By Stephanie Hammon
Miramonte High girls basketball coach Kelly Sopak got his first inkling that the Matadors might be in for a special season at a tournament this past summer.
"I turned to one of my assistant coaches and said 'We're playing better right now than we did at the end of last season,'" Sopak recalled. "I joked that we might be peaking right now."
As it turned out, the Matadors were only getting started.
Using a nine-player rotation, the Matadors excuted Sopak's uptempo system to near perfection. The result was a school record 31 victories and an undefeated regular season, earning Sopak Bay Area News Group East Bay Coach of the Year honors in his third season at Miramonte.
With an emphasis on the team more than ever before, Miramonte began the season without any concrete goals regarding league and section titles.
"The rationale was we didn't want to put a ceiling on the season," Sopak said. "We knew there appeared to be something special in the way they played together."
The only goal the Matadors set was to focus on the game immediately ahead of them -- a one-game winning streak. By the end of February, the Matadors had gone on 28 one-game winning streaks without a loss. They also completed first perfect regular season for an East Bay team since 2006.
"The pressure of the winning streak never got to the kids because they were focused on the one-game winning streak," Sopak said.
The Matadors captured the Diablo Foothill Athletic League title for the first time since 2008, beating a senior-laden Dougherty Valley squad that had won the past two league crowns. Miramonte's only losses of the season came to a Bishop O'Dowd team ranked No. 14 in the nation in the North Coast Section and Northern California regional Division III championship games.
The NorCal title game appearance was the first for the Miramonte program since 2005.