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In his first high school contact game, Camp Verde High School senior Jaysen Leonard ran for two touchdowns but the Cowboys couldn’t stop Sedona Red Rock High School from scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1:16 to play to defeat the Cowboys, 20-13.

Sophomore quarterback Payton Sarkesian scrambles to elude the rush of Sedona Red Rock High School senior Tim Hall and junior Danny Avelar, from right, during Camp Verde High School’s 20-13 opening road loss Friday, Aug. 21. Sarkesian kept the ball eight times, gaining 72 yards on the ground in the loss.
Leonard carried the ball nine times for 96 yards and two touchdowns — the second his longest run of the night, which helped put CVHS ahead, 13-12, with 4:41 to play after he slipped around left end 54 yards down the sidelines.

“I felt like I was on top of the world,” he said after the Cowboys’ opener Friday, Aug. 21, at SRRHS. “It felt good getting in the end zone.”

Leonard, who had previously only played flag football, was also the leading receiver on the night for the Cowboys with 58 yards on four catches.

He was held back, however, from playing both ways and joining his teammates on defense due to a bruised hip, head coach Steve Darby said.

“Wait [un]til he gets full strength,” he said. “For having never played football before, he’s doing a great job, and as long as he stays healthy, he’ll get better.”

Leonard’s first touchdown came on a similar play with 48 seconds to go in the first quarter. Senior kicker Kyle Little’s extra point gave CVHS its first lead, 7-6.

But the very next drive, 2:40 later, senior Justice Keane’s four-yard run got the Scorpions the lead back, 12-7.

The two teams failed to score for virtually the next 30 minutes of a back-and-forth night in which both units struggled with penalties — and fellow senior Trevor Heyer moved back to his old wide receiver position after throwing two first-quarter interceptions as starting quarterback.

For the full story and sectional standings, please see the Wednesday, Aug. 26, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

The rivalry gets real Friday, Aug. 21.

Senior Chandler Crittenden catches a pass for Camp Verde High School before getting tackled during the Cowboys' scrimmage against visiting Payson High School.
“It is a cross-valley rivalry and we are playing for bragging rights,” Camp Verde High School head football coach Steve Darby said, prior to the 7 p.m. season opener at Sedona Red Rock High School. “We are hoping for a clean game, good sportsmanship from our kids and no major injuries.”

Revenge for last season’s 22-point loss at Sedona Red Rock High School wouldn’t hurt.

The thought remained fresh in the minds of 36 Camp Verde High School players even before its Friday, Aug. 14, scrimmage against Payson High School.

“I hear about Sedona every day,” Darby said. “So I know they’re thinking about them.”

That’s why the score of the Aug. 14 matchup with the Longhorns didn’t really concern Darby as much as timing of individual plays, offensive and defensive rhythm, avoidance of penalties and areas in which the Cowboys could improve prior to both teams’ season opener.

For the full story, season schedule and more photos, please see the Wednesday, Aug. 19, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

The first game action of the fall for the Camp Verde High School football team got off the field before the lights turned on.

Sophomore Payton Sarkesian, the backup quarterback to senior Trevor Heyer, drops back to pass during the Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage Friday, Aug. 7, at Camp Verde High School. Sarkesian will also be competing for a starting cornerback job going into the Cowboys' scrimmage Friday, Aug. 14, against Payson High School at home.
The Cowboys’ final preseason test Friday, Aug. 14, may be just as short.

Seniors Jaysen Leonard and Trevor Heyer each had two touchdowns as White defeated Blue, 28-7, in the Cowboys’ intrasquad scrimmage Friday, Aug. 7.

CVHS will hold its preseason scrimmage Aug. 14 against larger Payson High School after original opponent Tonopah Valley High School pulled out, citing several injuries and lower total numbers on its roster than anticipated, according to Cowboys head coach Steve Darby.

“We know their coaches and I’ve heard them in the conversation for preseason top 10 team,” Darby said of the Phoenix. “Payson couldn’t find anyone to scrimmage, initially. They were just going to do an intrasquad [game].”

