For Chandler Seton High School girls basketball coach Karen Self, Monday afternoon will be a flashback to days in the not-so-distant past.
The Sentinels are among a handful of local schools — out of nine overall — competing Monday in the sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
Seton (18-3) opens the schedule with a 1:45 p.m. tip against Kayenta Monument Valley (10-2). A slate of five prep boys and girls basketball games are on tap, with various civic honorees to be recognized throughout the day in the spirit of the man the event is named for.
Seton, now in 4A-II, competed the bulk of this decade in 3A and had to wade through the particularly tough 3A North and 3A East once state tournament play started each February.
Seton also often played in Winslow’s Winter Classic prior to Christmas to get a taste of the reservation schools.
“We’re excited about being there,” Self said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game. But it’s going to be fun to be part of a showcase like that.”
Seton did not win a 3A girls basketball title in its eight years in the conference. The Sentinels were eliminated every year at some point in the state tournament by a 3A North or 3A East opponent.
“We’re working on our transition game and our press-breaking,” Self said. “(Monument Valley is) a good team. Very athletic. Win or lose, we know it’s good competition.”
Seton is currently third in the 4A-II power rankings and Monument Valley is No. 3 in the 3A rankings. A trio of Seton players are scoring in double figures, led by Theresa Wirth (16.5 points per game), Kayla Bustos (14) and Katie Doerer (12).
The fourth game of the day, with a 6:30 p.m. start, pits the 5A-I power Gilbert Highland boys (17-2), led by sophomores Matt Carlino and Nick Johnson, against 5A-II heavyweight Phoenix North (14-4) and junior guard Daniel Bejarano. North will be participating in the MLK for the second year in a row.
Last year, the Mustangs toppled Chandler Basha behind a 27-point performance by Bejarano.
The teams both played in the Arizona Basketball Challenge, another showcase event, in Mesa in late December. Highland posted a 4-0 record in the ABC; North was 1-3. Bejarano played three of the four games despite a badly bruised tailbone.
The day’s final matchup, at 8 p.m., is a 5A-I Fiesta Region girls battle between Gilbert High (17-2) and Gilbert Mesquite (15-4).
Both have been ranked this season in the Tribune’s top five, but managed a combined one win in three region tries last week, the first week of region play.
“It’s very different, but we think of it as a privilege to be able to play in the MLK for the first time,” Mesquite coach Candice Gonzales said. “The matchup is pretty even. We both have a big girl inside and the rest are guards. We haven’t played them yet. We’re looking forward to it.”
Mesquite lost to defending state champion Gilbert Highland on Friday for its first region loss. Gilbert has played short-handed much of the past week as leading scorer Whitney Southerland has been nursing a sore knee. Southerland played a little less than a quarter on Tuesday in the Tigers’ one-point loss to Chandler High. She sat out Friday’s win over Chandler Hamilton after getting X-rays on her knee that didn’t show any damage. Southerland had an MRI on Saturday to determine if there are any soft-tissue concerns. Gilbert coach Tom Bunger is hopeful Southerland’s problem is just bursitis. The other concern is a meniscus tear.
The East Valley also will be represented in Tucson on Monday at McKale Center as part of Tucson’s five-game prep package . This will be the third year Tucson has hosted a slate of games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Fourth-ranked Mesa Mountain View takes on Tucson High at 7:30 p.m. Mountain View is currently 16-2 and second in 5A-I in power rankings. The Toros have won seven consecutive games. Tucson is 12-1, with its only loss to Gilbert in late December.