This is the first in a four-part series examining the four girls basketball divisional state tournaments.
If it weren’t for Phoenix Desert Vista’s recent dominance, in which it won its last 18 games and solidified itself as the Division I favorite, this would be a wide-open race.
Goodyear Millennium and Mesa Dobson have been strong all year. Peoria Liberty put on an impressive showing in winning its super sectional. And Chandler Hamilton has shown the potential to hang with anyone on the right night.
Millennium, as the only Arizona team to defeat Desert Vista during the regular season, stands the best chance of dethroning the defending champ, but that will have to come in the semifinals.
Player of the Year candidates litter the 24-team field. Desert Vista’s Kristine Anigwe, Millennium’s Raina Perez and Mesa Mountain View’s Armani Hawkins, among others, will all be looking to help bring a championship trophy back to their schools.
BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME
No. 18 Tempe Corona del Sol (15-13) at No. 15 Chandler (17-10), 7 p.m. Wednesday
These Section II rivals know plenty about one another, having played twice during the regular season. Chandler embarrassed Corona del Sol on its home floor in December, winning by 26, but Corona del Sol got some revenge last month with a 54-51 victory in Chandler. Both teams have taken their lumps in a brutal section that also includes Desert Vista, Hamilton, Gilbert Highland and Gilbert Mesquite. Corona del Sol G Taylor Kalmer is averaging 18.8 points per game but doesn’t have to do it all this year, as 6-foot sophomore F Leilani Peat averages a double-double at 12.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Chandler runs a diverse attack in which its leading scorer, Micaela Clayton averages 12.2 points.
TOUGHEST PATH TO THE FINAL
Last season Mesquite was thought to have the easiest path but stumbled in the quarterfinals. The road could end there this year, as well. A first-round loss in its super sectional left Mesquite with the eighth seed and the unenviable task of maneuvering a gauntlet of powerhouses if it wants to reach the title game. Mesquite awaits the winner of No. 24 Mesa Red Mountain and No. 9 Scottsdale Chaparral in the second round, then likely would have to go through Desert Vista and Millennium to get to the championship. Those odds aren’t good.
EASIEST PATH TO THE FINAL
This tournament is full of solid, accomplished teams, and the seedings generally did a good job of dispersing them. But Liberty’s spot at the very bottom of the bracket is a coveted one. Thanks to its super sectional win, Liberty grabbed the No. 2 seed and will face the Corona del Sol-Chandler winner in the second round. It avoids Desert Vista and Millennium until the finals, and it will get there if it can survive a likely semifinal tilt against either Hamilton or Dobson.
No. 4 Surprise Valley Vista is 24-7 entering the tournament, and has regular-season wins over Highland, Mesquite and Liberty on its resume. Valley Vista relies heavily on younger players, as 6-foot-1 post Kiara Edwards is a sophomore and point guard Taylor Chavez is just a freshman. If they can handle the pressure of the big stage, Valley Vista could land an upset or two.
FINAL FOUR PREDICTION
No. 1 Desert Vista, No. 5 Millennium, No. 6 Dobson, No. 2 Liberty.
Desert Vista 58, Dobson 51.