The storylines and themes are all there, just as they always are at this time of year when this province's elite basketball squads take their stab at glory.
And so as the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association's AAAA Provincial Basketball Final Four opens Thursday at the University of Manitoba, these compelling tales are about to unfold:
- There is the chase for perfection, featuring the Sisler Spartans girls squad, which enters the semifinal at 31-0;
- There is a shot at redemption for a St. Paul's Crusaders boys squad that was ranked No. 1 last year before being upset in the quarter-finals and returns with four Grade 12 starters;
- There is the pursuit of a repeat by the Oak Park Raiders girls, who won the championship last year;
- And no March Madness event is complete without the Cinderellas and Cinder-fellas -- long shots such as the girls from the Linden Christian Wings who captured the AAA title last year and moved up to compete against the bigger schools and the eighth-ranked Sisler boys outfit, which took down two-time defending champ Garden City in the quarters.
"I've been trying to nitpick at our game and try to figure out ways where we can improve and get better," said Michael Tan, the Spartans' girls head coach at a press conference hyping the MHSAA AAAA Final Four on Tuesday. "That's what keeps me up at night -- figuring out what we need to keep doing in order to succeed.
"But I can't complain right now and our record reflects that. Hopefully we can show that again on Thursday. It's something we've talked about, especially with our (Grade) 12s. We can be complacent with just getting back to the final four. It's more about let's one-up ourselves from last year, focus on Thursday and then after that, hopefully, on to the next goal."
The Spartans did knock off the Wings earlier this year, but Tan admitted he has a concern with a height mismatch his team faces against Linden Christian, which features 6-1 forward Montana Kinzel.
"We're definitely the underdogs going into this," said Kinzel. "We've played all these teams and been beaten by all of them. We're just going to come in with an open mind and try our best. We have to go in pushing and competing... we can't leave anything off the floor.
"We won triple A last year and a few of us having been playing together for four years and it was decided to play quad A and see what we could do."
The boys' side will be all about change. For the first time in seven years, a champion other than Garden City and Oak Park, which have combined to capture every title since 2006-07, will be crowned. That run ended last week when the Spartans, who fell to Garden City in the final a year ago, knocked off the Gophers in the quarters.
"We have confidence and I don't think our boys will be intimidated by the big court or the big crowd," said head coach Scott Martin. "Hopefully that confidence will help us.
"Last year was different because we were a bit of an underdog. This year the teams were closer and the difference between No. 1 and 8 wasn't that great.
"We're quick and we have a couple of really good three-point shooters and that plays into our inconsistency: when we're hot we're as good as anybody. And if we're not hot then we'll struggle a little bit."
St. Paul's, meanwhile, is led by 6-6 big man Billy Yaworsky who may be playing his last games in a Crusaders jersey but, based on the number of CIS programs who are courting him, will be continuing his career playing college ball.
"It's nice to know this isn't the end, but this is a big deal for all of us," said Yaworsky. "You work your whole life to get to a high school Final Four. We play well together and work well together."