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Arete girls' soccer made history this season

Feb. 13—Four years ago, the Arete girls' soccer program was a bit of a pipe dream.

The team had collapsed due to a lack of participation, forcing the few girls who did try out to play with the boys and receive special waivers. The Covid pandemic played a role in the demise of the girls' program, but the goal was to always bring it back.

That's where Kim Bellomy came into play. The school's counselor, she was tasked with reviving the high school varsity program. She did so with relative ease, fielding a full team just a year after it was disbanded.

Now three years later, Arete Prep was an automatic qualifier for the 3A state playoffs and had the most wins in program history.

"The way the team came together — the senior leadership has been wonderful," Bellomy said. "We have a good mix of players who have been playing for several years and girls who have never played before but are stepping up. It's been a lot of fun. It feels really good to win."

Arete took its lumps when the soccer program was revived.

The Chargers went 3-8 in 2021. They were outscored 67-15 that season. That includes two big losses to Glendale Prep and Arizona College Prep 14-0 and 13-0, respectively.

Seniors Marissa Morales and Rebekkah Garver think about that 14-0 thumping at the hands of Glendale Prep often. They vowed to never lose in such fashion again. And they've made good on their word.

"It was really frustrating," Morales said, recalling the lopsided losses. "We knew there was work to be done and I don't think we were used to losing so bad. The iconic 14-point loss in our second game of the season, it's stuck with us. It was tough."

The two are captains for this year's Arete Prep team. With that comes added responsibility, including trying to keep the team afloat well after they graduate this upcoming May.

They've set an example for what the team can accomplish on a yearly basis. They went from the doormat of the 3A Conference to one of the top teams, finishing as an automatic qualifier this season with 14 wins, the best mark in program history.

"Soccer has always been my sport," Morales said. "Just to be able to be a crucial part of rebuilding the program at a school I go to, a school that I love, it just means a lot."

"The program has literally been built from the ground up," Garver added. "From not having a team our freshman year to always getting mercy ruled our sophomore year to playing well our junior year to now, incredible. Especially because it's such a small school but having a great turnout for teams."

Morales and Garver stayed loyal to Arete. Even when given the opportunity to transfer out, they wanted to remain at the school.

They didn't buy in to the hysteria of packing up and running when things got tough for the program, even if that has become a norm for other sports as of late at the high school level. They bought in to what Bellomy was trying to accomplish with rebuilding the program. Now their names are cemented in that process as well.

The two come from extensive club soccer backgrounds. Morales' skill level earned her an opportunity to continue her career at the University of San Diego next year. Garver decided to end her soccer career in high school. She'll be enrolled at Arizona State University next fall but plans to come back to Arete to begin a coaching career.

The two girls were pioneers for the revival of the program. They helped at the middle school level to build a pipeline of new players. They and the rest of the seniors knew it would be tough, but they stuck it out.

"We knew what had to be done and we knew we had to get on track with starting a team," Garver said. "We knew we wouldn't win everything, but I think we started the program strong. During my freshman year I helped coach middle school because I knew I had to make sure the upcoming leaders were still enjoying the sport."

No matter how the playoffs played out, Bellomy said she was proud of what her girls accomplished this season. They set the tone for the program moving forward.

Some girls had extensive backgrounds in soccer when they joined. Others, like senior goalkeeper Ari Johnson, are playing for the first time. An avid rock climber, Johnson has pitched multiple shutouts this season.

That success has led the team to no longer accept 14-0 defeats. They will no longer accept losing records and missing the playoffs. It's now become an expectation for the Chargers to contend for the title.

Bellomy believes that can be achieved. The lower-level programs had success this season they continue to grow in numbers. But even if more success comes her way as a coach, she'll always remember the girls like Morales, Garver and those who came with and before them for pouring their hearts and souls into helping rebuild the program.

"I am so proud of these girls, no matter what happens," Bellomy said. "We're going to miss the seniors a lot. Rebekkah and Marissa, they're really good leaders. But we also have a really good group coming up. We've got potential to keep this program at a high level moving forward."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.