You know how prep basketball coaches set up their tournaments up so the host school plays a cream puff on opening night?
Apparently, Davis High girls coach Karen Foster didn’t read the handbook …
When the eight-team Dorothy Speck Memorial Tournament opens on Thursday, the evening finale features the Blue Devils against River Valley — the Tri-County League runners-up a year ago who come in sporting a 3-1 record.
But a quick look at this year’s other partygoers hint that maybe Foster didn’t have too many other options in booking a first-night foe. After a disappointing 2011 field, this Speck gathering is loaded with wicked talent.
“We have a strong group of teams,” says Foster, apparently a master of understatement.
In addition to DHS (1-0) and the Falcons, the three-day tourney includes Bay Area powerhouse Miramonte, northland stud Chico, last year’s winner Woodcreek, Reno invader McQueen, Granite Bay and Vacaville Christian.
With a relatively young — but seasoned — roster, Foster and Company are of the mind-set that you only get better playing tougher competition.
After a 10-16 campaign last winter, the Devils did themselves no favors by having a weak early schedule. Even the Speck Tournament had an uncharacteristically shaky cast of characters.
“It backfired on us last year,” Foster said, remembering that Davis thrashed a marginal visiting team from Australia in Round 1, then got to the finals, only to get beaten handily by Woodcreek. “We have to play teams like (River Valley) to get better … see where we need to grow.”
River Valley, from Yuba City, went 21-7 last year, losing only twice in league to Inderkum (which DHS hosts in a nonleague game Tuesday at 7 p.m.). The Falcons are led by their version of the Lollipop Guild — diminutive guards Amrita Dale (5-foot-3) and Aleqse Hawkins (5-4).
Quick and relentless, the pair combines for 20 points per game, and Dale has averaged five steals a night while Hawkins has dished 21 assists in four games.
Inside is sophomore center Taylor Massengale, who, at 6-2, is grabbing nine boards each outing.
But DHS is coming off of a 62-10 season-opening win over Pioneer and is getting terrific play from a phalanx of players.
Seniors like Becca Hassid and Kylie Drexel have given the Blue Devils solid floor minutes while two underclassmen — Anna Belenis and Katie Grahn — already have tipped their hands that big things from them might be ahead for Davis fans.
“I am extremely happy with Anna and how she is handling the pressure and the ball,” Foster told The Enterprise. “She distributes the ball really well.
“Also, Katie is playing solid.”
Then there’s veteran Ashleigh Vandenbrink.
A play-anywhere senior who was the Devils’ leading scorer a year ago, Vandenbrink continues to play strongly at both ends of the court. Add sophomores Emma Stenz and Caitlin Mazzoleni, senior Tori Powell and the remainder of the 16-girl roster and Foster thinks she’ll have the depth to keep her players fresh while increasing the pressure on DHS opponents.
While River Valley and Davis end a busy day at the Speck Tournament with their 8 p.m. game, three contests are scheduled beforehand: Chico versus Vacaville Christian at 3:30 p.m., Miramonte vs. Granite Bay at 5 p.m. and McQueen vs. Woodcreek at 6:30 p.m.
Chico (2-0) has been a mainstay of the Speck Tournament and is coming off a 17-6 season. Gone is all-tourney guard Jordan Mootz, but the Panthers have nine returning players, including 5-11 center Stephanie Orvitz.
Vacaville Christian (1-3) has struggled scoring (22 ppg) but nobody seems to be able to solve freshman center Hailey Kenyon, who is hitting for 17 points a game.
Miramonte will make its season debut on Thursday against Granite Bay (0-2). The Matadors are coming off of a 31-2 campaign — losing only in the NorCal Section finale and the Northern California semifinals.
Miramonte is coached by veteran Kelly Sopak, whose team is paced by junior guard Megan Reid and senior wing Carly Gill. Breanna Alford, a 6-foot junior, plays the post.
Defending Speck champ Woodcreek has split its two games and faces tournament newcomer McQueen of Reno, Nev.
The Sierra foothill power Timberwolves have returners Amanda Modder and junior center Shannon Cunningham at their disposal, while McQueen’s Emma White is hitting for 14 ppg from her guard spot.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.