It's pretty difficult to go against Seton Catholic in the Division II girls basketball state championship pool. The Sentinels are the No. 1 seed in this year's tournament, have aspirations of permanently forgetting last year's loss in the semifinals, and have been the best team in the division most of the season.
Sometimes, however, it's about matchups.
The Sentinels earned a first-round bye on Wednesday and a home game for the second round on Friday, but then comes a matchup against either No. 8 Phoenix South Mountain or No. 9 Marcos de Niza, two teams which spent all season in the top of the power rankings until the end of the sectional tournaments. Two teams also widely considered to be elite in Div. II regardless of their respective seeding.
Meanwhile, across the bracket, Williams Field lost to Marcos de Niza in the section tournament which snapped the Black Hawks' nine-game winning streak. It also sent them down from Nos. 4-through-6, where they resided most of the season, to No. 11 in the state tournament pairings. It means a first-round home game against No. 22 Moon Valley on Wednesday night, but a long trip to No. 6 Yuma Cibola in the second round on Friday should the Black Hawks advance.
If Williams Field can navigate that trip, it could slide into the semifinals because the top half of the bracket is stacked significantly moreso than the bottom half. It mind wind up with a date against No. 3 Vail Cienega in the quarterfinals, followed by defending-champion and No. 10 Saguaro (another team significantly better than its seeding indicates).
That would be weird, since Williams Field coach Andrew Carter used to be Saguaro's coach until before the 2012-2013 season, but the Black Hawks have the pieces and path to get there.
They have the backcourt with Shantelle Crespin and especially Arianna Barnes. Barnes averages 12.7 points per game and a whopping 4.9 steals per game and is one of the best guards in the state. Crespin averages 7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 steals. Carter noted the Black Hawks are 14-0 when they commit 16 or fewer turnovers, and 4-6 when they give it up 17 or more times.
They have length up front with a few girls 5-foot-10 or bigger, when defense and rebounding become the winning ways. The Black Hawks have three seniors and eight juniors who suffered a gut-wrenching loss in last year's second round to Seton Catholic, lost a key contributor before the season when she moved to Kansas and lost another to a season-ending injury. So the group has been hardened.
"We have a nice road for the most part," Carter said. "Would have liked the first-round bye but once we lost (to Marcos de Niza) we knew we wouldn’t jump Saguaro or Marcos, and now it’s about how well you’re playing and the matchups. ... It's been by far one of our best seasons."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.