The Longhorns pose the challenge for CVHS, though — not just in their superior depth, as a Division IV school above Camp Verde at Division V, but in a solid defense and skill player set as well as linemen every bit as good as the 10 for the Cowboys, Darby said.

“But that’s what you want,” he said. “It’s always a good challenge to play up to a bigger, more athletic school.”

Quickness and fresh legs are what Darby is counting on to keep defenses like Payson’s on their heels. But for the Cowboys to get off to a good start, it will take more than the backfield contributions of Heyer, Leonard, senior Dakota Brueland and sophomore Ryan Loza, who has grown three inches taller and added 35 pounds in the weight room, Darby said.

For the full story and more photos, please see the Wednesday, Aug. 12, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

Camp Verde High School’s football program returned from a five-day team camp Friday, July 31, in Irvine, Calif., after losing a close battle with Greenway High School, of Phoenix, but winning the confidence game.

Sophomore Payton Sarkesian has put on 30 pounds of muscle in the Camp Verde High School weight room to start at cornerback, according to head coach Steve Darby. Sarkesian also is competing with senior Trevor Heyer for the starting quarterback position. He will see some time at the position during an intrasquad scrimmage Friday, Aug. 7.

“We were real close,” said Steve Darby, CVHS head coach, after the Cowboys were edged by the Demons in their Big Man competition. “They just had some monsters. Our big guys didn’t match up real well, but we won a fair amount of our individual matchups.

“Our kids were really rusty but played them pretty even” in their seven-on-seven tie, Darby added. “I’m feeling a lot better about our depth chart from the beginning of this summer.”

CVHS took 28 players from that depth chart to its fourth annual team camp at Concordia University, near Huntington Beach, Calif. — where, in between two-a-day practice sessions, the team spent three hours in conditioning exercises each weekday beginning July 27.

For the full story, please see the Wednesday, Aug. 5, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

While all three recipients of the Division III, Section IV softball player of the year award were from the Verde Valley, only Camp Verde High School senior Paige Church can add more to her high school resume.

Paige Church, a senior at Camp Verde High School, fields throws to first base. Church was the second-best fielder in Division III, Section IV, and was one of three Verde Valley softball players to receive section player of the year honors.
“It was super surprising, especially to get it as a junior from a small school,” said Church, who, along with recent CVHS grad April Dodge and former Sedona Red Rock High School pitcher Emily Aitken, earned the award and was also named honorable mention all-Division. “I’ve played travel ball with Emily and April for a couple years and to be able to be compared with those girls is amazing because they have such great attitudes.

“There’s really no other way to describe it other than as an honor, definitely. All that extra work I put in the offseason paid off.”

For more than the past six years, that extra effort of Church, who currently holds a 3.65 grade-point average, has extended to not just the spring, or even late winter season preparations, but the whole year.

“It’s more than every inning,” she said. “Every single pitch, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes.

“That’s the thought process I want to get the girls in this year. No matter what happens, to feel like we did all we could to win the game. Not leave the field feeling like we lost just because we had a bad game.”

Church has been committed to softball at that level since she was playing softball for Camp Verde Middle School and for the Juggernauts, coached by her current Cowboys coach, Henry Smith.

For the full story, please see the Wednesday, July 29, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

The wrestler who does not wrestle with family, or against, is becoming the outlier at the Sterrett Wrestling Complex.

Brody Townsend, 11, an incoming sixth-grader at Camp Verde Middle School, wrestles for the New Breed Wrestling Club at Weekend Wars. Townsend pinned eight of his 10 opponents to win his fifth straight war in the 60-pound weight class July 11.

“Many of our wrestlers are brothers or sons of former greats, to continue what some consider the breeding of studs,” said Mario Chagolla Sr., director of New Breed Wrestling and Weekend Wars. “Standing there all alone without mama, papa or anyone by your side to help you do battle is overwhelming.”

Whether it’s Chagolla’s 195-pound son Favian — a Camp Verde High School freshman who finished first in his weight class — the five Uhler brothers, all but one of whom won their weight class, or Camp Verde Elementary School students Dale and Hunter Zellner, wrestling families owned the majority of Weekend Wars wins July 11.

