This is the third in a four-part series examining the four girls basketball divisional state tournaments.
Chandler Valley Christian is hungrier than perhaps any team, looking to take care of the unfinished business it left last season when the only blemish on its perfect record came in a state-championship loss to Fountain Hills.
Valley Christian is undefeated again this year, and though Fountain Hills missed the playoffs after suffering through a championship hangover, other teams are lining up for the opportunity to try and slay the giant. That, or they’re running in fear.
Page also hadn’t lost in 2014-15 before a late-season defeat by Winslow. Those teams grabbed the top two seeds behind Valley Christian and reside on the opposite side of the bracket, meaning a semifinal showdown could decide against whom Valley Christian looks to secure its final piece of redemption.
BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME
No. 19 Tucson Palo Verde (18-10) at No. 14 Fort Defiance Window Rock (17-13), 6 p.m. Wednesday
Palo Verde will be on the road for more than six hours to make the trip from Tucson to Fort Defiance, located in the northeast corner of the state on the New Mexico border. Hopefully the long drive doesn’t throw off Sydni Stallworth, Palo Verde’s do-everything senior guard averaging 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and 5.7 steals to lead her team in each category. Window Rock’s stat sheet, on the other hand, is the epitome of balance, as no player averages more than nine points, five rebounds or three assists.
TOUGHEST PATH TO THE FINAL
Any team that might have to face Valley Christian should watch out, but on the lower half of the bracket, No. 6 Goodyear Estrella Foothills is in for a challenging road. It won its sectional tournament to garner a first-round bye, but its first game could come against a No. 11 San Carlos team that finished ahead of it in the final Division III power rankings. Then loom Winslow and Page, most likely – a pair of teams that don’t look particularly vulnerable to upsets.
EASIEST PATH TO THE FINAL
It seems redundant to say at this point, but Valley Christian can be penciled in to the Feb. 28 championship game. It won’t see either of its two biggest threats, Page or Winslow, until the finals, and none of the teams on its side of the bracket seem to stack up. Fourth-seeded Safford, a potential semifinal opponent, did keep things relatively close in its regular-season matchup with Valley Christian, losing 65-57, but that might be the best result any team can hope for this season.
Keep an eye on Holbrook, which slid to the No. 7 seed to accommodate three lower-ranked teams that won their sectional tournaments. A likely quarterfinal showdown with Page, a team that defeated it three times during the regular season, will be a huge obstacle, but if it gets past that, we’ll know Holbrook is for real.
FINAL FOUR PREDICTION
No. 1 Valley Christian, No. 4 Safford, No. 3 Winslow, No. 2 Page.
Valley Christian 56, Page 44.