By Joe Davidson
The second season - the real season - starts this week for high school basketball teams eager to get to Arco Arena for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship scramble.
Playoff brackets were released today with girls games starting in full on Tuesday and the boys on Wednesday.
Sheldon, with its array of stars in Ramon Eaton and Darius Nelson and a terrific support crew, earned the No. 1 boys seed in Division I - no surprise given the Huskies are unbeaten locally and seasoned on the strength of a national schedule. The Huskies seek a title repeat and fourth blue banner since 2007.
Franklin of Elk Grove is seeded second and anticipates a return to the large-school finals at Arco. Franklin lost to Sheldon in the finals at Arco a year ago.
All told, the D-I boys field is as stacked as one can remember. The upper bracket features Sheldon, No. 12 Oak Ridge, which started the season 19-0, and No. 4 Granite Bay. Sheldon opens against the winner of Tuesday's Monterey Trail-Lodi outbracket contest.
Monterey Trail and coach Ken Manfredi and his squad of tireless performers lost by four to Franklin on Feb. 2 in Delta Valley Conference play, an example of how deep this field is.
The D-I lower bracket includes No. 6 Burbank, the Metro League champions under coach Lindsey Ferrell and leader Vic West, No. 3 Jesuit and ultra athletic No. 14 Grant, which opens at Jesuit and its rabid home base. Jesuit and coach Greg Harcos have two three-point losses to Sheldon, yet another example of the stacked depth in the field, and the strength of Delta River League schedule helped the Marauders move up to a three seed despite a 6-4 league showing.
"Sheldon is obviously the overwhelming favorite," Franklin coach Jesse Formaker said. "The Division I field is ridiculously loaded this year with powerfully dominant teams up and down, a lot of incredibly good teams."
St. Francis is the No. 1 girls seed. The Troubadours, steeped in tradition with seven section titles in other divisions, are in the large-school field for the first time and have been superb all season under tireless coach Vic Pitton and a deep reservoir of talent.
Even the losses have been inspiring, including to longtime state Berkeley and a duel to the end to defending mythical national champion St. Mary's of Stockton, seeded first in D-II and seeking a girls record 12th overall section title.
Lincoln of Stockton, which lost to St. Francis this season, is seeded second in D-I and defending state champion Oak Ridge with coach Steve White is third.
The D-II girls field includes third-seeded El Camino, 26-1 under veteran coach Bill Baxter, and a group that can safely be regarded as a dark horse, only because St. Mary's looms as does No. 2 Del Oro, The Bee's top-ranked team most of the season.
Sacramento is seeded first in D-III girls as coach Michele Massari and her deep backcourt that includes Jasmine Ware, Briana Williams, Fantasia Hilliard and Allie Green seek a title now that nemesis St. Mary's is now in D-II. El Dorado is seeded second and Vanden, a buzzer-beater winner over Sac High earlier this season, is third.
Massari said, "our team is totally different than earlier this year. The loss to Vanden cut deep but we've grown. We're better."
In boys, Woodcreek is the No. 1 seed in D-II. It won the title last season. In D-III, Sac Hi is the top seed, seeking its fifth title since 2005 under coach Derek Swafford. Center and coach Ray Gagnon are seeded second.