Maricopa is back in the state playoffs.
With a 59-30 victory over Deer Valley, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team qualified for the Arizona Interscholastic Association 5A championships. Seedings for the Top 16 bracket will be announced this weekend.
Most of the team is new to playoff atmosphere, but senior Sydni Callis was a freshman on the state champion team in 2015 and has seen four years of high expectations. So she has some perspective on what it takes to win a title.
“It feels good,” she said about Thursday’s win. “I’m hoping we can get as far as we did. I think we can. I have confidence in them.”
While Callis described the return to the playoffs as “kind of like déjà vu,” head coach Melvin Mitchell feels her experience is vital for a young team that was unprepared for the intensity that came at them from 20th-ranked Deer Valley.
“I tried to explain what the playoff atmosphere was like, but they just don’t understand that because they’ve never experienced it,” said Mitchell, who was assistant coach for that championship season. “Sydni is starting to step up and become more of a leader. She’s not necessarily vocal in her personality, but she’s starting to get there and tell these girls exactly what she wants them to do.
“They respect her because she’s been there and won a state championship.”
Maricopa knew Deer Valley only from game tapes. Mitchell said the team looked bigger in person than on film. Though clearly the superior team, the Rams played shaky, often wild basketball in the first half, letting the Hawks stay close early. Though leading by only one point after one quarter, Maricopa held Deer Valley to just two points in the second and led 23-10 at the half.
“I think they got a little over-anxious we had a lot of fast-break layups in the first half that we just didn’t convert,” Mitchell said.
He told them to calm down during break and to back off on the long pass when it wasn’t there. The Rams scored 21 points in the third quarter and ran off with the victory.
Sophomore Taylor Coleman led all scoring with 15 points. Mitchell said she has always been a spark on the team and is learning what her strong shots are.
Chipping in two 3-pointers, junior Jayla Johnson scored 14. Senior Alia Ballou scored nine, and freshman Brooke Smith scored seven. Callis scored just five but had 12 rebounds, seven steals and six assists.
“The more and more they get used to and the more physical we amp it up in practice, the better they’ll play,” Mitchell said. “We have to do the things that got us here.”