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With graduations around the Verde Valley taking place last week and school letting out for the summer, it’s time to announce my spring sports awards and congratulate all the teams on a job well done.

I’ll begin with my Team of the Year award, and I’d like to select the Sedona Red Rock High School girls track and field team for its excellent spring.

In a 3A West Qualifier on May 7, the Scorpion girls took first overall, beating out rival Estrella Foothills High School by three points for the title.

Although it’s not an official West title for the Scorpions, because unfortunately the Arizona Interscholastic Association doesn’t recognize it, it’s still a special accomplishment.

The Scorpions finished fourth overall at the Division III State Championships in Mesa on May 13 and 14, a success they’ve become accustomed to over the last several years.

The reason I picked the Scorpions this season for my Team of the Year award is simple. Sedona is no longer in the 3A conference, but in Division III. Its competition has tripled, with schools three times and sometimes four times bigger than it is.

Nevertheless, Sedona keeps on churning out top finishes, and a top-five finish in the Division III State Championships is a bigger accomplishment than most realize.

Now, for those of you out there saying, “Hey! What about Mingus? It finished fourth at state too in Division III, tieing the Scorpions. Duh.”

Well, all I can say is this:

Sedona enrollment is 489 students. Mingus Union High School enrollment is 1,260 students. The Marauders have a bit more to choose from out of the talent pool, wouldn’t you say?

Speaking of Mingus, I’d like to hand the Marauders baseball team my runner-up Team of the Year award.

Mingus began the season in the dumps, having started 0-6, but got it together in time and won 11 straight contests to earn a trip to Phoenix Municipal Stadium and the 4A-II conference state final four.

The Marauders lost to No. 1 Thunderbird High School, 9-1, but that group of boys won’t soon forget what they accomplished under first-year Head Coach Kent Winslow.

For my Surprise Team of the Year award, the Mingus boys tennis team receives this top honor.

Mingus began the season having lost its best two players to graduation the year before, and one of the top players in all categories in Alexander Lineberry.

What did Mingus do? Well, it responded, and responded well. The Marauders went undefeated during the regular season and were led by the strong play of Andrew Hickey and the surprising play of freshman newcomer Talon Walz.

Mingus went on to claim the No. 8 seed heading into the 4A-II conference state playoffs in April and beat No. 9 Sahuarita High School, 5-0. The Marauders’ season came to an end two days later, losing to No. 1 Liberty High School, 5-2.

Now to hand out my individual awards, I’d like to start with my Player of the Year choice for the spring season.

It was a tough choice, but I have to give it to the best softball player in the Verde Valley, Sedona junior Whitney Cooper.

Cooper hit .602 [50-83] with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs while recording seven doubles and three triples. She scored 47 runs and had 24 walks with 11 stolen bases, helping the Scorpions win 20 or more games for the first time in over a decade.

Cooper led Sedona in every major offensive category, and those stats were better than any softball player in the Verde Valley, too.

She was named the 3A West region Most Valuable Player, and was a first-team All-Region and All-State selectee for the spring. It is the third straight season Cooper was selected to an All-Region team.

My runner-up Player of the Year award should probably go to Mingus junior Torey Braly, who won a state title in the 300-meter hurdles in Mesa.

She was first-team All-State in the 300 hurdles, was second-team All-State in the 100-meter hurdles and was second-team All-State in the 4x400-meter relay event.

Since I didn’t do a winter sports awards column, I’d just like to mention Braly set a new school record for Mingus, scoring 39 goals for the final four girls soccer team.

A special mention for my Player of the Year award goes out to Sedona senior Troy Loparco, who claimed a 3A West region MVP award this season and was selected to be a first-team All-State player.

Loparco hit .531 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs while recording 15 doubles and five triples for a ridiculous 1.063 slugging percentage. He also scored 32 runs, stole 14 bags and played a solid shortstop for the Scorpions.

Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to hand out my Coach of the Year award for the spring.

After careful consideration, I’d like to nominate Camp Verde High School baseball Head Coach Steve Hicks for a job well done this season.

Hicks led the Cowboys to a 17-13 overall record this season and another appearance in the 2A conference state playoffs.

In 2010, Hicks led Camp Verde to the state final four, only to lose to Bourgade Catholic High School in the championship game.

Hicks and his boys were back again this season, but with only two regular starters remaining from the incredible run in 2010.

Camp Verde beat No. 22 Greyhills High School in the first round of the state playoffs earlier this month, 10-0, then turned around and beat No. 6 St. Johns High School, 19-18.

The Cowboys eventually lost to No. 3 Valley Christian High School, 8-2. Valley Christian went on to beat No. 5 Scottsdale Christian High School for the 2A state title.

Congratulations to all the schools, teams, coaches and players for a job well done this spring. We’ll see you in the fall.

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