Matti staying on point, running the show for defending state champion Hayfield
Isaac Matti was Hayfield's No. 2 scorer a year ago when the team won the Class A state boys basketball title. This season he is the top scorer and point guard for the 13-1 Vikings.
Isaac Matti knew the day would come when he took over the point guard duties for the Hayfield boys basketball team. And during his junior season, that time has arrived.
Matti is a standout scorer for the Vikings and the 6-foot-1 guard averaged more than 16 points per game as a sophomore to help Hayfield win the Class A state championship. This season he has the added task of being the team’s floor general.
“He kind of took over Ethan Slaathaug’s role as the main ball handler and facilitator,” Hayfield coach Chris Pack said. “We expected him to take the next step up and he’s done that, and done that well.”
Matti is playing point guard for the first time since he was in sixth grade. He has been on the Hayfield varsity since he was in eighth grade. Now a veteran and team leader, Matti has made a fairly smooth transition to the new position.
“I’ve always been practicing my ball handling because I knew this time would come when I would have to be the point guard,” Matti said. “So I’ve always kept my ball handling ready.”
After being the team's No. 2 scorer a year ago, Matti leads the Vikings with 20.7 points per game. But he is also averaging more than four assists per game.
“I want to keep my teammates involved,” he said. “I know they’ve put in the work and they can score. They really help out a lot.”
Coaches in the family
It's not much of a surprise that Matti is a leader on the court. He comes from a coaching background and has been around the game — and at gyms — since about the time he could walk.
Doug Matti’s, Isaac’s grandfather, was the head boys basketball coach at Hayfield from 1969-83. He was also an assistant coach when the Vikings made back-to-back state tournament appearances in 1967-68.
Mike Matti, Isaac’s father, has been a long-time boys and girls basketball coach in Byron at the middle school level. He is currently coaching the C-squad girls basketball team in Byron.
“I give them credit for all my skills because they are the ones that pushed me to get better,” Isaac Matti said.
Pack has seen the all-around improvement in Matti’s game. The guard is a solid 3-point shooter, but is also able and willing to drive to the basket, hit mid-range shots and even has the ability to post up.
“He can score from all three levels,” Pack said. “He keeps getting stronger and puts time in the weight room. And just working out and getting stronger.”
There is also the confidence factor. The Vikings got on a roll at the end of the 2020-21 season and capped their stellar season by winning the first boys basketball state championship in school history. Matti played a huge role in the title.
“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Pack said. "He’s been put in some big-time situations and he’s been handling it really well."
Matti said that last year’s success has fueled the Vikings to work even harder this season. He is one of four returning starters along with Easton Fritcher, Kobe Foster and Ethan Pack.
“We know we have to play better every single game coming in because we know everyone wants to play the state champs,” Matti said. “It’s a big game for people who are playing us, so it’s motivated us because we know we have to play a lot better this year.”
So far the Vikings have proven themselves worthy of a defending state champion. Hayfield is off to a stellar 13-1 start, with the only blemish coming against Section 1A foe Rushford-Peterson. Section 1A is stacked again this season as R-P, Hayfield and Goodhue are all ranked in the top 10 in the QRF ratings while Kenyon-Wanamingo is No. 14 and Spring Grove is No. 21.
Matti realizes the Vikings are in a tough section and he said the key for the team to succeed is to play together, and for everyone to fill their role. He would love to be the Section 1A Player of the Year, and to earn All-State honors, but winning is his No. 1 priority.
“I think everyone on our team wants to get back (to state),” he said. “It’s just that same motivation to do the same thing as last year.”