The Bellarmine Lady Lions and University of Arizona commit Shalyse Smith look to rebound from a rough holiday break as they enter the long stretch of 4A South Puget Sound League games. Despite losing three games to three of the best teams in the state, Bellarmine is still in the driver’s seat at the top of the league standings. Expect a strong challenge from the Curtis Vikings as well. Photo by Rocky Ross

Now that the Seattle Seahawks’ season has drifted into the abyss with a whimper, it’s time to get serious about what really makes Tacoma tick during the winter. Basketball is king (and queen) here in the City of Destiny, and after a break for the holidays, Tacoma’s high school hoopsters are now focused upon jumping head-on into the all-important league play. The warm-ups and tune-ups are now in the rearview mirror and things are about to get serious.

As a matter of fact, several schools didn’t have much of a break over the previous two weeks, as teams hopped on buses and airplanes to drop in on some exciting holiday tournaments. For those that stuck around town, the Tacoma area also played host to some excellent tournament action.

Life Christian senior Dawson Shamp tries to draw a charge on Chief Leschi sophomore Delshae Gower. Our pick of the week is the rematch between defending 2B Pacific League champion Life Christian and Chief Leschi on Saturday, Jan. 6. Both teams look like state contenders. Photo by Rocky Ross

While there are several Tacoma teams already looking like legitimate challengers for a state championship, it’s impossible to have a conversation concerning the matter without first bringing up the Lincoln Abes boys’ basketball team.

Let’s take a look at how these Abes spent their Christmas vacation.

Lincoln is no stranger to holiday trophies. Last season, the Abes went 3-0 at the San Luis Obispo tournament, claiming the championship trophy from a stacked field of teams. This season, Lincoln traveled to the Torrey Pines Classic in sunny California to face an even tougher group of teams.

It turned out to be a case of déjà vu for the Abes, as they began the tournament with an impressive 58-43 victory over El Camino on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The following day, Lincoln made short work of Spanish Springs, handing the team from Nevada an 86-63 defeat and just their second loss of the season.

The competition stiffened in the tournament’s semifinals as the Abes faced a Mater Dei Catholic squad stacked with future D-I players. It didn’t seem to impress the boys from Tacoma, as Lincoln edged the Crusaders 66-65 to advance to the championship game. Awaiting the Abes would be the undefeated Green Devils from St. Petersburg High School of Florida. Again, the Abes faced some legitimate college-level talent, and rose to the challenge. A 70-66 victory sent the Abes home with another championship trophy, and put the rest of the state on notice that Lincoln should be considered a serious contender for the 3A state championship.

Once you begin racking up wins like this, the RPI rankings begin to take notice. Lincoln is currently ranked second in the state, sandwiched between O’Dea in first, and Garfield in the third position.

However, the road to the Tacoma Dome is long and filled with challenges around every bend. The Abes do not have to look far to find the biggest obstacles between themselves and another 3A Pierce County League championship. While the Wilson Rams (8-2) have already shown themselves quite capable of pushing Lincoln to the absolute limit, there’s a team just south of town that may have something to say about who is going to win the league title this season. The Spanaway Lake Sentinels currently sit at an impressive 9-0, and they will host the Abes shortly after this issue of the Tacoma Weekly goes to print on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Not to be outdone, the Lady Abes (7-1) are also sitting at the top of the league standings, tied with an impressive 9-0 squad from Bethel. The two teams will tangle on Bethel’s home turf on Friday, Jan. 5. If ever there was a reason to head out of town on Friday, this is the game for basketball fans.

The Wilson Rams boys hosted the first annual T-Town Throwdown during the break and came away with their own championship trophy. The Rams knocked off Summit (79-17), Stadium (83-52) and Puyallup (68-47) to take the title, and look in prime shape to challenge the Abes and the Sentinels for not only the league title, but the 3A West Central District crown itself.

The Foss Falcons may have dropped a couple of games at the stacked Curtis Christmas Classic, but the level of competition they faced has put them in prime shape to make a run at another 2A state championship. The Falcons hammered previously unbeaten Marysville-Pilchuck by a score of 83-52 to open up tournament play. They then pushed the top-ranked 3A O’Dea Fighting Irish to the limit in a 69-66 defeat, and then fell to 4A powerhouse Camas 65-53 to close out the tournament.

While the impressive Fife Trojans (10-2) are sure to give Foss a test on Tuesday, Jan. 16, in Tacoma, the rest of the 2A South Puget Sound League is going to have to perform some miracles to keep up with the Falcons. It would be a smart idea to make reservations for Yakima at the end of February and early March. Barring a meteor strike, the Falcons are going to be there causing a ruckus.

The Lady Lions from Bellarmine had a rough holiday. After entering the break undefeated and near the top of every poll, Bellarmine travelled to Spokane for a tournament that offered up nothing but state championship contenders.

Bellarmine faced tournament host Central Valley for what would be a rematch from last year’s state quarterfinals. In their last meeting, Bellarmine upset the defending state champions, and this time around, the Bears were hungry for revenge. Undefeated Central Valley hung a 67-31 loss on the Lady Lions and things wouldn’t get any easier for Bellarmine the following day as Sunnyside added a 66-59 defeat to the girls from Tacoma. The final day of the tournament offered up another undefeated foe in Moses Lake, and the 53-43 finish sent Bellarmine home with three consecutive losses against teams that are favored to be making a challenge at the Tacoma Dome in a couple of months.

Moses Lake is currently ranked second in the 4A RPI, followed by Central Valley at third and Sunnyside at ninth. Bellarmine (7-3) will have to bounce back in league play to begin working their way back up the rankings, after falling from the top to 10th place.

There are several exceptional matchups going down in the next week, but our pick of the litter has to be the 2B Pacific League contest at Chief Leschi High School on Saturday, Jan. 6. The Warriors (9-2) will host the defending league champion Eagles from Life Christian (9-1) at 7 p.m. and it should go to the wire. Chief Leschi is currently ranked eighth in the 2B RPI, while Life Christian is sitting in 10th position. An Eagle win puts them in the driver’s seat for another league title, while a Warrior victory could make the race very interesting.

***WEB UPDATE *** The Lincoln boys overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to upend Spanaway Lake (9-1) on the road by a score of 68-62 to run their mark to 11-0 and they are now alone in first place in the 3A PCL.

Wilson (9-2) throttled Mt. Tahoma 89-35 and is now tied with the Sentinels for second in the league. The two teams will square off at Spanaway Lake on Friday, Jan. 5, at 7 p.m.

The Bellarmine Lady Lions (8-3) got back on track with a 71-54 win over Sumner.

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