High school athletics programs in Chandler didn’t skip a beat this school year despite the interruption from the pandemic.
Eight Chandler programs were crowned champions throughout the entire 2020-21 season, with five senior athletes winning individual championships in their respective sports.
Hamilton senior Neha Shakir kicked off the 2020-21 season with a singles championship in badminton. In many ways, the championship win was redemption for Shakir. As a junior, she fell in the quarterfinals as the No. 6 overall seed in the 2019 tournament.
While Shakir represented Hamilton, Dayton Carlson ran to an individual state championship in Division II cross country in November. The Casteel senior finished the 5K race in 15 minutes, 6.1 seconds, nearly 18 seconds faster than the second-place runner.
Carlson also went on to shine on the track for Casteel in the spring, helping lead the Colts to the Division II track & field state title. They finished fifth in cross country.
The fall sports season also presented an opportunity for teams to capture their first-ever championship in their respective sport. And despite being one of the powerhouse programs in the state, Hamilton’s girls’ volleyball program finally managed to get over the hump.
The Huskies finished 17-2 overall on the year and won the 6A Conference title for the first time in program history. It was the fourth championship overall the Huskies had competed in, losing the previous three. Jahara Campbell was one of the few seniors on the young Hamilton squad, but she made the most of her opportunity with 194 total kills on the season.
“They have just established Hamilton as one of the programs,” Hamilton coach Sharon Vanis said in November. “These kids, they feed off that. They take pride in that, not only on the court, but in the classroom, they want to be the best.
“We’ve had three state runner-up trophies, but we’ve never been able to get that final one.”
While the volleyball team got it done on the court, Hamilton’s golf program did the same on the links.
The Huskies dominated the field to win the championship by 12 strokes. Johnny Walker, a standout senior and University of Arizona commit, finished seventh overall to help lead his team to the championship.
The fall sports season was capped off with an exciting finish between Chandler and Hamilton in the Open Division football state championship in early December. The game between the two rivals came down to a last-second field goal that hooked left off the foot of Hamilton’s kicker.
Chaos ensued as Chandler players rushed the field to celebrate their fifth straight state championship. But there were soon tears from many of the Wolves’ seniors, including running back Eli Sanders who scored the opening touchdown of the game and was one of many seniors who led Chandler the entire season.
“These are the type of games we live for,” said Sanders, an Iowa State signee who rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the championship. “This is the type of game every athlete wants.”
Sanders was also part of the Chandler relay team that captured the 4x100-meter championship in the spring. He and fellow senior Tyson Tippett helped lead the Wolves to the boys’ state title while the girls also won in Division I.
The winter sports season brought much of the same for Chandler schools, as 3 senior wrestlers won individual titles – one of which led to a team championship.
Basha senior Amber Rodriguez captured the 145-pound state title in her final season with the Bears. It also led the team to win the program’s first-ever state championship.
Hamilton senior Elijah Sobas also won a gold medal this winter. Sobas, a California Baptist University commit, wrestled in and won the 195-pound class. He joined rival Zach Espalin in winning gold medals for Chandler male athletes.
Espalin, who signed to wrestle with the United State Naval Academy, won four straight state championships throughout his high school career at Chandler. Now he hopes to represent the Wolves on the NCAA’s biggest stage.
“It feels amazing knowing all my hard work towards this one goal paid off,” Espalin said in April. “It was a dream come true since I was little. Just knowing I accomplished that, it feels amazing.”
For the 13th time in program history, Seton Catholic’s girls’ basketball program was crowned a champion. Led by seniors Isabella DiGiovanni and Amanda Barcello, the Sentinels dominated yet again to win the title.
The final winter championship of the season came from the Casteel boys’ soccer program, which scored eight total goals in the title game. Senior Kaden Cameron was responsible for one of the goals against Ironwood, and 14 overall throughout the course of the season.
Much like the soccer program, Casteel’s boys’ volleyball program also dominated throughout the year. The Colts lost just one game all season and cruised to a 3-0 win in the 5A title game. Much of the team’s success fell on senior Kyler Evans, who had 306 total kills in his final season.
“(Evans) is just such a talented individual, such a great student-athlete,” Casteel coach Ryan Myen said. “He’s just a leader, he’s a captain on this team, he has fire, emotion and he just does things the right way.”
On the track along with Casteel and Chandler, Valley Christian’s boys’ and girls’ programs captured state titles. It’s the first time since 2009 both teams were crowned champions.