Phoenix Shadow Mountain’s 27-0 boys basketball team will be heading to New York for the first time to play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Basketball Nationals on March 30 to April 1.
Meanwhile, Chandler Seton Catholic will return to New York for the girls nationals. The Sentinels, who returned all of last year’s team that lost in the first round, should have senior post player Leanne Wirth back for that. Wirth missed most of the season with an injury.
The teams were released Wednesday night.
USA TODAY’s No. 7-ranked Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) will take on No. 10 Shadow Mountain. Other first-round games: No. 4 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) will play No. 19 Greensboro Day (Greensboro, N.C.); No. 5 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) will play No. 8 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). Shadow Mountain is the only traditional public school in the field.
Shadow Mountain would be without sophomore guard Jaelen House in the first game. If the Matadors win their opener, he would be eligible for the next round, per Arizona Interscholastic Association’s bylaws regarding an automatic next-game suspension after an ejection.
House, one of the top players in the state who averaged 20 points, was ejected at the end of the third quarter of the 4A Conference state championship game against Tucson Salpointe Catholic for being part of a fight.
“I feel bad for Jaelen because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that he will never get another chance at,” Shadow Mountain assistant coach Michael Warren said. “We’ll give it our best shot, and hopefully, we can give Jaelen his opportunity in round two.
“We look at this as representing more than Shadow now. We look at it as representing Arizona basketball.”
David Hines, the AIA’s assistant executive director, said that the same bylaw applies to a national event, because the teams that are playing could only qualify because of their state associations’ memberships.
Arizona is among 10 states in the country that allows schools to play in national events, Hines said.
Shadow Mountain dominated the 4A level this season, behind coach Mike Bibby, a former NBA guard, who ran some of the most intense practices on the high school level. Bibby led Shadow Mountain to back-to-back state crowns and three championships in four years.
Seton’s experience should help.
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Junior guard Sarah Barcello and senior forward Jenn Wirth were instrumental in helping the Sentinels capture a second consecutive 4A girls championship.
The Wirth twins both signed with Gonzaga. Barcello was azcentral sports’ Big Schools Player of the Year last season.
Seton went 29-3, winning its last nine after losing its only game to an Arizona school to Cave Creek Cactus Shadows. Seton was without Barcello (concussion) in the loss, but her presence made a huge difference in the final, a 61-27 rout of Cactus Shadows.
Seton will face Miami Country Day (Miami), which is ranked No. 4. The other semifinal is between No. 8 Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and No. 11 St. Francis Academy (Baltimore).
“Last year, we really didn’t know what to expect,” said coach Karen Self, who has led Seton to nine state championships. “We had only seen one team with a national ranking, so the caliber of play was not something we were used to.
“This year, we have three wins over nationally ranked teams and two of our losses are to very highly ranked teams in close games. We feel this experience gives us a much better idea of what to expect when we get there. Our fitness level is also far superior this year in comparison to last year.”
USA TODAY contributed to this report.