Take your marks ... get set ... here we go!
The four-day sprint that is the District 3/2A basketball tournament kicks off today at Homer High School, and with the tournament's double-elimination format, one thing's for certain anything can happen.
"It's very exciting," said Chris Hanson, coach of the defending champion Ninilchik boys basketball team. "Other than the state tournament, which breeds its own excitement, this is the most competitive, exciting tournament I've been involved in.
"I think any one of seven teams (could win). I don't think there's any easy games. The team to beat is going to be the one you're playing. Double-elimination makes it exciting, but at this point in the season, the best team out there is the one on the court."
Teams that advance in the winner's bracket of the eight-team tournament could have a fairly easy path to Friday's tournament championship game win your first two games, and you're in the final.
Just making the championship game is no guarantee of winning one of the district's two boys berths and two girls berths in the state tournament next week at Service High School in Anchorage. You have to win to get in.
By the same token, suffering a loss by no means eliminates any team from contention. The loser of Friday's championship game has to play the winner of the consolation bracket in Saturday's second-place game and while battling through the consolation bracket is no easy task, being in the hunt for the district's second state berth certainly is no small consolation.
In the girls competition, the Ninilchik Wolverines will be looking for their 11th straight district title. The Wolverines finished the season with a 14-0 mark in district play and will face eighth-seeded Lumen Christi (1-13) in the opening round. No. 2 Seldovia (10-4) opens against No. 7 Nikolaevsk; No. 3 Bristol Bay (10-4) faces No. 6 Homer Christian (3-11); and No. 4 Cook Inlet (8-6) opens up against No. 5 Unalaska (8-6).
"This is what it's all about," said Ninilchik girls coach Dan Leman. "We play the whole year for this. We're jazzed."
Leman said that for the first time this season, he had a full roster of healthy players after just about everybody went through a bout with the flu. While everybody is healthy now, Leman said the big thing affected by the flu was the team's conditioning, which will be important on Homer's large playing surface.
"On the Kenai, it's the biggest gym around," Leman said. "You've got to be in shape to be able to run up and down, and you've got to adjust your game. On our small court, you can press a team and trap and get away with a lot of things."
One benefit of playing in a big gym, though, is the big crowd the event generally attracts. Last year, the championship games were moved from Cook Inlet Academy's tight Memorial Gymnasium to Skyview High School and it was still a standing-room-only crowd.
"(Homer High) is a great place to have it," Leman said.
In the boys competition, Cook Inlet Academy has the top seed with a 13-1 district record and will open against Homer Christian (0-13). Ninilchik (10-4) comes in with the No. 2 seed and will play No. 7 Unalaska (5-9); No. 3 Nikolaevsk (7-6) opens against No. 6 Lumen Christi (6-8); and No. 4 Seldovia (6-6) plays No. 5 Bristol Bay (7-7) in the first round.
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