On Wednesday night, Surprise Valley Vista won its fifth 6A women’s basketball title in six years. A day earlier, Goodyear Millennium had made a quadruple in 5A.
Tucson Salpointe Catholic broke the trend of back-to-back titles on Monday, winning in 4A, but Chandler Seton Catholic has won four championships since 2017.
Dynasties aren’t a new concept, but over the past half-decade they’ve secured a grip on women’s basketball in Arizona like never before. From 2023, however, they could be a thing of the past – at least in their current form.
Next February, the AIA will launch open divisions for women’s and men’s basketball, copying the format that has drawn record crowds at state championship football games for the past three years. As with football, the Open Division will feature the top eight teams in the state, with schools not qualifying to compete in conference tournaments as they always have.
Among the top coaches of women’s teams in the state, reactions to the new format have been mixed.
“I think it’s going to be fine, so we stop having blowouts,” Valley Vista coach Rachel Matakas said.
In recent years, this has increasingly been an issue in Valley Vista games.
In this year’s state tournament, the Monsoon won all four games by averaging 40.0 points, including Wednesday’s 68-46 state championship win over Gilbert Perry.
“I think Perry is a really good team, but is it a state-rival team? Probably not,” Matakas said. “But a 6A conference team? Absolutely.”
Coming out of the opposite locker room, Perry’s coach, Andrew Curtis, dismissed the need for a tournament to crown a true state champion.
“Valley (Vista) is the best team,” Curtis said. “No one else has been better than them all year.”
Additionally, Curtis said, basketball schedules provide enough flexibility for teams to schedule elite non-conference opponents in December and January. Matakas echoed that refrain, pointing to Valley Vista’s Jan. 4 victory over Millennium.
Still, says Matakas, there’s a difference between playing a team in January and playing them in March, with a championship on the line. Plus, even the strongest schedules can’t suit every top-flight opponent. This year, for example, Valley Vista did not face Salpointe Catholic, who won the 4A title winless by less than 13 points.
Although the 2022-23 tournament format is already decided, Matakas wants to see a slightly different look in the future. Rather than figuring out eight Open Division teams before the playoffs, the Valley Vista coach wants to run state championships in their current format and then face the 3A, 4A, 5A, and 6A champions in a four-team tournament. next week.
“The open division is good, but there will be a lot of teams that go home with nothing better than the teams that bring home a trophy,” Matakas said. “And then the children don’t really have any memories. They don’t come home to celebrate and hoist a trophy in the open division. “Hey, you were in the open division.” Alright, what does that mean? I think a lot of those teams are going to be forgotten when they were really, really good teams.
Millennial coach Kevin Thomas would likely be a supporter of this proposal.
In February, before the state tournaments, the AIA sent coaches a mock-up of what a hypothetical open division would have looked like this year. Because the Tigers struggled through a nine-game regular season against one of the toughest schedules in the state, they missed out on the top eight.
“I don’t see this as a fair representation of who we are and where we stand in Arizona basketball,” Thomas said. “So I just hope it’s done well.”
His concerns lie in how the AIA’s computer rating is generated.
“I want to make sure they do it the right way and incorporate a human element and involve coaches and media and make sure the right teams are there,” Thomas said.
If the AIA can strike the right balance, Millennium would be among the biggest benefactors.
“That would be amazing,” Thomas said of Valley Vista in the state tournament. After all, his team only lost three points in January, when an tying buzzer beater was controversially called off.
For decades, games like this have led to off-season debates over who the better team really is. From next year, they will be gone forever.
“Now when you say you’re the state champion, you’re the state champion,” Matakas said. “And there are no questions.”
Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @theo_mackie.