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It's no secret that the girls' basketball community is a close-knit world. People involved in the sport from all corners of the country can typically be connected without as many as six degrees of separation.
|Carly Bishop, of Brea Olinda (Calif.), gets off a 3-pointer as St. Mary's (Ariz.) coach Curtis Ekmark appeals to his team for defense.|
So at the local level, losses to the community hit that much closer to home. When Tony Matson, a longtime coach in Orange County, Calif., died in April, close to 3,000 people showed up at his memorial, which expanded to two neighboring rooms where attendees could watch the service on television.
When it came back around to basketball season, as Matson's Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) team moved on with a new coach and others considered their tributes, Kevin Kiernan and Jeff Sink knew Matson's devotion to girls basketball, and his family, needed to be honored. Thus the Tony Matson Memorial Classic was born.
The event, scheduled for the Martin Luther King birthday holiday on Jan. 18, will be hosted at Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif. Rosary and Foothill start the day, while Orange Lutheran, now coached by Tom Howard, plays Villa Park. Rounding out the day is a big game for Orange County basketball fans -- a preview of the possible Division II Southern Section championship, as Sink's Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) squad and Kiernan's Mater Dei team meet in the final game of the day.
"Jeff and I have competed against Tony for years in the OC and Tony worked for Jeff as an assistant coach," Kiernan said. "Tony left behind a young family and both Jeff and I wanted to do something to help out. We felt people would like to see us play and we could raise some money for the Matson family."
A year ago, Brea Olinda ended Mater Dei's then-30-0 run with a victory in the Southern Section finals. The Ladycats went on to win the CIF title, and the teams barely missed each other in December at the Nike Tournament of Champions.
It will certainly have a different look from last year's game, as Brea junior Justine Hartman is out for the season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and Mater Dei is beat up right now, with junior Alexyz Vaioletama still out, senior Lauren Rock out for the season with a knee injury and Jessica Duarte out for a couple weeks with illness. But regardless of who is on the court, both teams bring a different level of intensity to their battles.
"Both schools feel they are doing the right thing with this game," Kiernan said. "I hope we can help the Matson family and honor Tony."
Matson is survived by his wife, Heidi, and their three daughters, Rachael, Brittany and Jessica. All proceeds from the event are going to a trust fund set up for the family.
St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) brings its outstanding long-range shooting into January, hitting double-figures form behind the arc in three of its past four games. The Rams split up 17 3-pointers between nine players in a Jan. 2 win against Davis (Calif.), hit 13 more Thursday in a win against Clovis West (Fresno, Calif.) and then hit 14 in Saturday's win against Sacramento (Calif.). The Rams hit seven of 12 attempts in Wednesday's win against Linden (Calif.). Leading the way are seniors Chelsea Gray and Alle Moreno, who have hit 10 and nine, respectively.
The Classic in the Country in Berlin, Ohio, is always a hot spot for Ohio teams to battle each other and a couple lucky out-of-state teams, and this year is no exception. With University (Newark, N.J.) and Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) coming to town, Ohio teams are on alert for the three-day tournament that begins Saturday. The game of the weekend might be Monday's matchup between Start (Toledo, Ohio) and Potter's House.
Phoenix, Ariz., rivals St. Mary's and Desert Vista were ready for a battle Friday, but freshman Aliyah Dickson made it a one-sided game as St. Mary's won 64-46. Coming off the bench for St. Mary's, Dickson, who missed games after she injured her ankle during the Nike Tournament of Champions first session, scored a game-high 24 points. It was Desert Vista's first loss to an in-state opponent this season. … Alicia Cropper scored 26 of her game-high 34 points in the first half of an 82-60 Thomas Jefferson win against Boys & Girls (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Cropper's strong first half brought Jefferson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) an 18-point lead at halftime. … Lakeville North (Lakeville, Minn.) defeated Eden Prairie (Minn.), another Minnesota power, 74-60 behind a combined 48 points from Rachel Banham (19), Apiew Ojulu (18) and Cassie Rochel (11). … Detroit Country Day (Beverly Hills, Mich.), the defending Class B champion, won its first test of January with a 51-38 win Saturday against Class A Renaissance (Detroit), the class's top-ranked team. The Yellowjackets face another of Class A's top teams Tuesday as they travel to East Lansing (Mich.), which lost by two in the 2009 state quarterfinals to eventual champion Benton Harbor. … St. John's (D.C.) is in danger of having a very good season sidetracked after losing leading scorer Marissa Brock to an ACL injury last week. The Harvard-bound Brock, a 6-1 post, suffered the injury early in St. John's 70-58 victory over Holy Cross.
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