

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FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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