St. Mary’s girls basketball has some challengers this year

The halfway point in the high school basketball season is just around the corner, but it’s already shaping up to be a three-horse race in Division I.

St. Mary’s High School still appears to be the consensus pick to take home its second straight state title, but a couple of challengers have appeared on the horizon.

Neither Pinnacle High or Westview High has the kind of power that comes with putting a starting line-up on the floor that is made up entirely of Division I commits, as St. Mary’s does, but either one is strong enough to take advantage of an off night or a roster suddenly depleted by key injuries.

Pinnacle is ranked No. 3 in Division I by The Arizona Republic, but the north Phoenix team has played 10 games already and hasn’t been beaten yet.

And Westview in Avondale is really flying under the radar.  The Knights are ranked No.  7, but also are undefeated – and finding almost no opposition while compiling their 8-0 mark.

Westview may be the team the other Knights, the St. Mary’s Knights, need to keep an eye on.  The margin of victory for Westview has been 48 points since the tip-off of the season.  But they have padded that margin with embarrassing blow-out exhibitions like the 91-11 win over LaJoya High, the 69-8 debacle against Perry High School, and a 52-point romp over Shadow Mountain High.

Hamilton High School in Chandler sits in second place in the rankings, but the Huskies were beaten by Seton Catholic, the top team in Division II.  And Westview beat Seton by 26 points.

Pinnacle has already proven it can beat Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix, the No. 4 team, which it did a couple of weeks ago by almost 20 points.

Highland High in Gilbert and Mesa’s Dobson High School were also included in the pre-season conversation as teams to watch.  But Highland has lost to Mountain Pointe and three of its wins have been by five points or less.  Dobson has played six games so far and dropped two of those.

So St. Mary’s, the small Catholic school in downtown Phoenix which went 30-0 last season on the way to a state championship and mythical national No. 1, can probably begin planning for which schools are going to become the speed bumps on the way to a repeat title-game appearance.

Frankly, that probably doesn’t overly concern head coach Curtis Ekmark.  Despite the loss of last year’s Big School Player of the Year, Shilpa Tummala, the Knights are still loaded and deep.

They traveled to Page over the holidays to play in the NGS Invitational, where they were looking for some competition with out-of-state teams.  They beat Dixie High School from St. George, Utah, on the road to winning the tournament, and will next be challenged at the Dec. 20-22 Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler that will field some of the best teams from around the country.

But the Knights won’t get a chance to size up Pinnacle or Westview at the TOC because neither team appears to be entered.

However, they have no doubt circled Jan. 21 on their calendar.  That’s when they are scheduled to meet Pinnacle in the MLK Tournament.

That game will be a good one… and could be a preview of this year’s state title game.