After good starts on the road against other top teams, the two best Arizona high school girls basketball programs get another chance to take on the best in the Valley.
Millennium and Valley Vista are in top brackets of the Nike Tournament of Champions, starting Saturday Dec. 18 and continuing through Wednesday, Dec. 22. More than 100 teams are taking part in the event with games at the five Tempe Union High School District.
Rachel Matakas' Monsoon start in the loaded Joe Smith bracket and will play McDonough from Owings Mills, Maryland at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at Desert Vista High School. McDonogh is the No. 15 ranked girls team nationally by MaxPreps.
“With playing in the top bracket in the NIKE is really going to challenge and check us as a team. I believe I think you constantly have to be challenged and compete to grow as a program,” coach Matakas stated.
Meanwhile, Millennium plays in another tough bracket, named after John Anderson, starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday against Valor Christian from Colorado at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe. The Tigers are one of two Arizona schools in a 16-team bracket that includes schools from Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Texas.
Millennium has the firepower to compete. In addition to returning three of its leading scorers from last year, the Tigers welcomed back ASU-bound senior guard Trayanna Crisp after she played a year at PHH Prep.
“Trayanna is a great basketball player. She understands the game, is unselfish, and is a fierce competitor. The more she gets to play with any team, the better that team is going to be,” Millennium coach Kevin Thomas stated.
Both teams started the season at the multi-state - and international - La Jolla, Calif., Sweet 16 tournament and acquitted themselves well.
Millennium's traveling show started with a third-place finish in La Jolla.
The Tigers won their first two games in the Sweet 16 Tournament to start the month before running up against host and eventual champion La Jolla Country Day and falling by 21. Millennium rebounded to beat Las Vegas Spring Valley by 21 for third place.
"We learned a lot in La Jolla. We struggled as a team, and faced some adversity that we had to grow through. The girls are really good basketball players, and hard workers, and we have a long way to go,” Thomas stated.
The Monsoon lost its opener in the La Jolla Sweet 16 Tournament 64-54 to Crestwood Academy from North York, Ontario, Canada. Valley Vista then stormed through the consolation bracket, winning the next three games by more than 40 points.
Matakas stated the three routs against top teams from other states taught her team that the more it play a team the harder it is to play Valley Vista due to all the weapons on the floor at any given time.
“The athletes were really looking forward to the tournament because there was such a long gap prior to their first game. I think anytime that you can take your team out of state and play some high caliber teams it only makes you better and exposes your area of improvement,” Matakas stated.
These major tournaments are old hat, at least they were pre-COVID, for the Tigers and Monsoon. A third West Valley program, however, will make its Nike Tournament of Champions debut tomorrow.
Sunrise Mountain faces off with Valley View High School from Moreno Valley, Calif. at noon Saturday in the second gym at Mountain Pointe High School.
"Our program has grown over the last five or so years into a program that is ready to compete against some quality teams. It is exciting and 100% a testament to the hard work and talent of our athletes," Sunrise Mountain coach Jen Tolle stated. "We hope to continue to challenge ourselves to become a disciplined basketball team. A team that competes for four quarters at a high level on both ends of the court."
That's the last tournament this year for Sunrise Mountain, but Millennium and Valley Vista both plan to head back to California in January.
The Monsoon have a return trip to La Jolla, this time to play Sweet 16 tournament champion and host La Jolla Country Day Jan. 11. This game against another national Top 10 ranked team will count in the Monsoon’s regular season rankings.
Millennium heads north to Stockton, Calif. for the MLK Classic Jan. 14-15.
“We’ll see a lot more of that in our schedule, through the games ahead that you noted, the past games in La Jolla Country Day, Nike TOC, St. Mary’s MLK Classic in Stockton, California. We have a great schedule,” Thomas stated.
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