The 2019 Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament gets under way on Monday, with five straight days of games featuring the best local high school teams.
The top three teams from both the Big 5 and Little 4 will compete in boys and girls brackets, with the latter getting things started on Monday.
The girls tournament features Del Norte and St. Bernard’s, the two conference champions, as the top seeds, and each will have a bye in the first round before hosting a semifinal matchup on Wednesday.
St. Bernard’s (19-5) will host either McKinleyville (14-12) or Eureka (17-8), who play at Eureka High on Monday in an intriguing first-round clash between two familiar foes.
The Panthers are arguably the most improved team on the North Coast this season and knocked off the Loggers at Eureka 45-39 recently, a victory that was crucial in earning them a Niclai spot.
The two teams have met three times already this season, with the Loggers holding a 2-1 edge.
Del Norte (19-2), meanwhile, will host the winner of Monday’s game at Hoopa between the Warriors (7-14) and Ferndale (10-11).
Big rivalry showdown
The boys action, meanwhile, gets under way with a play-in game on Monday featuring arguably the best rivalry on the North Coast.
Arcata (9-14) will play at McKinleyville (12-11) for the right to earn the No. 3 seed from the Big 5 after each closed out conference play with identical 3-5 records.
The two programs split a pair of conference matchups this season, with each winning on the other’s home court.
Which might be good news for Arcata.
The Panthers, however, will fancy their chances after closing out league play strong and overcoming an 0-4 start with three wins in their final four Big 5 games.
The winner will advance to play at No. 2 Del Norte on Tuesday night.
Also on Tuesday, South Fork (11-12) will host St. Bernard’s (11-11), with the winner of that game advancing to play at Fortuna (24-1) on Thursday, in what will be a tough challenge for either.
The Huskies have rediscovered their best form heading into the playoffs, and are the No. 2 ranked Division-IV team in the state this year.
They will go into the Niclai tournament as favorites on the boys side.
A possible showdown with Hoopa (20-6) awaits the winner of the semifinal in Fortuna, provided the Little 4 champs can get the best of Big 5 opposition in their semifinal at home on Thursday.
All of the games through Thursday are set for 7 p.m., with both the girls and boys championship games taking place at Lumberjack Arena at Humboldt State on Friday night at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.