TRAVERSE CITY — Today marks the start of another season for girls basketball.
The postseason kicks off, and everyone starts with a clean slate of sorts. After a topsy-turvy season in which weather cancellations were a factor with just about every team, what are the big questions for area girls basketball fans heading into tonight’s district openers?
1 Which area district is the most loaded?
There are several, but the obvious one is the Class C draw at Kalkaska.
None of the six teams are below .500.
You’ve got McBain at 16-2, Traverse City St. Francis checking in at 18-2, Glen Lake with a 14-5 record, Kalkaska at 12-7, Lake City with an 11-8 mark and 8-8 Manton.
“McBain’s got a solid team,” St. Francis coach Mike Knudsen said. “The teams in the district are all tough.”
Kalkaska gets the unenviable task of facing McBain right off the bat on Monday. At least the Blazers host the contest.
With Friday’s weather, Kalkaska’s game with St. Francis was pushed back a day, cutting into the Blazers’ rest time between contests.
“McBain has lost only two games,” Kalkaska coach Dave Dalton said. “I really wanted to play St. Francis Friday instead of Saturday. It’s really tough to play one of the best teams in the state after playing on Saturday.”
McBain and St. Francis each went through their league play undefeated. TCSF went 14-0 in Lake Michigan Conference play, while McBain was 13-0 in Highland Conference action. Both are honorable mention picks in the Associated Press Class C poll.
The Ramblers haven’t lost since back-to-back setbacks over Christmas break to 12-4 Detroit Edison and 8-10 Class A school St. Johns in the Motor City Classic. They’ve also beaten Class B teams in Big Rapids and a 15-5 Cadillac team that won the Big North Conference.
Meanwhile, St. Francis’ only two losses are to Class D No. 3-ranked Frankfort and Cadillac.
2 What could be some of the other best area games to see?
Marquette at Gaylord in the Class A field hosted by Traverse City West. The Redettes have lost only once this season. Gaylord has kind of skidded to the finish line, losing four of its last six games after an 11-2 start, but the fundamentally-sound Blue Devils should be a competitive matchup for 18-2 Marquette.
The Class D district at Central Lake seems set up for a final featuring a third battle between No. 5 Gaylord St. Mary and honorable-mention pick Bellaire. The two top teams in the Ski Valley Conference split their earlier two meetings. Dan Smith’s St. Mary won 28-19 in a defensive battle in January, and Brad Fischer’s Bellaire squad came back to take a more open 38-31 victory on Feb. 13. With quality teams like Boyne Falls, Ellsworth and Central Lake in the fold, the Eagles-Snowbirds rubber match is far from a guarantee, but they are the two favorites to reach Friday’s finals.
3 What team has a good shot at making a long run?
You’d like to say the hypothetical winner of a Gaylord St. Mary-Bellaire Class D district final, but that regional could be very tough. There’s the strong possibility of a 19-2 Arenac Eastern team and a 19-1 Frankfort squad joining the Leland and Central Lake bracket winners in what could be an incredibly tough regional.
The Class C girls regional at Sanford-Meridian is also shaping up to be one with four excellent teams. It could easily include St. Francis/McBain, 13-3 Pine River, 17-3 Lincoln-Alcona and 14-4 Johannesburg-Lewiston. A Joburg-McBain matchup could be a track meet, but St. Francis’ size inside might give the Cardinals even more trouble.
So we’ll go with Cadillac. The Vikings have been on fire, rallying to overtake Gaylord to win the Big North Conference title at the finish line.
Cadillac (15-5) should emerge from its district with a trophy and head into regional play against a 13-6 Gladstone team. From there, it’s a good chance the Vikings would see 18-0 Manistee in the final, but Cadillac is battle-tested and Manistee hasn’t been tested all that much en route to its perfect record.
4 Who is a dark horse team to win a district?
The Class D field in their district doesn’t boast a field with eye-popping win totals — although Lake Leelanau St. Mary’s and Suttons Bay are solid squads — and the Comets are at home. If Libby Munoz and Caitlin McKee get the Leland offense revved up, the Comets can come away with a trophy.
This district is up for grabs, but a six-win team like Leland with two top scorers and home-court advantage could keep the hardware over the Eagles and Norse, who had more regular-season wins.
5 Since TC West isn’t hosting regional like commonly happens, where can I go to see regional play?
There isn’t a great deal of local opportunities to see regional games without a long drive. In Class D, Buckley and Pellston are hosting, and Gaylord in Class B.
It’s somewhat similar when the boys tournament rolls around, with Petoskey (in Class B), TC St. Francis (C) and TC Central (D) hosting regional brackets.