Today's a banner day for Grand Canyon Region basketball teams.
The top-seeded Sinagua girls basketball team and the No. 2 Page girls are two of the Final Four teams in the Class 4A, Division II state tournament at Glendale Arena.
On the boys side, the surprising Sand Devils, the 11th seed, are one of four teams still in the hunt for the title.
The Mustangs face No. 4 Cave Creek Cactus Shadows today at 5:30 p.m. It's a rematch of a Dec. 6 game in which Sinagua beat the visiting Falcons, 49-33.
Sinagua coach Jennifer Parker said her team has had a special season, but the season's not over yet.
"Entering the season, we had very high expectations for ourselves," Parker said Monday. "And we have talked all along about what our goals were and what it would take to get there and assuming that we stayed healthy we expected to be going deep into the state tournament. We have worked hard and have had great senior leaders that have really helped us."
The Mustangs' six seniors are Alex Bavasi, Chelsea Begay, Ashley Marostica, Kristin McGuire, Katie Pavlich and Jessica Vargas.
"It's hard to keep a team focused and take 12 personalities and balanced them for an entire season," Parker admitted, discussing what every high school coach encounters. "I think a lot of times it's our seniors that have stepped up and kind of helped keep everybody focused and feel like they are included and that they are just as much a part of this as everybody else is."
The Mustangs (26-5), who are making their first-ever Final Four appearance, earned a ticket to the semifinals by beating No. 8 Buckeye 69-44 Friday at the Corral.
"We've never made it past that round," Parker said with a hint of pride in her voice.
"That's what we talked about in the locker room before the last game … that this team had a chance to make history and do something that no other Sinagua girls basketball team had been able to do.
"So we're pretty excited to be there, but on the other hand, not satisfied. There's still work to be done, and based on how we played Friday night and if we can come out with that kind of intensity and team effort, we should be able to give Cactus Shadows a great game."
Sinagua is led by do-it-all point guard Vargas, a senior who will play at Loyola Marymount University next season. She had a game-high 22 points as well as 10 assists, nine rebounds and seven steals against Buckeye.
The Mustangs' high-energy pressure defense, a trademark in recent years, produced 16 steals in that game.
"We're going to play pressure defense no matter what," Parker said, "and we may just have to make adjustments. If they're beating one thing, we're throwing at them, we'll mix it up and throw something else at them.
"But at this point in the season they've probably seen enough presses and pressure defenses that they handle it a little better than they did when we saw them before."
Junior guards Erica Williams and Savannah Yonnie, both of whom are emerging stars in their own right, have excelled on defense and been key factors in making the Mustangs' pressure defense work.
"They have really consistently stepped up for us all year," Parker said, "and really maybe in the last month, I've really seen their defense pick up."
Williams and Yonnie have developed a strong on-court rapport, which has translated into stellar defensive play that's reminiscent of the way ex-SHS guards Teresa Fukumoto and Jasmine Betoney worked together before graduating in 2004.
"By their senior year, they had like this unspoken language, where they knew when to go trap, they knew what the other one was planning to do, they knew how to work together and really cause some problems for other teams with their defense," Parker recalled, speaking about Fukumoto and Betoney.
"(This) wasn't necessarily something that I called for them to run. They just knew when to do it. And these two (Williams and Yonnie) I've been seeing that lately with them and it's really kind of fun to watch how well they communicate and how well they work together defensively on the floor."
Balanced scoring is the key for the Falcons, according to Parker, citing the team regularly gets 8-16 points per game from three or four players.
"We just need to play solid defense on all five," Parker said.
The Mustang players will attend their first hour class this morning and leave town around 9 a.m., hang out and shop at Anthem discount outlet stores, go shoot around at a Phoenix gym for about an hour, get a meal, and then watch part of the Page-Washington before getting ready for their game.
Meanwhile, Navajo Generating Station, the 2,250-megawatt power plant just east of Page, should see a drop in its Page allotment today. The community of about 7,000, and chapters in the neighboring Navajo Nation will make a near-annual exodus to the Valley for state 4A basketball, joining a solid base of Sand Devil fans living in the Phoenix area.
Page's girls meet Phoenix Washington in a 4 p.m. semifinal, and the Sand Devil boys play Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep at 7 p.m. A sea of red-clad fans could turn both contests into virtual home games.
"Hopefully we'll have a lot of people down there and have good fan support," said Page boys coach Aaron Anderson just before the team left at 3 p.m. Monday for the Valley.
Page and No. 7 Notre Dame Prep are bracket-busters on the lower side of the 4A-II boys bracket. The Sand Devils (17-11) are coming off upsets at Tucson Palo Verde and Phoenix Sunnyslope. They could be viewed as true road warriors, after a Valley newspaper misidentified them as the "Warriors" in a Saturday edition.
"We've done well on the road," Anderson said. "We just have to keep it up."
Page has seen Notre Dame Prep twice already this season, losing 42-20 at home Jan. 14 and 33-32 on Feb. 2 in Scottsdale. In both games, Saint center Tom Fow made the critical plays at the right time. He scored 23 points in the game at Page.
"In both games we had leads late and didn't finish," Anderson said. "Third time is a charm."
The Sand Devils have not been to the final four since 2002, when they lost to Sunnyslope despite 20 points from Matt Haryasz. Teams coached by Anderson have passed semifinal tests four times, including three times at Kayenta Monument Valley.
The Page girls (22-6) will be expected to return to the state final, where they fell last year to Phoenix Thunderbird. Page will be playing in its sixth final four in 12 years, and the fourth for ninth-year head coach Mike Beall.
Page won its first two state games this year by 37 and 25 points and should face a stepped-up challenge from the third-seeded Rams. Washington eliminated Flagstaff Friday night, 44-33.
"We had a good practice this morning," Beall said Monday afternoon from Flagstaff on the trip south. "We have them (Washington) pretty well scouted. They're a good team. It's just a matter of us going down and playing well tomorrow."
Look for stories and photos from all three of these semifinal games in Wednesday's sports section.
On Friday, the 3A state tourneys resume at Glendale Arena.
Here's a quick rundown on those games: