It finally starts tonight.
The week every schoolgirl basketball player from Kittery to Fort Kent dreams about in November finally tips off this evening at 8 p.m., when third-ranked Winslow and No. 6 Camden Hills of Rockport open the Eastern Maine Class B tournament.
Class A games for the week are at the Augusta Civic Center while the Class B, C, and D games are at the Bangor Auditorium.
Class A: Hampden Academy is making its first regional quarterfinal appearance in six years, going in as the No. 7 seed.
Coach Chad Bradbury’s club is one of the hotter teams in the region, having finished the regular season on a six-game win streak which enabled the Broncos to grab the No. 7 seed and avoid a first-round matchup with top-ranked and undefeated Skowhegan.
Hampden is fairly thin on tournament experience — junior Katelyn DeRaps is the only Bronco who has played on such a stage — but they certainly aren’t thin on talent.
Hampden, which plays No. 2 Edward Little of Auburn today at 4:30, is well-balanced with DeRaps and Michaela Stephenson in the backcourt while Kate Parsons, Helene Sherburne, Julia Snyder and Courtney Doyon are the threats up front. Parsons and Sherburne can also shoot from the perimeter.
The Broncos have a great chance of emerging out of the quarters, since the Red Eddies lost one of the state’s top players in Kirsten Prue to a foot injury.
Skowhegan, however, is strong, with dynamic guards Whitney Jones and Amanda Johnson fueling the backcourt and Mackenzie Smith and Liz Noddin the frontcourt.
Defending regional champion Messalonskee of Oakland and Brunswick may also contend.
Class B: Three-time regional champ Waterville is just that until someone knocks it off, but the eighth-ranked Panthers could be an endangered species, with a number of teams hungry to knock them off.
Top-ranked Presque Isle will get the first chance on Saturday afternoon, and coach Jeff Hudson’s Wildcats, led by sophomores Chelsea Nickerson and Kayla Richards, enter tournament play 17-1.
That lone loss came to No. 2 seed Mount Desert Island, which boasts one of the region’s top players in 6-footer Megan Phelps.
Coach Brent Barker’s club, which beat Presque Isle 55-36 in Bar Harbor on Jan. 20, has some solid depth offensively in Mackenzie Curtis, Jessica Swanson and Sara Carroll.
MDI opens tourney play against a tough No. 7 seed in Hermon on Saturday morning, and coach Margie Deabay’s Hawks will be making their first Bangor appearance in five years.
Hermon features a young nucleus led by Victoria Davenport, Ripley King and Danielle Ross, the team’s lone senior.
Nokomis of Newport, coached by Bangor High grad Kori Dionne, features a dynamite backcourt in Mary Badeen, Julie Smith and Marissa Shaw with Kara Batchelder and Danielle Watson providing depth up front.
Winslow boasts a solid post threat in 6-foot sophomore Megan Pelletier, while Camden Hills has a talented freshman in Jordan Knowlton.
Class C: The top three teams — Foxcroft Academy, Central of Corinth and Woodland, were in different classes a year ago, but are solid favorites here.
The Ponies and Red Devils split during the regular season, and pose matchup problems for any team with their respective post players – 6-footer Vanessa Lougee and 6-4 Bekah Campbell.
Both clubs also have dynamite guard play, with the Ponies featuring Courtney Withee, Sabrina Sharrow and forward Bekah Flanders and Central countering with the dynamic Hannah Pray, freshman Max McHugh and another 6-footer in Jocelyn Portmann.
While Woodland lacks solid height, the Dragons are always tough defensively, and don’t forget, they won the last two gold balls in Class D.
Washington Academy of East Machias, Houlton, Orono and Calais are strong contenders as well.
Class D: With Woodland in Class C, a new champion will emerge here.
Central Aroostook of Mars Hill comes in on a 16-game win streak, while Fort Fairfield, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and Bangor Christian have enjoyed fine seasons.
The top-ranked Panthers boast a solid scoring threat in Vicki McIntyre while Fort Fairfield, which goes in No. 2 and played for a regional title a year ago, are led by senior point guard Courtney Churchill, sophomore Amanda Hotham and junior Brooke Beaulieu.
Southern Aroostook boasts a championship-tested cast which has won the last two state titles in soccer, and Bangor Christian has a tough, guard-oriented unit sparked by Emma Johnson, Katherine Bragg, Whitney Holmes and forward Meredith Bean.
Southern Aroostook, which had been riddled by injuries during the regular season, is healthy and peaking.
Enjoy the games. It’ll be championship Saturday before we know it.