The dirt spread across the Mountain Ridge football players’ all-white uniforms just minutes after the conclusion of their season appeared a metaphor the digging the Mountain Lions did to get to the playoffs.
Tears were shed by several players, both in sadness for the 38-25 loss to Perry in the first round of the 6A postseason and recognition of the accomplishments the team has made in 2019.
“We came in here with the mindset that we could win. And we were in it, the cards just didn’t fall in our favor, but I know I’m so proud of everyone here,” said senior linebacker Tommy Ellis.
A winner’s mentality, or at least a cliché implying it, is often uttered from players in sports interviews. However, the results imply the Mountain Lions were without it for several years, including an 0-10 season in 2018.
The Mountain Lions players had grown tired of hearing about the losing seasons, but had yet to put streaks of wins together. With the addition of coach Doug Madoski and a 34-21 opening day victory over Skyline – the first of three consecutive wins to begin 2019 – things seemed to be swinging Mountain Ridge’s way seemingly overnight. It went 5-5 in one of the state’s toughest regions, and secured wins over westside powerhouses Westview and Liberty along the way to reach the postseason.
There were tough losses along the way, including two blowout defeats to Chaparral and Pinnacle in three weeks. But, unlike seasons past, heads nor spirits dropped.
“We went from a mindset of wanting to just compete, not get blown out to some of the good teams, to now saying we can beat them and win games. That’s been one of the biggest takeaways,” said quarterback Keegan Stancato.
Madoski brought in a new attitude, having coached several years for the now-defunct Scottsdale Community College football team.
The players latched onto his confidence, and seemingly began to have more of it themselves. That it was the same players who had experienced the low points, and had stuck with the program, Madoski said, made the victories even sweeter.
“It’s the same guys that went on that long losing streak. We didn’t really have transfers. They believed in themselves and made it all the way to the playoffs. I can’t say enough good things about them,” he said.
Mountain Ridge will graduate some of the players that constituted the heart and soul of the team, seniors like Ellis, Stancato and his brother Kyler Stancato just to name a few. But, there are several skilled underclassmen set to step up their contributions and take leadership roles. For the first time in recent memory, Mountain Ridge looks to be set up for continued, even greater, success in future seasons.
For at least one night though, the parents and supporters of the Mountain Lions that made the long drive from Glendale to Gilbert celebrated the season and ending of several high school careers. Hugs abounded, dirty white jerseys and all.
“The change we’ve had from the offseason until now, ever over the last four years, we’ve had the lowest of lows and then experienced some pretty great highs,” Ellis said.
“It’s been a ride.”