FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) - Longtime Northside girls basketball coach Rickey Smith put it best when asked about the level of competition in the Natural State.
"This is a strong strong couple of classes for the state of Arkansas and there’s some really really good teams across the state."
In the 7A classification, there won't be an easy night for any of the 16 schools.
"The Central’s really tough again, probably overall better than our league top to bottom," Fayetteville coach Vic Rimmer said. "From top to bottom it’s gonna be as tight and as competitive as it has been in a while."
"North Little Rock, Conway, Central. You know those three and then you add Fayetteville, the top four teams across the state," Smith added.
But outside of those teams, Fayetteville guard Sasha Goforth sees a few other teams from the West making noise.
"I think Van Buren and Springdale will probably be our biggest competition," the sophomore said.
Rimmer agreed. "Springdale’s so talented, coach Hunsucker does a great job with them. They’ve got a lot of kids back, Marquesa Davis being one of the better players in the league. And of course Jamilyn Kinney down at Van Buren. [Head coach] Chris [Bryant] and that crew they find ways to win basketball games and get her open for shots."
For Northside, not being one of the few favorites is unusual. But that’s where the Lady Bears are at after a down season.
"18 wins last year to some programs is a successful season but it’s the first time in 20 years that we hadn’t won 20 games," said Smith.
But with Northside winning 12 of its first 13 games heading into 7A Central play, things are looking up.
"I don’t think I’ve ever played on a team that’s been 12-1 going into conference so that’s really exciting," junior Sara Bershers said.
Fayetteville and Northside have won 7 of the past 11 state titles. It remains to be seen whether a team from the Little Rock area can reclaim the crown, or if a Northwest Arkansas/River Valley school stays on top.