Maren Matthews probably will not graduate from Valley Vista next spring as the greatest volleyball player ever to play at the school.
But David Chavez has coached the Monsoon nine years now. And he is hard pressed to remember a player that got more out of her high school volleyball experience.
“I can honestly say that out of all players, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a change from freshman to senior year, as much as I have with Maren. She grew every single year, exponentially,” Chavez said.
Matthews said when she was younger, she thought basketball would be the sport she stuck with. But by the time she arrived on campus in 2019 she was strictly a volleyball player.
Matthews only knew a couple players and coach Chavez, but that did not prevent her from playing varsity right out of the gate along with fellow freshmen Alina Nunez and Cynthia Lopez.
“When I was a freshman it was definitely really intimidating. There were a lot of higher level people at the time, compared to my skill level. At first it was rough, but over time we started to become more comfortable and grow more as a person, which made it a lot easier,” Matthews said.
She played right side and middle blocker that first year. The potential for a dynamic attacking duo with Nunez vanished when Nunez moved to Tucson. She now stars for Canyon del Oro.
Chavez saw Matthews play in eighth grade, and couldn’t help but notice how tall her father was.
“I needed someone like her on the right side and in the middle,” Chavez said. “Her freshman year, I typically very rarely bring up freshmen, normally one or two. But she was a very good fit and she learned a lot from the seniors we had.”
She played more regularly as a sophomore during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.
Then, like many Valley Vista players, Matthews blossomed during the unexpected joyride of a 2021 season. She led the balanced team in kills and pitched in with major contributions in other categories.
Matthews said last year’s squad had lot of seniors and natural leaders. The team finished 23-4 and hosted a 6A first round playoff match, only to see Phoenix Desert Vista pull an upset.
“This year we have a lot of underclassmen so we really had to adjust,” Matthews said. “I think it’s been a little bit of a challenge, but we’re slowly getting better.”
She said early in the year, the team was not always focused mentally. When Valley Vista was at its best in the season opener, this team was capable of upsetting Gilbert Perry — now ranked No. 2 in 6A — in five sets.
But the Monsoon then lost their next three matches. And much of the responsibility to get the team back was on Matthews.
“Not only have I seen it. So have her peers. I typically have my players choose their captain. She was unanimously chosen as the team captain,” Chavez said.
The Monsoon entered this week, the final week of the regular season, 18-10 overall and 10-5 in regular season matches.
She said she fells more responsible and more confident than she did earlier in the season.
“At first I was really nervous and scared or having this big role and having all my teammates look up to me. Now I realize it’s not as scary as it seems. Yeah, you’re captain but you’re also really good friends of everybody on the team,” Matthews said.
This year she moved from middle blocker to her more natural position of right side.
That allowed Matthews to focus more on her all around game. And she has formed a powerful attack duo with freshman outside hitter Brooklyn Jenkins.
“That’s what she’ll be playing in college, right side. But I have to have my top six players, so what enabled me to do that is having her play middle,” Chavez said. “She’s actually a tremendous athlete in that she can play outside, middle and right side. Now she’s setting too.”
Matthews leads the Monsoon with 192 kills in 80 sets played.
She has verbally committed to play for Glendale Community College next fall.
“It’s a good program. My daughter played in that program. They do well over there. It kind of kills two bird with one stone that Maren gets to stay local and I get to watch her play. I’m very excited. Any time these kids can play at the next level and get a free education, I’m happy and excited,” Chavez said.
Playing at a community college will allow her to continue improving while getting a lot of basic course work out of the way.
When Matthews chooses a four-year school, she said she intends to study in a more unique field, marine biology or environmental science.
“I know some of the players and I get along with them really well. I like the coaching. It’s also the best fit for me in my personal life. I’m not ready to leave yet,” Matthews said.