Close to home: Few Matador programs get many recruits out of Yuma County
There seemed to be a pattern in the Arizona Western athletic rosters last season.
Three of the eight programs carried one player from Yuma County on the roster — another program carried only two. Meanwhile, one sport used a third of its roster on Yuma County athletes, and another program had nearly half of the players from the area.
This imbalance is most likely evidence of the strength and popularity of the respective sports in the area. Baseball, for example, carried 11 of its 30 players from Yuma, Somerton and San Luis. In fact, of the eight position players to have at least 100 at-bats, three — Antonio Mendoza, Hector Valenzuela and Claudio Valencia — were from the area. The Matadors went 33-24 overall and made the postseason for the first time since 2006.
Like baseball, soccer seemed to have a higher amount of players from the area than other programs. On its 31-player roster, 14 were from Yuma County — and they finished 16-3-2 and made the Region I semifinals.
“We've had a lot of great players in this area,” soccer coach Kenny Dale said. “Right now, between the ages of 18-26, we probably have the best players that have ever played in the area. This is a great generation of players and we've benefited from that. When I look for quality players, the talent in Yuma is good enough and every year there's half a dozen players that fit right in.”
The top four point scorers for the Matadors all came from the area: Marcos Garcia, Erik Luzanilla, Donal Landrum and Jose Medina. According to Dale, the talent pool of soccer players in the area has made looking elsewhere for talent secondary.
“My sport has very good talent locally. We always go after the local talent first and maybe they'll say, ‘No, I want to go to Phoenix. I want to do this. I want to do that.' And that forced us to California,” said Dale, whose Matadors carried 10 players from California this past season.
Nikki Bethurum, the softball coach who recently signed local players Summer Ehrig, Jackie Pierson and Mariah Caro, carried four Yuma players on the roster in the 2012 season.
All of the AWC coaches will look in Yuma, attending high school games in the area, to try to discover a recruit. But while every athletic program had at least one member from Yuma County on the roster, some had to settle for quality over quantity. Men's basketball, which came within a win of making the NJCAA Division I national tournament, had only one player — Charles Weekly — from Yuma. And Weekly took a redshirt last year.
“We want to give everybody an excellent opportunity,” men's basketball coach Charles Harral said. “I think there are some excellent basketball players here in Yuma. We're in full support of having kids from Yuma, they just have to be the right fit at the same time and help you win. We won the region last season and we have to have the caliber players to do that every year. It doesn't matter if (they're from) Brazil, Japan or Yuma.”
Brontee Simpson, likewise, was the only Yuma-area player on the women's basketball team that went 26-5 overall and advanced to the Region I finals. Carolyn Sosa, from San Luis, was the only area player on the volleyball team that went 12-9 and advanced to the Region I finals. Both saw limited time on the floor last year. This past season, two prep volleyball teams and one girls basketball team from the area made the state tournament. Each lost in the first round.
In the most successful program at Arizona Western last year, the football team that played in the national championship, two of the 68-player roster were from Yuma: Michael Terry and J.C. Baker. In the sport that easily draws players from more places than any other program at the school, football coach Tom Minnick believes he may have a legitimate player in Baker, who played for Yuma High.
“It took (Baker) a year to look at it and say can he do this?” Minnick said. “And he was a kid who worked his butt off and lifted and did everything he needed to do to prepare himself to play here. And he can play here.
“It takes a special person to play college football and there's only so many out there. And he's going to be able to play at this level.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson