West Valley Preps
At times the 6A state girls basketball semifinal Thursday at Gila River Arena was downright ugly — as the missed shots, fouls and bodies diving for loose balls piled up.
But for the Valley Vista program and school at large it was a beautiful afternoon, at least when the buzzer sounded. The 35-30 win qualified the Monsoon for their first title game in any sport since the school opened in 2006.
“It is pretty sweet. They’re tasting it a little bit, but we’re not done,” Valley Vista coach Rachel Matakas said. “We set our goal in November and we’ve had a lot of things come our way. We’ve had a lot of adversity. Nothing’s been easy but we believe in each other. That’s the biggest thing. God’s taught us how to bring our differences aside for the common good and our true passion, and that’s basketball.”
At times late in the third quarter and for most of the fourth, No. 10 seed Phoenix Mountain Pointe appeared poised to spoil the festivities. Despite working the ball inside for several point-blank looks, the Pride rarely saw their layups fall and never quite got back the lead after going up 2-0 early.
In a game that turned most basketball axioms on their ear, No. 3 seed Valley Vista (23-6) proved how much the first quarter mattered. The Monsoon led 13-2 after one and scored 17 straight points before the Pride began to stop the bleeding.
Junior guard Taylor Chavez said this veteran team’s previous playoff games allowed them to know what to expect right from the jump ball.
“In a way we think to start slow and patient on offense and it kind of helps out. Our start is our key,” Chavez said.
Chavez and fellow junior Clarissa Rodarte had eight points each in building the 17-2 lead. Though new to this stage of the playoffs, Mountain Pointe did not panic.
Neither team hit their shots. Valley Vista shot 30 percent in the first half and that was significantly better than Mountain Pointe’s putrid 12 percent. So the Pride attacked and looked to pile up fouls and free throws.
This approach worked, and Mountain Pointe (23-10) hit seven of eight free throws to carve their deficit to 21-13.
“That’s what they’ve done all year. People think they are going to go away. Mountain Pointe is not like that and Justin (Hager) doesn’t coach that way,” Coach Matakas said. “Justin tells his players that they will play 32 minutes. Because if you play 32 minutes, you give yourself a chance to stay in it. We’re almost mirror images of each other.”
The Pride probably should have grabbed the lead in the third quarter as the Monsoon went bone dry. But in one sequence, two consecutive layups rimmed out and Mountain Pointe still trailed 25-19 after three.
By then, the Valley Vista fouls were taking their toll. Rodarte and senior center Kiara Edwards had to sit after picking up their fourth fouls in the final two minutes of the third quarter.
Chavez had to take on even more of the offensive burden, and hit two early fourth quarter baskets to stretch the lead to 29-21. Shortly after that Reysha Banner, the third junior guard, grabbed her fourth foul.
“I was kind of having flashbacks to last year, because last year we came out at half and that’s when Hamilton got us because of fouls,” Chavez said. “I was trying to talk on defense because Miyah was guarding Jenise and I know she can do that. She guards Kiara every day in practice, so I know she can guard an elite post.”
Strover finished with 13 points and 11 boards but never quite took the game over. Ursery did not score but grabbed 11 big rebounds with Edwards’ minutes limited.
Mountain Pointe threatened to take the lead for about four minutes of the fourth quarter, but again missed three layups in a sequence. A Strover putback and free throw by senior Bailey Osmer drew the underdogs within one at 29-28.
“Mountain Pointe came out and they did what they usually try to do — create ugly games. If they can get teams playing ugly, then you’re playing right into their style,” Coach Matakas said. “They got us playing that way, but we relied on our composure and defense. Hats off to Mountain Pointe.”
Ursery grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. She missed the free throw but the loose ball rolled off a Pride player.
Valley Vista needed to make a couple plays to save the victory, and they got three. Edwards cut to the basket on the inbound pass and laid it in for her only points on the night.
With less than minute left, Banner snuck in, grabbed an offensive rebound and made the layup for a 33-28 cushion. Then Chavez picked off a pass near the sideline and drove the length of the court before getting hammered on a layup attempt.
She made both free throws for the last of her game-high 16 points. Now up 35-28 with 23.2 seconds left, the Monsoon could breathe easy.
The only coach in Valley Vista history was happy to accept a little good fortune. The program never entered a season with bigger expectations or faced more adversity. Now Valley Vista
“This is divine intervention. It’s God’s team. God sees something special in us and we’re just going to go with that,” Coach Matakas said. “We talked about second effort all night. We’ve got to get on the floor and get those rebounds.”
Fittingly, the Monsoon’s biggest rival is the final obstacle. No. 4 Goodyear Millennium (24-7) upset No. 1 Gilbert 52-47 in the other semifinal.
So the most intense hoops rivalry in the West Valley — probably for either gender — plays out on the big stage for the biggest prize. Millennium and Valley Vista meet for the 6A title at 5 p.m. Tuesday in GCU Arena.
“It means a lot because we’re kind of the rock at our school. Everyone supports girls basketball, more than a lot of other schools,” Chavez said. We’re playing for them and for our coach who’s gotten this far so many times but never been in a state championship game.”