By: Ralph Amsden
With Chandler boys soccer set to take on Sandra Day O’Connor for the division 1 state title game this afternoon at Campo Verde High (Also available on Fox Sports AZ- click here for a channel guide), it seems to be a fitting time to look back at the last group of Wolves’ boys (now men) to play for a state championship.
The 1998-99 Chandler boys soccer team didn’t exactly have lofty expectations. Chandler had a new head coach in Ed Brooks, and had graduated several talented seniors the previous summer. It had been years since the boys had anything resembling success in the state playoffs anyway, and to top it all off, they were playing in the shadow of a girls basketball team that had rightfully earned the nickname “Team of the Century.”
The 1999 team opened with a 4-2 loss to Gilbert, and went into a much hyped game against then-powerhouse Corona del Sol with a record of 2-2. The Wolves hoped to score an upset against the Aztecs, a team that current Chandler coach Sasha Hunter won a title with back in 1994, and get their season back on track. What happened instead was one of the more crushing losses in program history, with the Wolves falling to Corona by a score of 9-1. “It was seriously embarrassing. We got thrashed,” said Adam Coburn, a senior on the 1999 squad.
As luck would have it, Chandler was able to face the three teams they suffered early season losses to (besides Corona)- Gilbert, McClintock and Mountain Pointe. The Wolves didn’t waste an opportunity to get revenge, beating Gilbert 4-2, McClintock 5-1 and Mountain Pointe 3-1 en route to the season finale against Corona in a game that would determine the Central region championship.
“They had the home field advantage,” said Coburn. “And we took them to two overtimes and a shootout, and we ended up beating them, and then riding that momentum into the playoffs.” Corona led Chandler 2-0 at halftime before the Wolves came storming back behind goals from Eli Brown-Stevenson and Jean Nelson, and stellar play in goal from Shawn Haller. Chandler’s Sean Johnson was responsible for the game-winning penalty kick, and coach Ed Brooks told AZPreps365 reporter Les Willsey, who was with the Tribune at the time, that the victory was “sweet revenge.”
Chandler ended the regular season 10-4-1 in region play, and did enough to earn a home game against Central in the first round of the playoffs. Coburn said that while he believes Chandler was the far better team, the Wolves had to struggle to earn the 2-1 victory. In the quarterfinals, the Wolves traveled to Tucson to take on Salpointe, and according to Coburn, the refs as well. “That was the one game where I felt like the officials were not making fair calls. We actually lost forwards Mike Mortensen and Jean Nelson to red cards during the game and had to play on the road two men down.” Somehow, Chandler managed to hold off the Lancers’ attacks with only nine men on the field, securing the 2-1 win and earning a trip to Mesa Community College to play Brophy in the semifinals.
16 years ago, much like they are now, Brophy was a force to be reckoned with on the pitch. With Mortensen and Nelson out due to the previous games’ red cards, the Wolves had to give it everything they had to stay in the game. With 10 minutes remaining, Eli Brown-Stevenson had a free kick deflect off the crossbar and it was Adam Coburn who kicked the deflection past Brophy’s keeper and sent the Wolves to the title game.
In the title game the Wolves faced defending champion Dobson, a team that Coburn called “stacked.” “Pretty much every guy played club, and as far as talent level, they were just a much superior team.” The Wolves ended up losing to Dobson in the championship 3-1, a game that saw Coburn get a concussion in the first half and attempt to play in the second half “without really knowing where I was or who my guy as center-stopper was supposed to be.”
Coburn said that despite Chandler lacking elite talent or playing the prettiest soccer, the Wolves were able to accomplish what they did that year through “heart and determination.” While the Wolves didn’t have a ton of fans coming out to the games outside of the players good friends, girlfriends and family, Coburn also said that one of the people to show the most support was principal Robert Caccamo, who was in his final year in that role. “He was just a guy who loved the game, and loved the success we were having.”
While the 2015 team is hardly an underdog like the 1999 team was, coach Sasha Hunter and star players Don Tchilao, Andrew Layton and Carter Rumsey and company are looking to stand on the shoulders of the upstart Wolves team from the end of last century and take the next step to bring the title to 350 North Arizona Avenue.