Ariana Vanderhoop had stepped on the famed parquet floor at TD Garden twice before, but not as a player, donning her prized Cathedral High uniform. A pair of anterior cruciate ligament tears denied her opportunities as a freshman and junior.
But as a starting senior guard, Vanderhoop soaked up every moment of the Panthers’ 61-37 victory over Matignon in Tuesday’s Division 4 semifinal at TD Garden, securing the program’s fifth trip to the state final in six seasons.
Playing, and contributing, this far into the season carries significant emotional weight. In her first three years, Vanderhoop played in fewer than 10 regular-season games. This season, it’s been full go from the start for the Panthers (21-4), who will play the winner of Wednesday’s Maynard/Monson semifinal in the state final.
“At the beginning it was nerve-wracking, but I just got used to it and my nerves went away,” said Vanderhoop, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. “It’s the best opportunity of my life.”
Senior Mackenzie Daleba was a force with 18 points and 18 rebounds, and sophomore Tayla Barros had 12 points.
Sisters Emma and Olivia Found scored 12 points apiece for the North champion Warriors (20-2), who topped three-time reigning champion Fenway for the program’s first sectional title.
"We’re weren’t satisfied, but we feel that we gave it our all in getting to this point,” Matignon coach Joe DiSarcina said. “[Cathedral is] difficult to match up against. They wear you down.”
Daleba and Cathedral coach Clinton Lassiter shared similar sentiments discussing Vanderhoop’s senior year resurgence.
“Seeing her injured those last few years was a bummer,” Lassiter said. “For her to go out her senior year on the Garden floor is a storybook.”
Daleba relished sharing the TD Garden floor with Vanderhoop, one of her closest friends.
“Throughout all the challenges that she’s had during her high school career, for her to play today was really outstanding,” Daleba said. “To have her by my side was really great.”
Before the game, Vanderhoop was all smiles. During the contest, she communicated diligently on defense. Her on-court demeanor is a juxtaposition to her serious and soft-spoken nature off of it. She and her teammates envisioned themselves as Celtics players.
“Has to be Jayson Tatum,” she said.