McALLEN — Valley View head coach Arnold Martinez took the Tigers’ head coaching job in 2016 looking to reverse the program’s fortunes. In his fourth year now with a complete roster of players brought up in his offensive and defensive schemes, he led the Tigers to new heights.

Martinez coached Valley View to a 25-12 record and its first playoff appearance in 15 years. His guidance throughout the season helped carry the Tigers’ program into a new era and earn Martinez The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year award.

“This year was the breakthrough. For me, the community and especially those girls, my seniors,” Martinez said. “I think as a coach I did the right thing. I was more patient and maybe I could have done it earlier, but I’m happy the way that it happened.”

Before landing at Valley View, Martinez, an assistant during the Hidalgo boys’ 2009 state playoff run, was also considering a move to Robstown. Several fellow coach friends implored him to take the Robstown job, but instead a detour changed the course of his coaching career.

“When I drove to Robstown for the second interview, I ran out of gas because I forgot to check the gauge right here outside of Edinburg. That same day, I flew out to Vegas and I was going to take the Robstown job,” Martinez said. “Then when I was in Vegas, Valley View called and my friends were like, ‘Go to Robstown, you’ll never win at Valley View.’ I took the Valley View job and I called a lot of them back and said, ‘You know what? You really motivated me, man.’”

When he first arrived at Valley View, Martinez inherited a struggling program that had experienced frequent coaching changes and dwindling interest. He began slowly reshaping the program but experienced some turbulent times in his first two seasons.

In his third season, evidence of the turnaround became clear as the Tigers missed out on a trip to the playoffs by just one game. Determined to further exceed expectations, Martinez and his team came out firing on all cylinders to open the 2019-20 season.

Seniors Alexis Ortegon and Daniela Garza, the only two Valley View players to have played under Martinez since the start, proved to be two of the most clutch players in the Valley. They were the foundation of the program’s success.

Ortegon, a first team All-District selection in 32-5A, averaged 10.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals per game, while Garza, the 32-5A Defensive Player of the Year, led the team with 11.5 points, 6.4 steals, 4.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds per contest.

Junior center Jimena Muñoz, a first team All-District and All Defensive team pick, served as the lynchpin of the Tigers’ offense from the high post while leading the team in points (13.0) and rebounds (13.5) per game. Forwards Julie Ponce and JC Prado also combined to give Valley View an extra 16 points, 11 rebounds and six steals per night.

Martinez credits the boom in production on his roster from top to bottom and his team’s communication on the court with adopting a more patient approach personally.

“Once I really engaged with the girls this year, I saw that this was a group of girls that really grasped it real quick and were picking up things,” he said. “Maybe some of the other groups had too, but I was being so patient because I couldn’t go to calculus without teaching pre-algebra. That’s the analogy I kept using with these girls.”

The Tigers ended up winning a critical couple of games down the stretch run on the road against Brownsville Porter and at home versus Donna High. The team won both and squashed its more than a decade-long postseason drought.

Valley View squared off against Mission Veterans in the bi-district round in its long-awaited return to the postseason. The Tigers lost by just four points in a game that came down to the wire, but to Martinez, the program’s culture change was already tangible.

“All the parents, administrators, board members and superintendents treated it like we won,” Martinez said. “They were like, ‘No coach, it doesn’t matter. It’s what you’ve done this year to see our fans fill up that Mission Vets gym. We’ve never had that. The community is back, basketball is back and they’re behind you 100%.’”

Garza and Ortegon, two of the program’s fundamental players who built its foundation, are gone, but the Tigers will return a large group that features some of the Valley’s most dynamic, versatile players.

With student interest and community support at all-time highs, Martinez is confident about the future of the program heading into a new, deeper district and hopes that in this new era Valley View will be considered a favorite instead of a hopeful.

“We know it’s a tougher district if you look at all the teams that are in there,” Martinez said. “It’s not going to be easy. They’re always thinking that Pioneer or Memorial is a lock, but we’re using that as motivation. It’s early, but we’re looking pretty good and I’m excited.”