One notable exception: Brody Townsend, a sixth-grader at Camp Verde Middle School, who emerged to pin eight of his 10 opponents for his fifth win in a row in the 60-pound weight class.

“Brody’s attacks have become more aggressive and yet [have] finesse,” Chagolla said. “He still gets frustrated when someone takes him down but is now able to channel all his energy and focus on the task at hand.

“The result is a technically sound beast [who is] extremely dangerous, coming at you ... to bring down the thunder.”

After finishing third in his initial Weekend War on March 23, Townsend pinned eight of his 10 opponents July 11 at the Sterrett Wrestling Complex to take his fifth win in a row at 60 pounds July 11.

“I wrestled 63 [pounds] — that was the lowest class there was,” he said. “I plan on wrestling 68.”

Third-grader Racer Uhler, at 50 pounds, introduced Townsend to his first coach in Chagolla on March 23, when he finished third in his Weekend Wars debut. He hasn’t finished lower than runner-up since.

“I just try my best every tournament and work hard in practice," Townsend said. "I wanted to start coming and try it out.”

Townsend credits much of his success to new moves Chagolla and other Camp Verde wrestling coaches have taught him to use on opponents, such as the cradle.

For the full story and Weekend Wars results, please see the Wednesday, July 22, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

Eleven returners from a Camp Verde High School softball team that finished the regular season ranked second in Division III can look to the ongoing Section IV Coach of the Year for guidance.

Henry Smith, father of Camp Verde High School senior ace Taya Smith, was named Coach of the Year in Division III, Section IV for a second straight season. Smith has not lost a sectional game in his two years as head coach.
“I got Coach of the Year? Cool,” was head coach Henry Smith’s first response when hearing he had been honored for the second straight season. “I’m beyond grateful. For me, the game is about the school and it’s about teaching the young ladies respect and hard work.”

Smith, coaching local girls 14 years old and under at an American Softball Association tournament Saturday, July 11, in Kingman, would not comment further on his second straight sectional honor in his two seasons leading the Cowboys varsity.

But after her third year working with Smith and fourth overall in the CVHS program, assistant coach Toni Harris refused to be so modest.

“He’s not just a great coach; he’s just an all-around great person,” she said. “That really comes through on the field. Even in the athletes’ life outside of softball, he has a really positive influence on that.”

Despite a loss to Morenci Junior/Senior High School in the first round of the state tournament, Smith has won 75 percent of his games as a head coach of the Cowboys.

“As coaches we’ve gotten together and talked about looking at some minor differences for next season, trying to see if [they’ll] help,” said Harris, whose daughter, Caitlin, made it to the 2014 state quarterfinals as a senior before losing to Payson High School. “Obviously, something is happening when we get to upper-level games. We’re not as successful as we should be.”

Still, the Cowboys have never lost a sectional game since Smith took over two years ago — a streak that will be tested next season against a realigned section schedule that includes Chinle, Hopi, Monument Valley, Round Valley, St. Johns and Tuba City high schools.

For the full story, please see the Wednesday, July 15, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.

Although a seven-on-seven football loss Thursday, June 25, reminded Camp Verde High School head coach Steve Darby of his program’s youth, winning a Big Man challenge over Flagstaff High School continued to bolster his confidence in it.

Camp Verde High School hosted a seven-on-seven football camp this summer: a two-hand touch football game with seven players on each team. Cowboy senior Kyle Little catches a pass and makes significant yardage.
“This is the best year I’ve had as far as [summer] success,” he said after wrapping up competitive seven-on-sevens with what he considered his junior varsity, which went 1-2 at Payson High School. “That’s OK.  We knew we were going to get beat, so we took a lot of our young guys and started them on varsity. We were trying to correct mistakes, so it was good for them.

“Some of these teams perform incredibly in seven-on-sevens. Then you get them in pads and they’re terrible. Our athletic ability’s a little better than the last two years.”

That has been revealed the most in June through the skill and speed of assistant coach Fernando Diaz’s linemen.

For the full story, please see the Wednesday, July 1, issue of the Camp Verde Journal.