At the NAIA First and Second Round Championships hosted by Arizona Christian University in March, ACU had the privilege of honoring three West Valley boys’ basketball state champion high school teams: Deer Valley High School (4A), Ironwood High School (5A), and Liberty High School (6A). All three programs have unique connections to the ACU men’s basketball program, and it was an honor to host them at the NAIA postseason event.

Coach Jeff Rutter’s Perspective

Firestorm Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Jeff Rutter, commented, “There are so many talented student-athletes and coaches in the Valley. It has been a key reason for our success. We couldn’t be more proud to see the West Valley represented so well in the state championships. These are quality coaches who have become good friends of our program.”

Deep Connections with Local Schools

The connections between ACU and these local boys’ basketball programs run deep. Firestorm Assistant Coach and ACU alum, Keyvaughn Williams, is a graduate of the 4A state champion Deer Valley High School, where Coach Jed Dunn is a close friend to the Firestorm basketball program and an active FCA member.

The 5A state champions, Ironwood High School, are coached by Jordan Augustine, a graduate of Arizona Christian. Two current Firestorms, Dominic Gonzalez and Trent Hudgens, played for Coach Augustine prior to enrolling at ACU—both winning a state championship while on the team together.

Liberty High School, under the leadership of Mark Wood, won the 6A state championship. Coach Wood is a friend of the Firestorm community and an active FCA member. Current ACU basketball student-athlete, EJ Pyers, graduated from Liberty. The 2024 championship game featured Liberty HS edging out Sandra Day O’Connor High School, where ACU alum and former assistant coach Josh Cole is the head coach.

These high school teams have not only demonstrated excellence in their respective leagues but have also cultivated a legacy of success that extends beyond their school gyms. Coaches from these teams have long been friends of our program, and we’ve welcomed many talented student-athletes from these schools to ACU over the years.

Firestorm’s Continued Success

The Firestorm went on to win the Glendale Bracket of the NAIA’s First and Second Round Tournament with wins over St. Katherine (CA) and Huntington (IN), sending them to Kansas City and the NAIA’s final site. The 2023-24 season marked the 10th NAIA national tournament appearance for the Firestorm and their fourth consecutive GSAC conference championship.

Read More:

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