The Hamilton girls basketball team found itself in a hole early on in Saturday’s 6A girls basketball state championship game against Valley Vista.
Cold shooting mixed with Valley Vista’s ability to penetrate the Huskies’ zone defense allowed the Monsoon to quickly build to a double-digit lead in the first two quarters. But as has been the case all season for head coach Trevor Neider’s team, they kept fighting.
Despite tying the game at one point in the fourth quarter, Hamilton was unable to contain Valley Vista down the stretch as the Monsoon went on to win its second straight title over the Huskies and fourth in 5 years, 49-41.
“They played phenomenal all year we just couldn’t make shots today,” Neider said. “Valley Vista is long, and they just play extremely tough. They’re a tough team, that’s why they’re winning state titles. We just couldn’t get things going.”
Hamilton struggled to find a rhythm from the jump, rushing itself on the offensive end which resulted in forced shots that rarely found the bottom of the net. Hamilton, one of the highest scoring teams in 6A this season, was held to just four points in the first quarter and 14 for the half.
The Huskies uncharacteristically made just four of their 22 shot attempts in the first half as Valley Vista quickly built to a nine-point lead.
“We were just running around. I don’t know if it was the pressure or communication,” Neider said. “We just couldn’t get into anything. Everyone was on a different page and it dug us in a hole. We said we would be fine, and comeback, and we did but the layups in the second half, you can’t miss those against a team like that.”
Hamilton’s first-half nerves settled in the third as the Huskies and Valley Vista flipped roles. Shots began to fall for Hamilton while Valley Vista saw its lead quickly shrink.
Led by senior guards Amyah Reaves and Vanessa Washington, Hamilton went on a 15-6 run through the third quarter and most of the fourth, at one point tying the game. Then, however, Valley Vista’s size advantage began to once again play a key role.
Senior Marisa Davis found holes in Hamilton’s defense, drawing fouls and converting on 10-of-14 of her attempts. Davis, who has led the Monsoon all season with junior Jenna Isai out due to injury, finished with a team-high 10 points for Valley Vista in the win.
Hamilton’s run to the title game was one led by a group of seven seniors Neider said was one of the smartest groups he had ever coached. In their four years, the group appeared in three straight state championship games, winning one in 2019.
Reaves, at the varsity level since her freshman year, has been key in Hamilton’s run of success. It was her on the court Saturday night motivating her team to push through adversity brought on by Valley Vista’s defense.
In the second half, aware her team needed an answer on both ends of the floor, she kickstarted Hamilton’s run to tie the game and bring the Huskies within striking distance of the championship in the fourth quarter.
She hopes her determination and overall ability to help her team in adverse situations is part of what she is remembered for when she graduates in May.
“As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’ve taken on a role of scoring, but I’ve always wanted to get my teammates involved,” Reaves said. “I just aim to always make sure we are playing as a team. This team is going to keep growing and keep building and I hope I made a big impact that.”
As the Huskies did last season, Neider hopes the loss in Saturday’s championship game will fuel them as they transition to the offseason.
This time, however, he hopes the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t play a prominent role in not only delaying the team’s progress but keeping them off the court.
“Hopefully it motivates them,” Neider said. “I think the biggest thing the younger kids don’t see yet is the IQ of this senior group played a huge role. We’ve got to get them up to speed because they’re extremely talented, but when you’re a freshman and sophomore your IQ isn’t that great.
“If we can get a good summer, hopefully we can get a little bit of normalcy to get them working again I think we will be right there.”