‘God’s Team’ ends emotional season with trophy

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

After the game, Madison Matakas held strands of the net as he watched twin sister Rachel and her Valley Vista girls basketball team celebrate its first state title.

The coach’s brother was a constant unifying force for a team in upheaval for most of the early winter. Late in the season Coach Matakas talked about this group as “God’s Team,” that all the players and coaches had been through brought this group closer together and gave them a higher sense of purpose.

Madison Matakas, however, was always on these girls’ minds and has been for years. In November 2013 he received a cancer diagnosis.

“Rachel and I have always been close, but it just brought us closer and galvanized our relationship. We’ve spent more time together and I’ve enjoyed seeing the girls play,” Mr. Matakas said. “It made things that much sweeter. You stop and appreciate things more. It humbles you and makes you grateful for the things you have. To see someone so close to me win this state title, after the bitter losses and all the players that came an went and worked so hard, it’s awesome to watch.”

Valley Vista Monsoon players and coaches pose for a photograph after their win against Millennium in the 6A championship game Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

The twins always had a bond through the game, playing one on one as they were growing up.

He flew into town last week to watch the semifinal victory over Phoenix Mountain Pointe and the school’s first title game.

It may have been his last chance to watch the Monsoon. Recently, doctors told Mr. Matakas he had six months to live.

“This is huge. I don’t think there’s words to describe it. I don’t know how much longer he has. And this is probably the most important thing that I could have ..,” Coach Matakas said, her voice trailing off.

The team and those close to it have received ample reminders to not take anything for granted.

Valley Vista entered the season as co-favorites with Chandler Hamilton, by a healthy margin. With Northwestern-bound point guard Lauryn Satterwhite joining stars Kiara Edwards and Taylor Chavez and junior guards Rysha Banner and Clarissa Rodarte coming into their own a title push seemed easy.

It was anything but.

The team started 6-2 in Arizona with last second wins over Hamilton and Mountain Pointe. The Monsoon went 4-3 in two winter break tournaments and players said the trip to Palo Alto, Calif. was particularly tough.

Edwards and Satterwhte were out with injuries by this point.

Off the court, players’ families grew or fell apart. Another person close to the team battled leukemia.

“The first three months we had three big obstacles to overcome and we overcame them,” Chavez said.

Returning to Arizona, the Monsoon battled without two starters but lost 59-52 to Millennium Jan. 20. Since that night, Valley Vista has won 10 straight games to claim state.

Edwards came back for the stretch run. Satterwhite, who won a Division IV state title as a freshman at Gilbert Christian, returned Tuesday for the 6A final.

“It feels a lot different because I’m in a higher division. I’m doing it with the people I love,” Satterwhite said. “It’s such a blessing. We’ve had so many ups and downs this season so to come down to the last minute and win is awesome.”

Examples of divine intervention piled up in the playoffs. Mountain Pointe shocked Hamilton in the quarterfinals but had several golden opportunities bounce out of he basket when bidding to do the same against the Monsoon.

Madison Matakas was at last year’s semifinal loss to Chandler Hamilton and remembers the players’ disappointment.

Mr. Matakas visited his sister and watched the her live when he could. As the years went by and technology improved, he could watch more Monsoon games online from his home in the Midwest.

Tuesday night, though, he said he was thrilled to watch his sister and the girls that have become a second family win the big game in person.

“I couldn’t be prouder of her, being exceptionally close as twins, to see her get that state title,” Mr. Matakas said. “I’ll take it back to when she was playing basketball in the state of Kansas as an All American player, coming close to a title and not getting it. To get it as a coach makes it that much sweeter.”

Valley Vista’s Terrysha Banner (#2) and teammates react as the Monsoon receive the first-place trophy after their win against Millennium in the 6A championship game Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

In her 20 years on the sideline Coach Matakas has always been known for her intense, highly vocal sideline demeanor. But she did bring together this group and its predecessors, making this program something more than just a good basketball team.

“For Coach Matakas and the things she’s been going through with her brother, It all meant more,” Edwards said. “As you’re going through it, you don’t know why. This is the why.”

The coach and former NCAA Division II All-American at the University of Central Missouri has been through decades of near misses as a player and coach.

On this night, she was happy to see all she has said about the value of a team approach on both ends of the court come to fruition.

“This is the only thing I’ve ever asked for in my life. I’ve never won a team title, in the NCAAs or high school. I’ve been a Gatorade player of the year, most points and most rebounds in Division II,” Coach Matakas said. “I can keep going on but nobody cares about one individual. An individual cannot win a title and that’s what I’ve preached to them. I’ve been where everybody’s feeding you all that crap about how great you are. But at the end of the day a team has to win that game. It takes a community, family and team.”

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