Winning back-to-back championships is hard enough, but Willow Canyon softball on pace for 3-peat

Willow Canyon is set to earn one of the top seeds in the AIA softball playoffs as the defending 5A state champions. The playoffs are scheduled to begin April 29. (Photo by Kade Cameron/Cronkite News)

SURPRISE – Willow Canyon High School’s softball team has brought back-to-back 5A state championships to the West Valley and the Wildcats are looking to refine their legacy by adding a third title this season. They certainly have the team to do it.

The Wildcats, with seven players already committed to play collegiately, are ranked No. 15 nationally in the MaxPreps high school softball rankings, boasting a 23-0-1 record and outscoring opponents 253-16 this season. The one game they did not win resulted in a 3-3 tie against Canyon View.

As the Wildcats continue their dominant season and preparations begin for the 2023 tournament – the AIA softball playoffs begin April 29 – experience gained over the past two title runs radiates through the dugout. The team has nine players who were on both state championship rosters, six of whom played in those games.

The Willow Canyon softball field is pictured.

After winning back-to-back 5A state championships, Willow Canyon is on track for a three-peat with a 23-0-1 record this season while outscoring opponents 253-16. (Photo by Kade Cameron/Cronkite News)

Senior pitcher Marissia McCann, a commit to the University of Missouri, started the 2021 and 2022 5A state championship games. In last year’s title game, she pitched eight innings while allowing only one run and striking out 15 in a 2-1 win over Canyon View.

On a quest for a third state championship, McCann and the team know the target is on their back.

“Every single game we play, we are getting everybody’s best pitcher and everyone is so hyped up to beat us,” McCann said. “Honestly, that’s good for us because those are the kind of games that we want and the people that we want to face. We want to face the best to continue trying to strive to be the best.”

Even though Willow Canyon has recognized the change in preparation from opponents since the team won back-to-back state championships, coach Donnie Tizzano feels that for the Wildcats, it’s business as usual.

“I don’t know if we’ve actually changed the way we go about our daily business, we’ve managed to reduce it to one pitch at a time, which is cliche but that’s what we do,” Tizzano said. “Everything we do is one pitch at a time and win that pitch.”

This year, the team has two captains in McCann and senior first baseman Trinity Kennemer. Not only do the two seniors hope to establish their legacy by winning another championship, but they hope to inspire through leadership.

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“One of the things that is different this year is that we have to make sure that instead of following the seniors’ example, from last year, now we have to set the example for the girls below us,” McCann said. “So it’s really important that we do a good job leading the team this year, because the juniors who are going to be the captains next year, they have to look at us, and look at how we’re leading the team, so that they can pass it down and just keep creating a legacy.”

Kennemer, who is committed to South Dakota State, understands that leaders must set the example, something that she learned from the leaders before her.

“It’s hard to do what you’re supposed to do without leadership. So stepping into that role, I’m always making sure what they’re supposed to be doing and setting an example for them through my actions,” Kennermer said.

There is no doubt that leadership and team chemistry are what have fueled the Wildcats to two straight championships, and they hope to make it a three-peat this year.

Kade Cameron kayd KAM-uh-run (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Kade Cameron expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s in sports journalism. Cameron has had previous experiences with the Varsity Sports Show, Blaze Radio and Downtown Devil.

Avianna Hoppes ah-vee-AH-nuh HOP-pis (she/her)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Avianna Hoppes expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and minor in political science. Hoppes has previous expense in print, broadcast, and media relations, as she has interned for Kiwanis and Sun Devil Athletics.