A lot has changed since the Chaparral High School girls basketball team played Mesquite High School in last year’s semifinals.
The Firebirds avenged last year’s loss with a 63–55 win over Mesquite to win the 5A state championship Tuesday, Feb. 27 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. A year ago, the Wildcats defeated Chaparral 72–49, knocking the Firebirds out of the playoffs.
Chaparral Head Coach Brian Porth said this year was starkly different from last year’s team because it featured two new starters in sophomore Anna Ostlie and freshman Jess Finney and a slew of new players.
At the end of the day, Coach Porth said the team’s expectations were to get better every day as the season rolled on.
“One of the last things we talked about before the game was let’s be better at the end of this game than we were the day we started,” he said after the game. “It shows a lot of how much they want to work for each other to get better and tonight, we were the best we’ve been all year.”
Coming into the game, guard Maddie Vick said Chaparral made it a priority to slow Mesquite’s high-scoring offense, which scores an average of about 80 points per game.
Coach Porth said his players knew their defensive roles well and focused on their matchups.
“It’s understanding their roles but it’s also them communicating to each other, especially when they’re at the far end of the court,” he said. “It was special to watch them play such focused defense.”
In three of the four quarters, Mesquite scored less than 11 points. Overall, the Wildcats shot 20-of-66 from the field.
By halftime, the Firebirds had built a 34–20 lead after holding the Wildcats to nine points in the first quarter. Offensively, Chaparral had six 3-pointers in the first half with four of them coming in the second quarter.
Vick said the defensive focus was shutting Mesquite’s top scorers Shaylee Gonzales and Lindsey VanAllen down. Both combined for 11 first-half points.
The Wildcats also only made 8-of-30 field goals and 3-of-11 on 3-pointers.
After the break, Mesquite blasted off to 25 points in the third to cut Chaparral’s lead to 50–45. Gonzales had 13 third-quarter points and VanAllen scored nine.
“We knew they were going to go on a run and we needed to stay focused, not freak out and stay controlled,” Vick said after the game.
The Firebirds’ defense regrouped and allowed 10 points, keeping Gonzales scoreless and VanAllen with five points, during the fourth. Gonzales finished with 18 and VanAllen scored 20.
For the Firebirds, Vick and Ostlie led the way with 17 each and Summer Menke scored 15.
Vick and Menke are part of a group of five seniors with Vick, Menke and Brenna Doyle all being on the roster since their freshman year.
All four years, the Firebirds made the playoffs and three of those four years, they faced Mesquite in the playoffs.
Vick said she’s played with Menke and Doyle a lot longer than just at Chaparral and winning a state championship with them was amazing.
As for Menke, the word she chose to describe winning the state title with her long-time friends was “amazing.”
“They’re my best friends and they all worked so hard and are so talented,” she said after the game. ” I love them all. We deserved this and we got it and I’m so happy.”