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Winter sports features coaches with strong connections

Lady Vandal Savannah Pietila, 11th grade, shoots a free throw at the I MUA Invitational Basketball Tournament in Honolulu. Photo by Trampus Colby

Miami High School sports is gearing up for the winter season and it looks to be a mixed bag this year, with plenty of promise for the future and plenty of connections to the past.

Basketball and wrestling will be in season through February, with plenty of opportunities for local fans to watch student athletes progress and jell as teams.

Lady Vandals basketball

“I enjoy coaching this group of girls because they are hard workers who all have one goal: They take one game at a time and are locked in together,” says MHS girls’ basketball coach Crystal Pietila. “They are working hard toward their goal daily and make each other better because of the work ethic and intensity they bring to practice.”

Pietila is excited to build on the successes of last season with a team that has a lot of experience together. After losing in the first round of the section playoffs two years in a row, a solid core of girls is returning to the court with the loss of only one senior from last year.

“Our young ‘uns were freshmen and sophomores last year, but they are now upperclassmen and juniors,” Pietila says. “We have that experience now, so we definitely will be making a run this season.”

Pre-season rankings from the AZ Sports Network had the Lady Vandals varsity team ranked third in the 2A Conference.

The Lady Vandals came out of the box hot, beating the Hayden Lobos 79-9 on November 27 for a statement non-conference victory.

From there, the team went to Hawaii for the I MUA Invitational Basketball Tournament, founded in 2022 by Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. I MUA is the motto of Kamehameha schools and translates to “move forward,” which the team did in the first round, winning the first game by a score of 57-46.

The second round was a 74-43 loss, however, but it gave the team experience on the road and lessons learned for the future. The team came in fourth overall in the 8-team tournament.

Pietila, whose husband is Principal and former Athletic Director Shawn, has been coaching girls’ hoops at the school for the past three years, adding a family element to the program on a team that features two of the couple’s daughters, Savannah, a junior and sophomore Tamia.

Pictured at the I MUA Tournament (clockwise from upper left): Leeyah Goss, 11th grade; Demetria Dosela, 11th grade; Layla Thompson, 12th grade, and Tamia Pietila, sophomore. All photos by Trampus Colby

In the IMUA, Tamia was named Impact Player of the Game and named to the All-Tournament Team but she had plenty of help in Hawaii thanks to the efforts of teammate Demetria Dosela a talented point forward who is a junior this year.

The rest of the team consists of seniors Ann Mary Terrence and Layla Thompson; juniors Leeyah Goss, Alexus Finkelman, Anastacia Newman, Lauren Stevens and Aeriana Brown; freshman Drianna Dosela, and sophomores Olivia Chacon, Kayana Jackson and Mariah Shaffer. The team’s manager is sophomore Ryder Guerrero.

“This is a special group of girls because the majority of them have been playing together since they were in second grade,” Pietila says. “It’s probably one of the most talented group of girls I’ve coached in 16 years.”

Basketball runs deep in the Pietila family. Crystal coached at San Carlos High School for several years and was so dedicated to the sport that she continued coaching when she was pregnant with her son who is now in second grade. San Carlos was in the final four of the state tournament and the baby was due any day.

“I kept telling him throughout the pregnancy not to come on this date because we expected to be in the championship game,” Pietila says. “We ended up losing to the team that moved on to the championship game, so that night I told him, you can come anytime now and he came the next day.”

Vandals Boy’s Basketball

The Vandals boys basketball team is in rebuild mode, but it is coached by local sports icon Brandon Powell. Powell is also the football coach and former baseball coach who led some powerful Vandal teams.

He was also a quarterback for the rival Globe Tigers and up until 10 years ago coached Tigers hoops for a decade. Powell had decided to retire after he found someone to replace him on the baseball field, but with the retirement of longtime Vandal hoops coach Kenny Vargas, Shawn Pietila asked him to take over the program.

“I just couldn’t ask for a better administrative and support staff than I have here in Miami,” Powell says. “From the top all the way down: Dr. Dorathy, [former principal] Glen Lineberry, and now Shawn and Paul Fine the new AD. A former high school teammate from my Globe days, Richard Ramos, is the assistant superintendent and he just made the dream team even bigger.”

The school’s athletic facilities have had a major facelift over the past few years, but despite a solid foundation, the Vandals boys team is in rebuild mode.

“We’ve got so many young kids, but I can see that they’re improving game by game and week by week, so that in itself is encouraging,” Powell says. “We might take it in the shorts and have a rough season this year, but eventually it’s going to pay off in the long run.”

The Vandals’ roster is filled with youth, and Powell believes it might take a year or two to rebuild the program. A number of seniors on the roster have not been able to play, and Powell says he often starts games with as many as four freshmen.

Yet despite that and given that the team is 0-2 overall and won’t play again until mid-December (after press time), the Vandals spent several days in November and December atop the 2A Valley region. That is due to the fact that as of December 5, no one in the region had won a game yet.

But Powell is taking a lot of positives from the roster and says the team has a lot of potential.

“We have a really good freshman group, and they’re good basketball players,” Powell says. “They’re just not ready for the varsity level yet and still trying to catch up to the speed and quickness of the game.”

The varsity roster includes seniors Nick Curiel, Isiah Tarango, and Kyle Monroid; juniors, Ab Casteneda, DeRay Matthis, Morgan Stewart and Chance Nosie; sophomores Noah Combs and Koen Breuman, and freshmen Raejon Way, Hector Mariscol, Dakota Edwards and Kris Tarango.

Vandals Wrestling

“We have a younger roster this year, and we have a lot of newer people,” says MHS wrestling coach Tony Grainger. “But this is the biggest team we’ve had probably in over five years, so it’s not looking too bad.”

The Vandals’ wrestling season began on December 1 and runs through February so the mixed team of 17 boys and four girls will have a busy three months ahead of them.

Grainger, whose day job is battalion chief for the Tri-City Fire District, is a multigenerational Miami native who graduated from MHS in 1999. His brother was the first to graduate from MHS and his mother was a secretary and his father was a teacher there in the 1970s.

Although the wrestling program was eliminated during his senior year, he returned to coach at his alma mater in the wake of the pandemic.

The boys roster includes Kaden Harris, Owen Uto, Emiliano Brewer, Eli Verdugo, Domanik Gonzales, Jefferey Askew, Luke Grainger, Diego Pino, Austin Ruben, Dawson Dho, Xavier Mancha, Aden Ruben, Caleb Shaffer, Isaac Shaffer, Cameron Mabbitt, Alex Martinez and Viren Roojam.

The girls roster consists of Grace Cruz, Naveah Reyes, Elise Combs and Dani Vargas.

While the standing have not been published as of press time, Grainger has high hopes for his team.

“I’m hoping to get the top five of our section, but top three would be nice,” Grainger says. “We should be taking, hopefully, six to state and, with that number, place in the top 15 out of the 54 in our section.”

To find scheduling information for all high school sports, go to AZPreps365

Miami High School wrestling had a 3-1 record as of December 8. Pictured are members of the team who reached the podium at the Firebird Tournament in Mesa on December 1 and 2. Photos provided.

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