With a new league this season, old rivalries will be renewed, new ones will be made, and a competitive league is in the offing.
Here are five things to look for as the Mid-Columbia Conference season kicks into high gear this weekend:
1. Who is the best in 4A?
Chiawana and Walla Walla are the clear favorites.
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The Riverhawks lost Sadie Sparks to graduation, but they return Danielle Loving, Delaney Hodgins, and the Gonzales sisters — Bianca and Jennifer — from a team that was a win away from state.
The Blue Devils don’t have the same playoff pedigree as the Riverhawks, but they do return two-time all-league first teamer Torri Crawford — who this week signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at NCAA Division I Idaho — and a slew of youngsters who played on varsity last season.
If Richland is able to develop a consistent offensive flow, the Bombers also will be in the hunt for a playoff spot. They return Britney Pringle, who was first-team all-league last year, as well as Kennedy Corrigan and Hailey Turner.
Pasco is very young this season and with the transition to Class 4A, faces a tough road. The Bulldogs do return nine players from last season, led by senior guard Melissa Rodriguez.
2. Who is best in 3A?Can anyone catch Kamiakin? Doubtful.
The Braves have a new coach in Lane Schumacher and lost all-state guard Khadidja Toure to graduation, but Kamiakin once again is loaded.
Courtney Nelson is back and figures to be one of the best players in the league. Sira Toure also is back and should see her scoring average jump this season. The Braves also return Amanda Miller and Melanie Oord from a team that went 23-2 last season and reached the state tournament.
Kamiakin’s stiffest competition at the 3A level likely will come from Hanford, which has forward Colette Gall and guard Savanna Steele back. Gall is one of the best players in the conference and continues to improve each season.
Southridge and Kennewick also will be in the mix for the playoffs.
The Lions return the tallest player in the league in Panisesi Taimani, who stands at 6-foot-1. Kennewick has a new coach in Oliver Browning.
The Suns return seven players, including senior guard Emma Sanders, who was a honorable mention all-league pick last season.
3. How do the playoffs work?
Suffice to say, the playoffs work much differently than in years past.
In Class 4A, the district tournament will feature the No. 4 at the No. 3 in an elimination game, then the winner of that faces the No. 2 in another elimination game. The No. 1 seed and the 2/3/4 winner move on to regionals, where they will match up with teams from the Greater Spokane League.
At regionals, the GSL No. 1 and MCC No. 1 will play for a berth to state, while the No. 2s will face off in an elimination game.
The winner of the No. 2s game will face the loser of the No. 1s for the other berth to state.
In Class 3A, the top three seeds from the MCC face off with seeds 2-4 from the GSL in elimination games. The No. 1 from the GSL faces the winner of the MCC’s No. 4 and 5 seeds.
Sunnyside is included in this, despite playing in the CBBN. The Grizzlies will be slotted into the seeding based on their winning percentage in league play.
The winners of those games then do the same thing as the Class 4A regional tournament to decide who goes to state.
4. So, what’s the deal with Sunnyside?
The Grizzlies are in the CBBN this season, playing with the Yakima and Wenatchee schools and Moses Lake.
They figure to be much improved, thanks to the play of Vanessa Alvarez, Natalia Bazan and Jordan Rodriguez.
5. Games of the year
Chiawana at Walla Walla, Dec. 14
Kamiakin at Chiawana, Dec. 15
Hanford at Kamiakin, Southridge at Kennewick, Feb. 5
League play kicks off with a pair of strong tests for Chiawana, as the top teams will be determined quickly. And league play ends with a pair of Class 3A games that could go a long way toward deciding seeding.
All games figure to be important this season, though, as seeding is so important come tournament time. Unlike years past with the double-elimination tourneys, there are a lot of loser-out games this go-around.
For rosters: Mid-Columbia Conference website