The 4A-I belongs to Southern Arizona. Of the eight Arizona Interscholastic Association state championships available in that conference during the fall, local powers took seven - lacking only in girls volleyball - including five from Catalina Foothills (boys and girls swimming, boys and girls golf, boys cross country).
Canyon del Oro's unbeaten route to the 4A-I football title was probably the highest profile.
And the area is still warm in the winter as locals will play for both of the 4A-I soccer championships tonight at Tucson High School; a local winner is already guaranteed when the Sahuaro boys take on defending champ CDO.
Basketball does not lack possibilities.
Flowing Wells and Canyon del Oro took the last two 4A-I girls hoops titles. This year, Cienega is the favorite to complete an area three-peat. The 4A-I Kino Region champs and winners of seven straight, the Bobcats' last loss came on MLK Day to then 5A-I No. 1 Tucson in overtime.
It starts from long range for Cienega (22-2).
Guards Alyssa Deal and Megan Placencia have combined to average 26 points per game, and they have drilled 116 threes entering tonight's game at Sahuaro.
On the boys side, Foothills (18-8) is a force. Ranked No. 3 in the state, the 4A-I Sonoran Region victors are riding an 11-game winning spree. Defense is the key for the Falcons, as they have allowed more than 60 points just five times all year and have never given up more than 67.
Here are the rest of the serious contenders - and a couple of underdogs - for basketball championships in all conferences, as state playoffs start today with 1A action. The 2A, 3A, 4A-I and 4A-II start state play Tuesday and the 5As the week after:
Contender: Amphitheater (26-1, 4A-II): Winners of 26 straight heading into tonight's matchup with No.2-ranked Santa Rita, there is not a more superior crew at any level in Southern Arizona than Amphi - the No. 1 team in the 4A-II based on power points. Heavy on premier guards, the 4A-II Gila Region champs' frantic style of play and depth of speed make them the area's best bet for a title.
Contender: Santa Rita (20-5, 4A-II): No program is more experienced with deep playoff treks. Santa Rita has been to three straight 4A-II championships, losing them all. Currently, star point guard Terrell Stoglin is the third-leading scorer in state history behind Jerryd Bayless and Mike Bibby. Another long run could potentially move him into second.
Contender: Ironwood Ridge (20-7, 5A-II). Lawrence Hampton, the Nighthawks' blazing point guard who was crucial to back-to-back appearances in the championship (one win, one loss) is finally back for the 5A Southern Region champs. Match him with a quality three-point shooter/lock-down defender in Tyler D'Amore, and two physical posts in Jan Maehlen and Matt Walter, and this is the conference's top team.
Underdog to watch: Pueblo (17-8, 4A-I). Michael Perez, Pueblo's star guard/forward, is averaging nearly 30 points per contest and can take games over by himself, and point guard Steve Lopez is an intense competitor. The Warriors have won six of their last seven, falling by one point to Foothills in that span.
Contender: Sierra Vista Buena (17-4, 5A-I). Under first-year coach Trish Perez, the Colts are the No.1 team in the 5A-I statewide, the only local team to knock off Tucson. As for Tucson, the Badgers would be on this list but recently received a severe blow to any championship dreams when point guard RaTanya Newsome went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Contender: Palo Verde (18-7, 4A-II). A perfect 13-0 in the 4A-II Gila Region coming into tonight against Catalina, the Titans have not lost since taking on a nightmare of a field in late-December's Nike Tournament of Champions. Star sophomore Darian Saunders, a 6-foot-1-inch center who owns an offer from Kansas State, is averaging over 15 points and 11 boards per night.
Underdog to watch: Green Fields (15-10, 1A). Behind one of the area's leading rebounders, Maya Holzman, and point guard Isa Baldwin, one of the area's top 25 scorers, Tom Danehy's Griffins - the South's No. 4 seed - will have to start their run by shocking West Region No.1 seed Salome today.
• What: 5A-II wrestling sectional
• Where: Ironwood Ridge, 2475 W. Naranja Drive
• When: Saturday, starts at noon
STARNET POLL QUESTION
Which local boys soccer team is most likely to win the state championship?
1. Canyon del Oro (24 percent); 2. Sahuaro (19); 3. Amphitheater (18); 4. Salpointe Catholic (15); 5. Pusch Ridge Christian (7)