The courts are gleaming and the nets are ready to be swished, as Manitoba prepares for its very own mini March Madness.
Starting Thursday, the University of Manitoba Investor's Group Centre will play host to the 2013 AAAA Provincial High School Basketball Championship semifinals. Four of the top girls' and boys' teams in Manitoba will go head-to-head to determine who goes through to the final matches, which are slated for Monday evening.
The girls' semifinals start at 6 p.m. on Thursday, with the boys' matches scheduled for Friday evening.
For Glenlawn centre Emily Potter, the provincials are a chance for one last hurrah with a team that she calls the closest she's ever seen. Potter, who stands 6-5, will be heading to the University of Utah this fall on scholarship to play Division 1 NCAA basketball.
It's a rare honour -- Glenlawn coach Bryan Kornberger can remember only six other young women since 1980 to have accomplished that feat -- but no surprise. Potter is, after all, a force to be beat: not only was she a key part of last year's championship team, but this season she led the Lions in scoring, rebounds, steals and blocked shots.
Still, even with that not-so-secret weapon and four returning players from that championship group in his line-up, Kornberger isn't letting his team take the semifinals lightly. The Lions will be taking on the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes on Thursday evening, and the teams split the two games they played during the season.
"It's anybody's game," Kornberger said, at a Tuesday press conference to launch the tournament. "We're excited about the opportunity of just getting to the final four, because a lot of teams never get here."
If they make it to the final two, they could be facing a tough rival. The Oak Park Raiders girls' team went to the finals the last three years, and is hungry for a fourth crack at the top spot. The Raiders, who went into the play-offs as the top seed, will face the fifth-ranked Sisler Spartans in their semi-final match on Thursday. The Raiders beat Sisler in all three match-ups this season.
On the boys' side, Garden City Fighting Gophers point guard Josh Magpantay is hoping to close out his career with a third trip to the final game. His team, the 2012 defending champions, came in second in his 2010 year.
The second-seeded Gophers will face the 11th-seeded Sturgeon Heights Huskies in the semifinal on Friday, but Magpantay isn't getting cocky about the big gap in placing. "For us, we don't really care about seeding," he said. "We're treating them like any other team. We just need to exert our offense."
Last year, Magpantay was named tournament MVP for his effort, and Gophers coach Phil Penner is looking to the 5-9 shooter to lead the team to a repeat. "The biggest thing is that the ball's in the hands of a guy who's been there, and has experience," Penner said.
"Every game's going to be fought hard."