Although it will be a tall order, the Chino Valley High boys' soccer team needs only one more win to reach the 2012 Division IV state tournament championship match Saturday at Campo Verde H.S. in Gilbert.
Standing between the No. 3-seeded Cougars and their first trip to the state final since they won the title in 2008 is none other than stalwart No. 2 seed and three-time defending D-IV champion Lakeside Blue Ridge (2009-11), which they will tackle in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday at Campo Verde.
"First of all, we have to just play and not think like Blue Ridge is some kind of untouchable (opponent)," longtime Chino Valley coach Jim Clark said. "We're strong, strong contenders. If we get a break and we play to our potential, we could win this thing."
As one of the top four seeds in the 12-team state tournament, the Cougars (18-3 overall record) received a first-round bye and advanced to the semis by blanking 11th-seeded Round Valley, 11-0, in the quarterfinals last Saturday at home.
Blue Ridge (18-1-2) topped 10th-seeded Show Low, 5-1, in its quarterfinal clash.
If Chino defeats the Yellow Jackets and moves on to the state title match, the Cougars would battle the winner of the other semifinal game pitting top-seeded Phoenix Desert Christian vs. fifth-seeded Payson. That semifinal showdown will be played at 7 p.m. Friday, also at Campo Verde.
A winner will be crowned after the state championship match at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Campo Verde. The Cougars won state titles in 2000 and 2008 and are gunning for their third championship in the past 13 seasons.
At the beginning of the 2012 campaign, on Aug. 31, Chino Valley lost to Blue Ridge, 2-1, during the Cougars' annual Chino Cup tournament. CVHS also split two matches against Payson this season, 3-0 (W, Sept. 8) and 1-0 (L, Oct. 13) and lost to Desert Christian, 3-2, in the Chino Cup on Sept. 1.
However, Clark said his team has improved over the past two months, particularly by incorporating more players into its attack and finishing shot opportunities.
The Yellow Jackets are a decent passing team that relies heavily on its No. 1 goal scorer, senior striker Knoah Brosemann, who has recorded 32 goals and notched 22 assists.
"That match could've gone either way, and we just hope we've outworked them from then to now," Clark said of the Cougars' setback to Blue Ridge in late August. "We think we can match up pretty good with them. They play a style we can play with - nothing real unusual."
During this fall's regular season, the Cougars outscored the opposition an astounding 94-8 in 20 matches (includes non-league games).
Sophomore forward Geovani Vedolla paces Chino's potent offense. He registered a team-high 25 goals, while junior forward Jose Beltran booted 17.
But junior sweeper Jonathan Alvarez is one of the Cougars' most gifted all-around players, as he tallied 11 goals and 10 assists.
Senior central midfielder Kiki Cornelio and MF Antonio Soto are Chino's best distributors. Cornelio and Soto led the team in assists with 15 and 14 helpers, respectively.
While the Cougars' offense is strong, it has clearly benefited from a staunch defense that pitched shutouts in nine of Chino's 12 conference matches.
Left outside back Chayanne Gomez, sweeper Daniel Fiqueroa and stopper Mario Ayala guide the unit.
"My stopper (Ayala) is one of the only defenders that my offense can't beat," Clark said.
Four years removed from their last state championship, Clark said he believes his current squad is just as sturdy, if not sturdier, than the 2008 title-winning squad, which possessed a sterling defense.
"That was a great soccer team (in '08), but this team is better in many ways," the coach said. "We were reliant on athleticism (back then). Our team play and the number of people that we rely on (now) are more diverse than that team."