Valley Vista girls basketball coach Rachel Matakas wondered what else her team needed to do to gain respect from fellow 5A-II programs and the state.
Lead a loaded Northwest Region wire-to-wire? Folks didn't notice, especially after dropping the final two games of the season to Deer Valley and Kingman
Earn a No. 3 seed in the state tournament with a 19-6 record? Other tournament-bound schools scoffed and thought it was mistake.
Win a first round game in the state tournament? It raised eyebrows.
Win a quarterfinal game? That did it.
The Monsoon (21-6) advanced to Wednesday's semifinal matchup in the 5A-II State Tournament with a 61-55 win against Northwest Region rival Kingman Friday at home. They will face No. 2 seed Pinnacle at 11 a.m. at Jobing.com Arena.
"We proved everyone wrong and I think earned a lot of respect," said freshman guard Maraja Johnson. "Nobody expected us to do anything (in the tournament), maybe because we're a third-year school, but we went out there, made plays and proved ourselves to everyone. The biggest thing is we believed in ourselves."
Matakas said after Valley Vista's first round win against Ironwood Ridge that playing Kingman would be "sweet revenge" after losing 58-49 last week. Given that opportunity tonight, her team showed how revenge was dealt in Surprise.
"The paper up in Kingman said we'd lose," Matakas said. "It's been like that everywhere all season. The girls have played hard all year, but no one gives them a chance. Nobody gives us any respect. I don't know why that is. Maybe because we're a small school from Surprise and that it must be a mistake we're 21-6 and have gotten this far. They don't expect us to be good, but we're 21-6 by no mistake."
The jammed-pack Valley Vista gym proved how far the program has come. Both student sections behind each basket was at capacity, while family and friends crowded into the sideline bleachers, including a large contingent from the Northern Arizona school.
"It was really exciting seeing such a large crowd," Johnson said. "So many people think Willow (Canyon) is our rival, but it's really Kingman. They were second guessing (our seeding), and saying how they would beat us, but we proved them wrong."
Opponents scored 45.3 points per game against the Bulldogs this season, but the Monsoon touched them for 75 in the regular season (the most Kingman allowed this year), and tacked on 61 tonight, which was the third highest total.
While Matakas said they didn't see anything different from its Northwest Region rival, Valley Vista knew if it kept the pressure Kingman would have a tough time keeping pace.
"(Kingman) doesn't like it when you attack them, so that's what we did," Johnson said. "We attacked and took the game to them."
The Monsoon set the tempo early with its transition game, breaking up passes in the paint and getting out quick on the fast break. But started the third quarter sluggish and the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run to lead 36-30. They also kept Valley Vista scoreless for more than four minutes.
However, Johnson's three pointer from the left wing at the 3:48 mark changed all that.
"Getting open like that is ordinary for me," Johnson said. "I get the ball and take the shots. But I couldn't do it without my teammates. I get open and they dish the ball to me."
Valley Vista pulled ahead 90-seconds later on a layup from freshman Bristol Bailey, erasing Kingman's six-point lead while it closed the third on a 12-4 run.
"Momentum was very important tonight," Matakas said. "I told the girls at halftime whoever won the third quarter would take the game."
The Monsoon notched 12 points in the pivotal period, and kept Kingman at 11, but just three during the final two minutes.
From that point, the game slid into a free throw shooting contest with Valley Vista hitting 11-of-12 and the Bulldogs going 7-for-13. The sloppy exchange claimed star players on both sides, too. First was Kingman's player of the year junior Lindsey Reed, who was dismissed on a blocking call when junior Antoinette Miller drove through the paint, fell and collided with the Bulldog star.
A few seconds later, Miller was called for a foul away from the ball ending her night. Johnson would join her with less than two minutes to play and the Monsoon finessing a three-point lead.
"We have a saying here," Matakas said. "It's 13, not one. You saw it tonight in my transfers. We lost MJ (Johnson) and Ann (Miller) and there was no drop off in our play from the bench, but when Kingman lost Lindsey they didn't have anyone to step up. That was the difference tonight."
Despite losing their ace, the Bulldogs pulled to within one, 56-55, on a short jumper from senior captain Sarah Murphy with 1:15 remaining. But Cassidy Elliot was called for a hold in Valley Vista's zone and Bailey hit both free throws.
Murphy would have a chance to cut the lead back to one as she took a pass at the line and drove the lane but her layup banged off the front of the rim. With seconds ticking away, the Bulldogs waited nearly 10 seconds to foul, and Disiree Phillips would made it a four-point game by hitting both freebies.
The Monsoon's Shatoye Jordan would hit two more free throws with 23.7 seconds remaining to seal the game.
Kingman worked to force Valley Vista in a half court game to moderate success, but the Monsoon's athleticism wasn't bottled for long.
Valley Vista trailed 17-14 after the first quarter, including six points from Bulldog junior Dominique Hale. It wasn't until the second period when the Monsoon stretched their legs and fed the offense off their defense.
Junior Jazmine Nunnelly cut the lead to one with a layup off an assist from Miller. After a travel call against Kingman and a missed shot, Miller found Johnson wide open behind the arc. She buried a three-pointer to regain the lead.
The Monsoon would head into halftime with a 30-29 edge thanks in part to Miller forcing a steal and driving the court for a layup with 49 seconds to play.
Reed and Miller led both teams with 17 points. Phillips added 11 for the Monsoon and Johnson finished with nine, all three pointers.
"The kids worked hard and they just wan to play. Folks around school ask if they are excited to be in state and they all say, ‘not really, we just want to keep playing.' That's what makes a good team great - just the desire to keep playing and not getting caught up in ‘being happy to be there.' It's a mark of a champion."