Oct. 13, 2004 - First place in the 1A-3A South Region will be on the line, Oct. 15, when the Desert Christian Eagles' soccer squad will travel to the Northwest to take on Green Fields Country Day School.
The end of the season match up will pit first place Desert Christian (16-2-0, 6-0 in south region) against the No. 2 Griffins of Green Fields in a battle that will likely determine the region's final standings for the state tournament.
For Green Fields (11-2-2, 4-0-1) a win over the Eagles would avenge a loss to Desert Christian last season and set the Griffins up to host a state playoff game. In the 1A-3A conference, four teams from each region advance to the state playoffs. The top two squads from each region earn the right to host a home game while the third and fourth place teams must take to the road to destinations such as Phoenix, Show Low and Lakeside.
Last year's game against Desert Christian was what Green Fields head coach Matt Smith described as a "defensive battle." Although both schools have risen to the top of the region on the strength of their offensive firepower, Smith foresees the same type of game as the previous year's to develop.
"I expect the same this year," said Smith who hopes to reverse last season's scoring woes against the Eagles. "We just couldn't get it going."
Smith anticipates a Desert Christian team that will mirror the same style of play that his veteran Green Fields squad has used in dismantling opponents. The Eagles will spread the ball around with short passes rather than stretching the field with long "dump and run" style.
"They are similar to us," said Smith. "Goals have been easy to come by."
Scoring in bunches wasn't always easy for the Griffins. What separates this year's squad from last season's and even from the team at the start of this year is the ability to score. The senior-laden Griffins squad is getting more support for its forwards as the season progresses and thus creating more scoring opportunities, said Smith.
"Now we know how to score." Last season the Griffins relied heavily on two senior scorers to provide all the offense. This year, Smith's team is working more as a unit to blend its newfound scoring touch with stiff defense.
"This year it's more of a team effort," said Smith.
With the state tourney seemingly at their fingertips, Green Fields will have to avoid the temptation of looking past Desert Christian and into the post season. The private school has never won a state tournament game in its history.
Desert Christian has an idea what kind of squad the Griffins will bring.
"We expect them to be real physical and to use their quickness," said Eagle's assistant coach Steve Lord.
It is by no coincidence that the match up with Desert Christian comes on Green Field's Senior Night. Coaches scheduled the game to give the outgoing class a tough, meaningful game in which to close out their high school career. Smith's squad is loaded with veteran leadership with its 10 seniors. Ordinarily a loss of that many players could mean that this year's run to the state playoffs may be the school's last for a while, but Smith is confident in his players and is looking forward to a big incoming freshman class next year.
As for the current Griffins, Adam Olson and Dylan Calmes will be asked to continue the offense that made them the team's leading scorers. With the two senior's scoring touch and the crafty play of team leader Jordan Van Wyck, Smith likes the balance of brains and brawn he sees in his team.
"He's scored more than one goal by using his brain," said Smith of Van Wyck.
Those smarts will be asked to shut down an Eagle's offense led by sophomore Daniel Harting and his team high 12 assists and 12 goals. Harting has been setting up scorers Stephen Sheaffer (17 goals) and Zach Jones. On defense Desert Christian is anchored by senior, team captain Erick Coykendall. Unlike the Griffins, the Eagles are young having only four seniors on its squad.
The game against the Eagles will be the last true test for a team slowly building itself into a contender.
"Little by little we are building our team up," said Green Fields' assistant coach Jorge Guarin.
Desert Christian will take on the Griffins at 4 p.m., Oct. 15, at Green Fields Country Day School, 6000 N. Camino de la Tierra. The state playoffs will begin Oct. 29 and 30 and conclude a week later Nov. 1 and 2.