Unlike the last three seasons fans won't be yawning the next two weeks watching the Division I girls basketball state tournament. There is no foregone conclusion that one team has it wrapped up before any team steps on the court as in the case of St. Mary's' dominance (2011-2013).
The 2013-2014 season has been a breath of fresh air. More normal and more thrilling. With the exception of a couple anticipated matchups in the round of 16 -- say Highland-Hamilton, Basha-Millennium and perhaps Westview-Mtn. View -- the real fun should be unleashed in the quarterfinals where there figures to be no sure thing.
Here's an overview with matchups, favorites, darkhorses, who's hot and not and other notes in the battle for D-I supremacy. The tournament opens Wednesday (Feb. 19), continues with the round of 16 on Friday (Feb. 21) and concludes the following week with games Feb. 26 (quarterfinals), Feb. 28 (semifinals) and March 1 (championship).
Wednesday Feb. 19 1st-round matchups: #17 Betty Fairfax at #16 Corona del Sol (winner at #1 Dobson); #24 Mesa at #9 Basha (winner at #8 Millennium); #21 Ironwood at #12 Horizon (winner at #5 Desert Vista); #20 Valley Vista at #13 Pinnacle (winner at #4 Mountain Pointe); #19 Tolleson at #14 Chaparral (winner at #3 Liberty); #22 Red Mountain at #11 Mesa Mtn. View (winner at #6 Westview); #23 Chandler at #10 Hamilton (winner at #7 Highland); #18 Desert Mountain at #15 Boulder Creek (winner at #2 Mesquite). FAVORITE(S): Desert Vista (26-2) slipped to the #5 seed after losing in the semis of its super-sectional to Mesquite. It was only Desert Vista's second loss of the season and both were to Mesquite. The Thunder have the most talent in the field. In a few games down the stretch they lost focus and composure, especially in games they were pressed until the end by Mesquite and Mountain Pointe. Other contenders have gained confidence knowing a killer-instinct that existed the first half of the year by the Thunder has waned a bit. There are teams capable of beating Desert Vista straight up, but if the Thunder's mindset is right.....Top-seed Dobson (28-2) played the toughest schedule of any D-I team. The Mustangs lost twice during the sesason (Desert Vista and Mesquite), but have not lost since Jan. 10 while racking up 11 wins in a row. They also beat Mesquite once and would love a shot at redemption vs. Desert Vista (most anticipate a Dobson-Desert Vista matchup in the semifinals). Mesquite (25-5) solidified itself as a top contender by beating Dobson and Desert Vista in a two-week span in mid-January, then dispatched Desert Vista again in double overtime last week. Mesquite has beaten Desert Vista, Dobson, Westview, Highland, Hamilton and Mountain Pointe this season. Mesquite showed signs of coming back as a contender last season after a couple of down years and may have the best chance of the trio of favorites of reaching the title game. DARK HORSE(S): Highland, Westview and Mountain Pointe. Any of the three could make a run at the finals. Highland and Westview would have to overcome Mesquite. Mountain Pointe would have to get past Desert Vista and Dobson. The caveat is they must play three or four solid games in succession to reach the title game. No clunkers. ODDS AND ENDS: Here are records of the top-10 seeded teams when playing against teams seeded 1-12 in the tournament: Dobson (11-2); Desert Vista (6-2), Mesquite (9-4), Liberty (2-1), Highland (5-6), Mt. Pointe (5-6), Westview (4-5), Millennium (2-3), Basha (2-3) and Hamilton (2-6). The last teams other than St. Mary's to win the D-I (big school) title were Dobson (2010) and Highland in 2008 and 2009. WHO'S HOT: Dobson has won 12 games in a row, Mesquite seven in a row and Hamilton six in a row. WHO'S NOT: Chandler has dropped five games in a row and Red Mountain has lost four straight. PLAYERS TO WATCH: Miyah Leith, Tori Lloyd, Dobson; Cecily Wilson, Mesquite; Emily Wolph, Kristine Anigwe, Desert Vista; Renee Contreras, Westview; Maddy Sulka, Mtn. Pointe; Melinda Myers, Highland; Shelby Hartman, Ashlee Moore, Hamilton; Courtney Christmas, Liberty; Armani Hawkins, Mesa Mtn. View; Haley Pryor, Basha; Raina Perez, Millennium; Taylor Kalmer, Corona del Sol; Carley Turnbull, Mesa High.
(Teams and fans can now download the state soccer tournament programs for free. Photos and rosters of each team and stories previewing each soccer state tournament will be in the programs.
The programs will be available to view this week here: http://www.aia365.com/programs.)