PHOENIX - Valley Vista senior wing Jennah Isai's early season exploits have made news throughout the state.
But as the Monsoon make their way through the top high school bracket of the Nike Tournament of Champions against well-known teams from across the nation, the rest of the team is blending their talents into a potent mix.
In the second round of the Joe Smith bracket Dec. 20 at Desert Vista High School, the Monsoon pulled away from top 10 Florida team Blanche Ely, building a 23-11 second quarter advantage. Isai 's 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists led the way for a 49-34 Valley Vista lead.
“I love this. I wanted to make it one of our team goals as seniors, we need to get for in every tournament. We’re going out with a bang this year,” Isai said.
The Monsoon were short three likely rotation players due to illness and waiting for transfers Jocelyn Chavez and Hannah Young to become eligible for the second half of the season.
Valley Vista also was coached by assistant Brook Hinkens. Head coach Rachel Matakas was with the team pregame before leaving just prior to tipoff.
In late August, Matakas received the diagnosis of Level 5 papillary thyroid cancer and suffered a major heart attack. Hinkens said Matakas needed to get her numbers checked Tuesday, and that teh team would call her after the game.
“I’m super pleased and it’s a testament to these kids and their ability to play with one another on the floor. The trust is a huge aspect to this game. If they don’t trust each other on the defensive end, they’re not going to trust each other on the offensive end,” Hinkens said.
Valley Vista (9-1) plays Etiwanda (Calif.) 7-0 in a semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Desert Vista.
This is the furthest the program has progressed in an elite-level tournament competition. The Monsoon lost the first round game at the Sweet 16 tournament in La Jolla, Calif. Dec. 1 before dominating the consolation bracket.
“I’m surprised at how good we’re playing together because we’ve never played against competition like this and gotten this far. I’m so proud of everyone. Everyone is playing at the top of their game and doing the best they can,” Isai said.
Isai was the primary ballhandler and creator but had help from freshman guard Destiny Lunan and junior guard Olivia Arvallo in breaking Tigers press throughout the afternoon.
Lunan was a secondary creator and finisher off the dribble, scoring 10 of her 12 points in the first half. Arvallo added four points and four rebounds and helped with the ballhandling and perimeter defense.
Senior forward Jaiden Renne spotted up along the baseline, hitting three short jumpers in the third quarter when Isai or Arvallo drove and drew the defense. She finished with eight points and five rebounds.
Senior guard Qeirnin Acevedo stepped into the fifth starting spot and grabbed five boards, while senior guard Keke Knox-Lara grabbed a couple more as the only bench player seeing significant playing time.
“Jaiden played amazingly and so did Keke and Q,” Isai said.
And as with any Matakas-coached team, Valley Vista played intense, connected defense.
Blanche Ely's biggest scoring quarter was 11 in the fourth quarter, after the Monsoon built a 40-23 lead through three.
“They understand their strengths and weaknesses and where they align with their roles on this team. We don’t have to sit there and tell them what their job is,” Hinkens said.
Isai credited the team's practice structure and intensity for preparing the Monsoon for a higher level of competition.
To get to this game Valley Vista had to upset McDonogh (Md.), the #15 ranked team nationally by MaxPreps, 48-42 on Dec. 19.
“Practice is a big part in that because every day we have to go in trusting in each other. Every one of our practices are game like and the intensity is the highest it can be so we really prepare good and know where each other is going to be now,” Isai said.
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