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Mills honors late coach Dave Matsu with league title victory

Mills honors late coach Dave Matsu with league title victory
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ATHERTON — When the buzzer sounded, the Mills girls basketball team gathered at mid-court to celebrate a gusty 46-40 win over Menlo-Atherton Friday.

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The sound of cheering screams from the players and parents in the stands could be heard from the parking lot. The Vikings had just captured the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title in a game where it looked like they were going to come up empty handed.

As both teams walked through the handshake line, Mills coach Justin Matsu congratulated the Menlo-Atherton coaches, walked to the end of the his team’s bench and broke down.

With his team hugging and cheering with each other near midcourt, the 5-foot-10 head coach took off his thin-framed black glasses and wiped away tears from his eyes.

When he looked up, his mother Julia was waiting to embrace him. As they both shed tears of joy, she told Matsu how proud she was that he got his team here.

Friday’s win for Mills meant a lot more than just winning the league title. For the Vikings, the win was in honor of Justin’s father Dave Matsu — the long-time Mills coach who died of a stroke in October.

“These girls have done such a great job of playing with a fire from within that my dad fueled,” Matsu said.

“They’ve helped me out more than I have helped them. Just getting through this whole process, we’re gonna try to keep this thing going.”

Mills head coach Justin Matsu instructs his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer) 

Dave and Justin Matsu led Mills to its first Central Coast Section Title since 1985 last season. When Dave died, Justin Matsu took over as head coach before this season started.

The stakes were high for both teams coming into Friday’s game. If Menlo-Atherton had won, the title would have been shared between Mills, Menlo-Atherton and Carlmont as all three teams would have had a 6-3 record in league play.

The pressure of the game looked to have caused some nerves early for the Vikings. Mills didn’t score a basket until the 1:04 mark of the first quarter and went into the second quarter with just four points total.

Mills trailed by as much as eight in the second quarter, struggling to find a rhythm offensively.

“I think nerves played a part in the slow start,” Matsu said. “It’s a tough place to play and shoot, so I knew we just had to find our groove on the offensive end.”

With the Vikings down 19-14 at halftime, they needed a spark on both ends.

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Matsu felt that an adjustment or big halftime pep talk didn’t need to be made. Instead, he believed he just needed to lean on the players that got the team to this point.

Mills' Sofia Kwan (15) shoots under pressure from Menlo Atherton's Janiya Moss (15 ) in the second quarter at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer)

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Mills’ Sofia Kwan (15) shoots under pressure from Menlo Atherton’s Janiya Moss (15 ) in the second quarter at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer) 

After a relatively quiet start to the game, junior guard Sophia Kwan put the team on her back in the second half. Kwan didn’t miss a shot in the third quarter and made a curling mid-range jumper that gave the Vikings their first lead of the game at 26-24 with just under two minutes left in the third.

Kwan finished the game with 23 points with 16 coming in the second half.

After three, Mills was down 30-29. An 8-0 run from the Vikings to start the fourth quarter gave them a comfortable seven-point lead with five minutes left in the game.

It was a shift in mentality for the Vikings who looked timid early. But with each made shot in the second half, their confidence continued to grow.

“We just knew we could do much more than what we showed (in the first half),” Kwan said about the Vikings’ second half run.

Mills' Michelle Tang (4) looks to maneuver after grabbing a rebound over Atherton's Janiya Moss (15 ) in the fourth quarter at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer)
Mills’ Michelle Tang (4) looks to maneuver after grabbing a rebound over Atherton’s Janiya Moss (15 ) in the fourth quarter at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer) 

But Menlo-Atherton wasn’t going away just yet. The Bears cut the lead to just two with under 30 seconds left in the game.

With the league title on the line, it was the Vikings’ two best players who sank the biggest shots of the night. Senior Michelle Tang, who finished the game with 12 points, went to the free throw line and sank both of her foul shots to make the score 44-40 with 15 seconds left.

Kwan closed the game, hitting the final two free throws of the night as Mills pulled off the win.

“We didn’t want a shared title,” Tang said. “To get this win for Dave means more than anything for us.”

For Mills, winning the PAL Bay is just the start of what the Vikings hope to accomplish this season. After winning a CCS title last season, the team said they came into this year expecting to do a lot more.

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“Right before the season we had a coaches meeting with my dad and he wrote out our goals in a notebook,” Matsu said. “All he wrote was league, CCS and Norcal. We have a long way to go before we get to the last two, but it’s just so nice to get one of these for him.”

Mills High School players celebrate their 46-40 victory over Menlo Atherton at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer)
Mills High School players celebrate their 46-40 victory over Menlo Atherton at Menlo Atherton High School Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Atherton, Calif. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer) 



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