With 113 goals scored and just nine allowed this season, the No. 1-ranked Northland Prep Spartans’ performance at each end of the field is producing impressive results.
For the Spartans’ roster, it is hard to pick which number stands out more as the team sits perfect with a 10-0 regular-season record, 17-0 including tournament play.
“Considering I am a defensive player, I would say the nine goals,” said senior Emma Heitkamp. “But the fact that we have scored 100, in the triple digits, it's very impressive.”
Through the first seven weeks of the season, just about everything has gone right for Northland Prep. While its overall goal differential looks impressive, when reduced to just the team’s six matches against the other top three schools in the 2A Conference, little changes.
Spread among six matches in the regular season and tournament matches, Northland Prep holds a 6-0 record against No. 2 Round Valley, No. 3 Chino Valley and No. 4 Show Low while outscoring the trio 27-5.
The emergence against the rest of the 2A’s best stands as the greatest change for the Spartans, who have made it to the state tourney in each of the past four seasons but reached the state final just once in that time span.
Based on the final rankings of the past three seasons, Northland Prep held a 3-12-3 record against the other three top-ranked schools while scoring multiple goals in just nine of the 18 matches. Outscored 44-25 by top-three schools in the past three years combined, with no shutouts against a top-three school in the past two years, Northland Prep has already topped that goal total in one season while adding two shutouts as well.
“Only allowing nine, our defense is really stepping up and they are doing good,” said senior Brianna Hovis. “In past years, when we have played hard games, we weren’t ever able to make as many goals as we have this season. I think putting goals away as quick as we do has really helped us. It makes the games more fun, we are having more fun scoring and we are just confident in each other that we will put it away.”
LEADING THE WAY
While the 2A Conference includes just 11 schools, Northland Prep fills up the state’s statistical leaderboard. With four of the state’s top five assists leaders, four of the top seven goal scorers and five of the top eight point totals, the Spartans' offense erupted with the arrival of three freshmen.
Freshman Mia Blair ranks first with 64 points, second with 21 goals, and her team-best 22 assists places her atop the team and state while ranking among the nation’s best. Freshman Ellie Karren leads the team with 25 goals, adding 10 assists for 60 points to sit second among the Spartans. Fourth in goals, assists and points, freshman Kiarra Hovis rounds out the youth’s offensive impact.
“We have just worked harder. We have put a lot of effort into this season; we knew these freshmen coming up were going to be good,” Heitkamp said. “We were like, ‘Why don't we take advantage of it and just play the best that we can play? Knowing we have these girls, why don't we step up our play and play how we know we can play?'”
Mia and Kiarra’s older sisters round out the team’s state leaders, as Emma Blair’s 10 goals and 15 assists place her eighth in points in the conference while Brianna Hovis’ 17 goals, 11 assists and 45 points place her third among Spartans and sixth in the state.
Calling the team closer than it has been in the past, Brianna Hovis said the team’s familiarity with one another, as well as understanding of a common goal, led to the increased success this season.
“I work really well with my little sister, we have this bond on the field and I just know where she is going to be, and I just play her the ball,” said Brianna Hovis. “Especially with two sets of us, and we have grown up together, it helps.”
NEARING THE END
Already breaking the school record for regular-season wins with 10 in the program’s seventh year, Northland Prep can clinch the Central Region title with a victory against Chino Valley today at Sinagua Middle School.
With Friday’s Senior Day against winless No. 11 Payson, Northland Prep’s potential No. 1 seed in the state tournament and perfect regular-season record likely hinge on a victory against Chino Valley. Beating the Cougars 2-1 in a regular-season match at Chino Valley on Sept. 12, the Spartans followed up with a 6-1 tournament win four days later.
“I try not to think about it and mostly as a team we stay focused on one game at a time,” Brianna Hovis said of the pressure as the season winds down. “We try not to think that far ahead, we are always focused on the game that we are about to play. We always kind of joke around with each other, which loosens the pressure. It’s just a game, we are just going to play soccer and have some fun.”
Along with Brianna Hovis and Heitkamp, Lauren James and Delaney Page played for the Spartans as freshmen when the team reached the state final. Now four wins away from achieving the goal she just missed in her freshman year, Heitkamp said she’s learned to avoid blowing the pressure-filled situation out of proportion and understanding there’s not much you can do except play the game.
“We want to win, the ultimate goal is to win,” Heitkamp said. “All of our seniors have been playing a good amount and it's just been a good year all around. Everybody is playing, everybody is having fun and we really connected this year.”