It’s hard to believe this is the seventh year the Class 3A state tournament has been jointly hosted by Marshfield and North Bend high schools.

And I can’t remember one I was more excited about, an excitement that started brewing in December because of the potential of the girls field.

Defending state champion Dayton returns a ton of talent, but has much work to do to cut down the nets for the third straight year on Saturday night.

The Pirates had a phenomenal season, going 26-1, but are ranked just second in the Oregon School Activities Association power rankings.

That’s because their lone blemish came against Salem Academy, which is 24-1 and ranked No. 1 and tipped Dayton 52-50 on Dec. 19.

For the record, Dayton is ranked No. 1 by the coaches, just ahead of Salem Academy — the Pirates got five first-place votes and Salem Academy four.

Right behind them in the coaches poll are Blanchet Catholic (21-3) and Coquille (25-1). Blanchet Catholic is the only team to beat Salem Academy (42-40 on Jan. 4, though the Cavaliers also lost to Salem Academy twice and Dayton once). Coquille suffered its loss by four points to Class 4A Valley Catholic in Salem on Dec. 29.

And right behind the Cavaliers and Red Devils are Lewis & Clark League rivals Portland Adventist Academy (21-4) and Rainier (23-3). Portland Adventist handed Rainier both its Class 3A losses but the Columbians got the Cougars back in the league playoffs.

While Dayton and Salem Academy split the first- and second-place votes in the final coaches poll, Blanchet Catholic and Coquille nearly split the votes for third and fourth and Portland Adventist and Rainier did the same with the fifth- and sixth-place votes.

The underdogs are Nyssa, which has seven losses (but just three against Class 3A schools); and Lakeview, the only newcomer since the tournament returned to the Bay Area. The Honkers eliminated traditional power Vale and had just three of their eight setbacks come against Class 3A schools.

If you’re keeping track at home, that means the eight teams in the tournament have a combined 16 losses to Class 3A schools — nine against other teams in the tournament (and all but one of the other seven to teams eliminated last week).

While Coquille lost its game to Valley Catholic while having a couple of chances to tie late, the Red Devils have five wins over teams still alive in the Class 4A playoffs, including handing three-time Class 4A champion Sutherlin its two worst losses in the past five seasons.

Dayton, Blanchet Catholic and Salem Academy have a combined six more wins over teams still in the Class 4A playoffs. Dayton and Blanchet Catholic both beat Valley Catholic and Salem Academy beat Sutherlin.

If you want to extend that concept further, all but one of the losses by all of the girls teams in the tournament have been either to other teams in the tournament, to teams still alive in the Class 4A playoffs or in the Class 2A tournament, to teams eliminated in the Class 3A playoff round or Class 4A play-in round, or to teams from out of state.

That’s why I’ve been saying for weeks that the top five or six teams in this week’s tournament all couple place in the Class 4A event next week.

The teams have great records and plenty of starpower, too.

Dayton’s Shawnie Spink and Kalina Rojas, Salem Academy’s Aimee Smith and Coquille’s Darian Wilson all were on the all-tournament first team last year. Portland Adventist’s Sarah Halversen and Salem Academy’s Sydney Brown were on the second team.

And those are just the girls who were recognized by the coaches. There are a number of others this week every bit capable of the same honor.

I don’t want to disregard the boys. There’s plenty of talent there. And I suspect most of Thursday’s games will be compelling for the boys, too.

If the rankings prove true, a Dayton-Amity clash for the title Saturday night would be a lot of fun. Six other teams hope to keep that from happening.

Either way, it’s going to be a great week. And whichever teams hold the blue trophies Saturday will clearly have earned the honor.

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