The girls basketball teams from Ursuline, Sanford, Caravel and St. Elizabeth went 7-7 against each other this season. They were 45-1 against the rest of the state.
So it would be quite a surprise if all of the top four seeds don’t advance to the semifinals of the DIAA Girls Basketball State Tournament.
How it plays out from there is anybody’s guess. But everyone is eager to see what happens.
“We say this time of year is better than Christmas. It’s been than summer,” Caravel coach Kristin Caldwell said Monday. “This is the most fun time of the year. The girls are excited. They’ve been working hard the whole season, especially this last week.”
The top eight seeds earned first-round byes in the 24-team field. Action begins Tuesday with eight first-round games, all starting at 7 p.m. on the home floor of the higher-seeded team. The lone exception is No. 21 Brandywine vs. No. 12 Padua on a neutral court at Brandywine.
The top eight seeds will host second-round games at 7 p.m. Thursday, including No. 1 Ursuline (16-4), No. 2 Sanford (19-1), No. 3 Caravel (16-4) and No. 4 St. Elizabeth (14-5).
All four teams reached the semifinals last season, with St. E downing Caravel 60-46 for the title. All four teams have most of their key players back for this year’s postseason.
“Each of the four teams plays somewhat of a different style,” Caldwell said. “I think we will feel pretty prepared going in. We respect all of those teams, and we’re just looking forward to the opportunity.”
Sanford is the hottest team coming into the tournament, having won 17 straight since a 53-47 loss at St. Elizabeth on Dec. 17. The Warriors knocked off Ursuline 56-53 on Feb. 19 in the regular-season finale.
But no one is conceding the title to Sanford. Each of the top four owns at least one win over another top-four team.
“We really don’t talk too much about what other people are doing,” Ursuline coach John Noonan said. “We just kind of concern ourselves with trying to get better each day in practice and get to the point where we feel good about what we’re doing.”
The Raiders returned junior guard Adrianna Hahn, the state’s reigning player of the year, and Noonan has seen others mature around her. Laura Hurff is a senior leader, and Ursuline also has received big contributions from juniors Courtney Wallace and Lindsay Russell, sophomores Kailyn Kampert and Alyssa Irons, freshman Kryshell Gordy and eighth-grader Maggie Connolly.
“We were really young and inexperienced in big games,” Noonan said. “Early on, we were tested with tough opponents, and we’ve seen a lot of freshmen and sophomores develop. They’ve become more assertive on the offensive end, they’ve become better defensive players.”
Sanford is led by senior Alison Lewis, a Boston University signee. The Warriors are loaded with depth, with senior Shauntel Williams, juniors Ayanna Thompson and Hadiya Tucker, and sophomores Taylor Samuels, Chrishyanah Alston and Taylor Sparks-Faulkner playing big roles.
Caravel’s key players have plenty of experience, but the Buccaneers have only one senior – Jessica Reynolds. Juniors Caroline Davis, Micah Morgan and Ky’Asia Stanford have title-game experience.
St. E has had its ups and downs since reaching the final of the Diamond State Classic, but the Vikings’ Macy Robinson, Sabrina Hackendorn, Alex Thomas, Jordyn Humes and Gabby Julian all played key roles on a team that cut down the nets last season.
That’s why Ursuline – and everyone else in the field – can take nothing for granted.
“Nothing worth winning is easy,” Noonan said. “We’re going to have to go out there and earn it.”