Tip-off for the 2017-18 girls basketball season began with the first practices but formally gets underway with the first regular-season games this weekend.
There are three tournaments in Wyoming to begin the season on Thursday and the rest play their first regular season games on Friday.
Returning Class 4A champion Cheyenne East opens competition in Colorado while defending Class 3A champion Star Valley competes in the Casper Invitational, both begin on Thursday. Class 2A title holder Big Horn will compete in the Herder Classic in Glenrock while defending Class 1A champion Encampment hosts the Carbon County Classic, both of which begin Friday.
It’s a long journey between this weekend and a possible repeat performance. That journey will inevitably be filled with exciting finishes and heartbreaking losses.
Cheyenne East loses a lot of talent to graduation and the 4A East Conference hasn’t gotten any easier. The Gillette split poses an interesting dilemma and the talent split should create more intrigue as the conference season draws closer.
Then there’s Kelly Walsh, which carries over a lot of talent from its state champion volleyball team onto the basketball court, and Natrona County, which returns the majority of its starters. Laramie and Rock Springs also could find themselves in the mix again.
Star Valley will take on a completely different look after losing six players to graduation, but does return some valuable experience. The Braves have a tough road ahead as the 3A West Conference is filled with quality competition. Lyman should be right near the top by season’s end and Mountain View has young potential.
Reigning Star-Tribune Player of the Year McKinley Bradshaw couldn’t carry Lyman to a quarterfinal win over Douglas last season but the Eagles rebounded to win the consolation championship.
There’s the East Conference, as well, which returns a typically steady Douglas side in addition to Worland and Rawlins.
Big Horn loses just two seniors from last year’s squad that held on for a 50-49 win in the championship game. The Rams return the rest of their talent, and will likely square off with Southeast for the top spot in the East Conference. Typical East staple Pine Bluffs loses a lot to graduation but should recover and be a contender by mid-February.
Then there’s the West Conference, which is up in the air. Wyoming Indian loses five talented seniors but should still be tough into regionals. Greybull will go as far as its massive junior class will carry it and Rocky Mountain loses valuable senior leadership while still returning numbers.
Sundance, while not appearing in the state tournament last year, has enough talent off its state champion volleyball team, making the Bulldogs a team to watch.
Encampment may be the favorite in Class 1A after losing just one senior to graduation and returning the classification’s best player in Paige Powell. After that, it gets pretty dicey.
Snake River will be talented and experienced, St. Stephens should be one of the best shooting teams in the class and Lingle-Ft. Laramie returns a massive sophomore class that played in the tournament last year. Not to mention Cokeville, which is in nearly the exact same position in 1A as Sundance is in 2A.
Plus, there’s always a few surprises scattered throughout the long season. Basketball is a marathon and numerous uncertainties appear on the long journey to title town.
Regional tournaments for 2A and 1A begin Feb. 22 and are scattered throughout central and eastern Wyoming. The 2A East will be held in Torrington, 2A West in Riverton, 1A East hosted by Midwest in Douglas and 1A West will be in Lander.
The following weekend will be regional tournaments for the larger classifications with 4A East in Laramie, 4A West in Jackson, 3A East in Douglas, and 3A West in Pinedale.
All if which leads up to the state tournaments in Casper the first two weekends in March.