By Ray Hamill – While the Humboldt-Del Norte League boys have just two basketball teams ranked in the top 60 in the North Coast Section, the girls have five teams ranked in the top 42.
Four of the Big 5 squads have winning records, with Del Norte (10-1) and Eureka (9-4) leading the way and expected to be the frontrunners as league play gets under way for most of the teams this week.
The Warriors are ranked eighth in the NCS, with the Loggers No. 20, but Eureka has played a very tough pre-league schedule in preparation for the league challenge, and that could yet pay big dividends.
Eureka opens league play at home to Fortuna on Wednesday, while Del Norte opens at Fortuna on Friday.
The two frontrunners meet at Del Norte on Jan. 16 and at Eureka in the regular-season finale on Jan. 31.
In a competitive Big 5, however, neither will have an easy road to the title, and it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that one of them will win it all.
The Fortuna girls (10-5) have been impressive through the early going as well and are ranked 35th overall in the NCS, not that far behind Eureka, while just seven spots further back are the Panthers, who are much improved from a year ago and eager to show it.
The Mack girls are 10-4 and sitting atop the conference standings, having won their league opener at Arcata before Christmas, ending a 17-game Big 5 losing streak in the process.
Rounding out the field is Arcata, which features an almost entirely new roster this winter after winning a sixth consecutive league title a year ago.
The Tigers are 6-7, but have also impressed at times in the early season, including a championship at the Durham tournament.
All in all, it should make for a competitive and highly-entertaining Big 5.
St. Bernard’s the team to beat in L4
In the Little 4, meanwhile, the St. Bernard’s Crusaders have quickly established themselves as the frontrunners, although Ferndale and South Fork have each also impressed over the past month, showcasing the depth of this year’s entire H-DNL.
St. Bernard’s is ranked No. 30 overall in the NCS, with 10 wins in 14 games, including victories over three of the Big 5 teams.
The Crusaders will be tough to stop on their charge to a sixth consecutive conference crown, and have not lost a L4 game in the past four years.
The Crusaders open at home to Ferndale on Friday, while South Fork travels to Hoopa Valley on Thursday.