ALA soccer faces a new challenge as it moves to 5A

The first opportunity players will have to do so will be on September 2 when ALA takes on Verrado High School in its opening game. The team’s first game in front of their home crowd comes two weeks later, on September 16, against South Mountain High School.

The American Leadership Academy (ALA)-Queen Creek football team faces a new challenge this season as it enters the 5A conference after a successful season in 4A last year. Last year, ALA played in region 4A Desert Sky, where they went undefeated in their conference and region, losing just once in the regular season to eventual open division state champions Saguaro High School.

The team’s performances in recent years have earned it a place in 5A as ALA have been among the best teams in their class for the past few years. Three seasons ago, when the team was playing in 3A, it went 9-1 en route to the state championship, convincingly beating Benjamin Franklin High School. The team then moved up to 4A, where it posted a 7-1 record in its first season, followed by last season’s 9-1 finish.

Last postseason, instead of entering the 4A playoffs, the ALA was placed in the open division where they faced off against the top soccer schools in Arizona. The open division for the playoffs is made up of the top eight teams in the state from all conferences, chosen based on team record and schedule strength. ALA placed eighth, meaning they faced the top-ranked team, Hamilton High School, in the first round.

“We ended up ranking No. 8 overall in state and open (division) spots, which was, you know, it was a blessing and a curse,” said ALA head football coach Ty Detmer. “I couldn’t compete for a 4A state championship, but no charter school has been in that position before, to be ranked in the top 10 in Arizona. So, we were excited about that and also about the opportunity to play against a team like Hamilton.”

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While ALA fell 38-14 against Hamilton, the team’s performances over the course of the season still shone and led the team to move up to 5A ahead of this season. Moving up to 5A means ALA will play at bigger and better schools, a test the team feels ready for.

“The schedule gets tougher and we have a lot to prove, that we need to be there and we deserve to be there,” Detmer said. “As far as the players are concerned, that’s the motivation to work hard and put in the time and effort, so the motivation is there. We have a lot to prove this year, that we belong there.”

While ALA has played 5A and 6A schools in previous seasons, taking on 5A competition each week is a different animal altogether. Detmer said if they want to make a run this year, the team can’t take any bye weeks, because there are no easy games anymore.

“You look at your schedule and there are no games where you start saying, ‘Okay, we can get more JV guys ready for this week.’ In the past in 4A there were a handful of games where there was a big discrepancy, but this year with our schedule in 5A there are none of those,” Detmer said. “So we’re going to be in tight games every week we feel like it and hopefully the little things will help you get ahead.”

One thing the coaching staff will rely on in close games this year is the big senior class. Detmer said he expects the vast majority of offensive and defensive starters to be seniors, many of whom have been with the team since he started playing at 4A.

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The team’s veterans have played an important role leading up to this season, showing the younger players how to train and prepare for the season. While the team is full of experience, there are still some players who will have to take on a bigger role this season. The team will have a new quarterback this season in the senior year, Drew Cowart, who Detmer says has taken on the job very well.

“He’s had a good offseason, a good summer, we just have to put it all together in a real football game. Seven-on-7 is one thing, but real football is another,” said Detmer. “Then we replaced our linebackers from last year, so we have to have some guys step up and fill those roles. But with a lot of seniors that gives you some experience, a little bit of maturity, and hopefully those guys who take on those roles will be up to the challenge.”

The first opportunity players will have to do so will be on September 2 when ALA takes on Verrado High School in its opening game. The team’s first game in front of their home crowd comes two weeks later, on September 16, against South Mountain High School.

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