The Cumberland District tournament ought to prove the most rough-and-tumble of all the district basketball tourneys being played in Southwest Virginia this week. That goes for both boys and girls.
Even so, the Lonesome Pine District tournament holds its own opportunities for shakeups.
The Cumberland girls tournament opens today at satellite sites. Ervinton (2-19) travels to St. Paul (18-4) while Thomas Walker (6-14) plays at Twin Springs (4-17).
Rye Cove (17-5) and Castlewood (15-6), which finished in a tie for the regular-season girls title, will meet tonight Clinchco Elementary School to settle the tournament's top seed. Tonight's winner also earns an automatic berth to next week's Region D tournament at Castlewood.
The Lady Eagles are led by freshman phenoms Christi Hood and Shasta Edwards while the Lady Blue Devils are fueled by Kayla Gordon and Lorren Evans. All of tonight's Cumberland games start at 7 o'clock.
The semifinals will be played Thursday at Clinchco.
"Some of the best basketball in Southwest Virginia is in the Cumberland District, both boys and girls," said St. Paul girls coach Wayne Rasnick, whose squad is paced by Courtney Evans and Lindsay Dickenson. "We've seen a lot of close games. Anybody can fall on a given night."
The Cumberland boys tournament promises to be especially treacherous for all teams involved.
Patrick Fisher, Drew Justice and Brad McReynolds are only the tip of Castlewood's talent-rich iceberg. While the Blue Devils (20-1) are the top-ranked Group A team in the state, they've weathered convincing challenges from district-mates this season.
Cumberland boys action begins Tuesday with 7 p.m. satellite games. Ervinton (3-18) plays at St. Paul (15-7) while Thomas Walker (12-10) travels to Twin Springs (8-12).
Regular-season champ Castlewood and runner-up Rye Cove (15-8) both take a bye to Friday's semifinals at Clinchco Elementary.
"No matter what, we're opposite Castlewood. That's good, you don't want to see them in the semifinals," said Rye Cove coach Reagan Mullins, whose hard-hustling squad boasts Adam Hood, the most prolific scorer in the region.
"But I still think the semifinal game to get to Castlewood is going to be a dogfight."
That is correct, sir. Third-place St. Paul is paced by Brandon Phillips, Nathan Evans and Seth Padgett. In addition to being the most dominant rebounding team in the area, the Deacons split with the War Eagles during the regular season.
Ervinton, which has wins over Hurley and Council to its credit, is no pushover. In the other bracket, Twin Springs boasts remarkable Mark Dockery, a three-time veteran of the Group A Final Four. Led by Dude Overton, the upstart Pioneers have already upset the Titans once this season.
The championship games for both the boys and girls will be played Saturday at Clinchco.
Over in the LPD, the defending Group A state champion Lady Blue Devils (20-2) wrapped up the regular season as the second-ranked team in the state. Led by twins Heather and Haley Odle, Tuesdee Woods, Ashton Bishop and a very strong supporting cast, Gate City is a strong bet to rule the roost in this week's district tournament roost.
The more pressing question is which "old guard" program will represent the LPD in the girls' regionals. Will it be J.J. Kelly (16-6), paced by Kalen Collins and Lauren Mullins, or Clintwood (18-3), which is fueled by Kristin Mullins and Emili Blevins?
LPD girls action begins at Gate City on Tuesday, with Coeburn (1-19) playing the Lady Blue Devils at 6 p.m., followed by a clash between J.I. Burton (7-12) and Powell Valley (10-12). The other satellite games will be played at Kelly, with Appalachia (6-16) playing the Lady Indians at 6 p.m. followed by Pound (10-12) taking on the Lady Green Wave.
The girls' semifinals will be played Thursday at Coeburn.
On the boys' side, Gate City (16-5) has remained chiefly dominant in its last season of LPD play. Headliners Jamie Hackney and Tihlee Anderson pace a Blue Devils squad that has done nothing but steadily improve since the holiday break.
But second-seeded J.I. Burton (13-9) has had its moments. Paced by the likes of Jaycob Coleman and Ethan Stewart, the Raiders are the only squad in the district to take a win off the league leader.
Burton lands in the bracket opposite the Blue Devils but could traverse a minefield of its own en route to the finals. Paced by Delmas Lawson, Cedric Mitchell and Myron Pinkston, Powell Valley (13-10) has tripped up Norton once already.
"It's anybody's tournament, I would think. It's going to be wide open," said crafty Burton boys coach Stan Wilson.
LPD boys action tips off tonight at Gate City with Appalachia (5-17) facing the Blue Devils at 6 p.m. followed at 7:30 with a showdown between J.J. Kelly (16-6) and Pound (10-12). Tonight's other satellite games will be played at Norton, with Coeburn (7-15) taking on the Raiders at 6 p.m. followed by Clintwood (10-12) facing off with the Vikings.
The LPD boys semifinals are Wednesday at Coeburn. District tournament title games for both boys and girls are Friday, also at Coeburn.
The Highland District girls tournament gets under way Thursday at Virginia High. Abingdon plays Lee High in one semifinal while Virginia High meets Marion in the other.
The Highlands boys keep the action going Friday with identical pairings to the girls.
The Highlands District finals are Saturday.