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Updated Apr 30, 2015 - 2:12 pm

Desert Vista girls’ transition highlights Arizona girls basketball playoffs

Photo by Jim Willittes

Jahnae Martin and Desert Vista have risen to the state semifinals after an abrupt coaching change last season.

A little more than a year ago, the Desert Vista (Phoenix) girls basketball program was in the midst of transition.

Photo by Jim Willittes

Emily Wolph, Desert Vista

Interim coach J’ontar Coleman was doing his best to refocus the team after being bumped up from junior varsity after the head coach was let go on Jan. 14, 2013 for various reasons. The Thunder are still in transition, but of a different variety as their defense has pushed them to Friday’s Division I semifinals.

“We are playing at real high level right now,” Coleman said. “The defense is feeding the offense like we always talk about. When we are doing that we are at our best.”

Desert Vista (28-2) fell to fifth seed after losing in the Super Sectional semifinals, meaning the Thunder were locked out of the top four seeds, and now they are facing 30-2 top seed Dobson (Mesa) in the state semis instead of the championship game they seemed destined for all season.

See the MaxPreps Arizona girls basketball playoff brackets

They met in the Nike Tournament of Champions final on Dec. 21, when the Thunder won 53-42. A lot has transpired since then, including a few upsets on the other side of the bracket, as No. 10 Hamilton (Chandler) (22-7) faces No. 6 Westview (Avondale) (25-6) in the other semifinal.

The Thunder, however, are continuing to grow in Coleman’s first full year as head coach. He had to interview for the position after leading the Thunder the last 10 games last season. His message to the administration was simple:
“Give me a year and let me show you what I can do.”

Photo by Jim Willittes

Kristine Anigwe (left) and Tatum Brimley, Desert Vista

Coleman knew he had the talent to back him up with three Division I players in senior guard Emily Wolph (Santa Clara) and juniors Kristine Anigwe, a 6-foot-4 post committed to Cal, and guard Sabrina Haines, who has had serious contact from nine schools after transferring in from Mountain View (Mesa).

Add in the toughness and athleticism of seniors Lindsey Payton, Jahnae Martin, junior Alexis Barfield and sophomore Tatum Brimley and Desert Vista can wreak plenty of havoc.

Here’s the thing – Dobson, which has won 14 straight, plays a very similar style. The Mustangs spread around the offense, seemingly get their hands on any pass that isn’t crisp and make the extra pass with seniors Miyah Leith and Tori Lloyd leading the way.

Dobson coach Tyler Dumas has won a state title (2010) and has the Mustangs in contention every year playing that style. In other words, it has the makings of an epic game, one that would have been hard to envision a year ago for the Thunder.

“We’ve come a long way,” Coleman said. “The talent was there. We just had to get on the same page and everything is falling in place.”

Division I
Wells Fargo Arena

No. 5 Desert Vista vs. No. 1 Dobson, 6 p.m.
No. 10 Hamilton vs. No. 6 Westview, 2:30 p.m.
Championship Arena
Saturday, 1 p.m.

Division II
Championship Arena
No. 3 Cienega (Vail) vs. No. 1 Seton Catholic (Chandler), 9 a.m.

Division III
Semifinals Arena

No. 4 Window Rock (Fort Defiance) vs. No. 1 Valley Christian (Chandler), 6:15 p.m.
No. 7 Fountain Hills (Fountain Hills) vs. No. 6 Estrella Foothills (Goodyear), 2:45 p.m. Arena
Saturday, 5 p.m.

Division IV
Tim’s Toyota Center

No. 4 Gilbert Christian vs. No. 1 Valley Union (Elfrida), 6 p.m.
No. 7 St. David vs. No. 3 Salt River (Scottsdale), 2:30 p.m.

Tim’s Toyota Center, 4 p.m.

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at or 480-272-2449.

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