Like many newer Arizona high schools, Shadow Ridge has a gym full of detailed banners that track its teams playoff appearances along with state and region titles and runner up finished.
Entering this season, only one sport had a blank banner.
The best boys soccer team in school history already filled the empty space. Shadow Ridge was No. 16 seed in the 6A bracket and lost 2-1 tp No. 17 Phoenix Camelback Thursday.
“When I came here my freshman year we had an assembly in the gym. All the banners were up for all the sports and everything had, like, an accomplishment. We just didn’t. Our past seasons weren’t the best. I knew we were going to turn around and definitely become a better team. I had no idea this much,” senior midfielder Brayden Herrera said. “Our school has never seen that before. It’s that trust factor and the chemistry has gotten so much better.”
Shadow Ridge finished the regular season with a 17-2-2 record and won its first region title, finishing 5-0 in West Valley play.
Their team and their names will go on the banner.
“We felt strong about at least having a go at region championship. Just because we were so young and we did reasonably well with our youth last year. We also were going to be a bit senior heavy,” fourth-year coach Andrew Engwall said.
When Engwall arrived, the closest thing the Stallions program had to a winning season was 7-8-1 in 2013-14 under Scott Bergeron — now the Paradise Honors girls coach.
A one-win team in 2018-19 inched up to two when Engwall arrived and this year’s seniors were freshmen.
It was three wins in the short 2021 season Now a senior, full back Dominic Calandra said as the team continued to get more players and bigger freshman classes, players began to trust each other’s ability more.
The 2021-22 team was a breakthrough unit, finishing 10-10-1. But a late four-game losing streak left the Stallions out of the playoffs.
“As we began to win more, everyone would do more and work harder. Last season didn’t end like we wanted to. But everyone showed up and worked hard and trusted each other,” Calandra said.
Engwall said in the growing years, he and his staff tried to keep the systems as simple as possible while challenging the kids to raise the bar.
This year’s team scored 70 goals in 21 games.
“We don’t like to sit back and wait for things to happen. We don’t play cynical. We play aggressive and we press. We like to score goals and at the same time, we’ve got a hell of a goalkeeper in Eli Anderson,” Engwall said.
Instead of a drop off after the top 7-10 players, he said, this squad is 16 deep.
“It was a bit of a feeling out period in the beginning because we knew we were going to have these good transfers coming in but at the same time we needed to develop some depth,” Engwall said. “Our tournaments were sort of a good barometer for that. We had our first one here, and the first one Dysart has had for boys soccer. Jose Partida of Dysart and I are friends and had talked about it.”
At this Battle of the 303 Tournament, Shadow Ridge scheduled a match in the middle of the day, and Principal Kevin Cashatt let the kids come to the game if they wanted to. There were 200 kids in the stands, Engwall said.
“For a long time, it was crickets out here,” he said.
Shadow Ridge beat Dysart, a 4A playoff team.
“We had a whole student section filled out. It looked like a state football game. And we beat Dysart, who’s a very good team,” Herrera said.
Draws with Maryvale and Desert Ridge teams that beat the Stallions in recent years helped.
They beat four teams to win the Bohdie Larson Celebration Classic in Mesa. But the biggest victory was Jan. 10 in Yuma.
“We went down to Cibola and were down 2-0 at half time and won that one 4-2. That’s when the coaches and I looked at each other and were like, ‘These guys are staring to figure it out.’”
Cibola is the No. 14 team in 6A, and was the sixth win in a 13-game streak Shadow Ridge takes to the playoffs.
Junior Alex Hardin (17 goals) and sophomore Jacob Engwall (15 goals) are the finishers.
Calandra also said sophomores Curtis Steward and Logan Henley are among the two most improved players in the program.
“Our young guys were challenging for minutes and showed they could produce. That was huge. Then you’ve got guys that are older looking over their shoulders and thinking, ‘Oh crap, these guys are coming for my position, I need to step up,’” Engwall said. “The general depth at every position has helped us tremendously.”
But Andrew Engwall and Herrera said the most important piece is the stopper, sophomore goalkeeper Eli Anderson.
“Eli is so calm on the ball. He started on JV his freshman year and he’s improved amazingly this season. He’s a top six goalkeeper in the state right now,” Herrera said.
Herrera said the coaching staff set the goal to finish above .750 in winning percentage, which this team met.
The Stallions also recently started a booster program and are in a position to improve for years.
“The coaches have a different perspective that some of the players don’t get to see,” Calandra said. “To be honest, it’s easier to play when all the guys are fighting and are on the same page. That’s a tribute to the coaches.”
Richard Smith Associate Editor | Surprise and West Valley Preps @rsmithYWV
Richard Smith has been with Independent Newsmedia since 2016, and worked at a Sun City-based news outfit covering the Northwest Valley for 22 consecutive years.
An NAU alum and lifelong Arizona resident, Richard began as a copy editor and page designer at Surprise Today and the Daily News-Sun, then rekindled his love of sports writing by taking the reins on West Valley Preps in 2008.
For most of the mid-2010s he was the Surprise editor and West Valley Preps reporter. Now he’s the West Valley Preps Editor and Surprise Associate Editor.
As COVID restrictions slowly lift, Richard is cautiously optimistic he will visit book stores, football fields and gyms again this fall.