By the time the clock hit zeros, Valley Vista’s starters had long been resigned to the bench, content to see out their 6A semifinal win from there. When the win became official, they skipped onto the floor, engaging the reserves in high fives and hugs.
Even in a blowout, 61-39, win over Hamilton, none of them were taking this for granted, not after how their season started. But there was something understated about the proceedings, too. The celebration only lasted 15 seconds or so, and didn’t spill over into delirium, the way you might expect of a rogue No. 5 seed going on the road and stunning the top-seeded team in the conference.
That’s because Valley Vista doesn’t see itself that way.
Sure, much is different now from this time last year, when the Monsoon won their fifth 6A title in six years. For one, the 6A crown is no longer the state’s preeminent prize thanks to the advent of the Open Division, where Valley Vista lost to No. 1 seed Desert Vista. The Valley Vista program itself has also taken on a different shape. Jennah Isai, the state’s best player, graduated. Their second and third-leading scorers are gone, too. And longtime head coach Rachel Matakas had to step down mid-season due to health concerns.
But Valley Vista’s DNA remains. This is still a program where championships are the expectation. In late December, after the Monsoon returned from the holidays nursing a 2-5 record, interim head coach Brooklynn Hinkens sat down with her team and reminded them of that message.
“Let’s not lose sight of what our goal is,” Hinkens said. “And the moment we started talking about every day, winning a state championship, it being in our vocabulary and just something that we talk about every day, we started to believe it. We started to see it. And I see it in my kids every day.”
Since then, Valley Vista has found a groove. After Tuesday’s win, they’re now 20-4 since Christmas. Two of those losses were to out-of-state teams. Two were to Desert Vista, which Valley Vista held closer than anyone else in the state has.
The key, according to Hinkens, has been her team’s commitment to sharing the ball. “We’re not gonna win the one-on-one game,” Hinkens said. “We’re gonna win the five-on-five game.”
With Isai, Valley Vista didn’t need to play that way. They could rely on her to win games on her own, using her 24.9 points per game to bludgeon opponents. So understandably, the learning curve wasn’t immediate. But once the Monsoon gained an appreciation for distribution, they took off.
That much was apparent in the first quarter Tuesday, as Valley Vista jumped out to a 16-0 lead before six minutes had elapsed.
“We go in there with a gameplan,” Hinkens said. “We obviously want to get the ball to our bigs. Emma Dasovich, Hannah Young, they’re great finishers. And if we aren’t playing against a team that can stop them, we’ve gotta take advantage of it. Once the other team adjusts, then we’ll adjust. But let’s keep doing what works.”
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To get the ball down low and exploit those matchups, Valley Vista relies on its two star guards, Olivia Arvallo and Jocelyn Chavez.
Arvallo, the leading scorer and assister, is undersized but crafty. She gets to the hoop when doing so seems impossible and can finish from any angle. Against Hamilton, though, it was Chavez who took center stage. Her teammates call her ‘Nash’ as a comparison to the legendary Phoenix Suns’ point guard, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is she a weapon from three (she made five Tuesday) but she’s an elite passer, even if the raw assist numbers don’t show it.
“She has the best IQ, the best court awareness I’ve ever coached in a player,” Hinkens said. “And that’s college level and high school level.”
When Hamilton cut its deficit to 10 midway through the third quarter, that shone through. Chavez snapped the run with a corner three, then found Aamari Chavers on a perfectly-timed pass on the fast break. A possession later, she hit another three, extending Valley Vista’s lead to 18 and putting the game to bed. That’s not to mention the pair of no-look assists she had sandwiching the run.
With that, the away fan section could freely rise to their feet and break into cheers of “Val-ley Vis-ta.” A quarter remained, but once again, the Monsoon were on their way to a title game.
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