League play officially kicked off in the Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 last Friday, but the Warriors drew a bye for the first round of competition. Del Norte will kick off league play on Wednesday with a road trip to Fortuna for both the boys and girls varsity teams.

Big 5 basketball has been Arcata’s domain over the past few seasons, with the Tigers winning back to back to back Big 5 boys championships while the Arcata girls have won at least a share of the past five Big 5 championships and haven’t lost a league game since 2015.

While both teams from Arcata are certainly still in the mix to extend their title streaks, both the boys and girls leagues are still wide open early in Big 5 play.

The HDN boys teams have mostly been up and down through non-Big 5 play, with most teams finishing within a few games of .500. Arcata led the way in non-league play going 9-6 overall, followed by McKinleyville at 8-5, Del Norte at 7-6 and Fortuna at 6-7. All four teams are currently ranked between No. 8 and No. 12 in maxpreps.com’s playoff prediction model.

“I don’t know if there is a clear cut favorite, whereas there has been the last couple years,”
said Del Norte boys head coach Blaine Lopez. “It seems pretty competitive — there seems to be a lot of parity. I think it is going to just come down to who can be the most consistent. We have talked about that all year, but I think that is going to be a huge part of it. It should be interesting for sure.”

Meanwhile, the HDN Big 5 girls teams have all gotten off to fairly impressive starts to the season with all five teams at or above .500 prior to league play. Arcata is currently ranked 2nd in the North Coast Section Division IV by maxpreps.com, followed by Del Norte at No. 7 and Fortuna at No. 9. Eureka is currently No. 3 in NCS Division III.

“It is going to be a good league,” said Del Norte girls head coach Justin Clifton. “We will see where we are at, and if all of our hard work paid off. We had five tough losses, so hopefully it meant something. We have had a lot of good practices since we got back and the team is really bonding. It is going to be exciting.”

The Del Norte girls team is coming off one of the most competitive non-league schedules in school history with an 8-5 overall record. Meanwhile, the Warrior boys started a little slowly this season, but Lopez said the team’s energy has been much better as Del Norte has won five of its last six games before league play.

The Del Norte girls will kick off Big 5 play first in Fortuna, tipping off at 6 p.m. The Huskies, like Arcata and Eureka, will have a noticeable size advantage in the paint but Clifton feels like the Warriors have the best group of guards in the Big 5.

“It is going to be interesting to see how teams match up with us,” Clifton said. “If we put that third guard on the floor, how are teams going to guard us? I imagine that most teams will try to slow the game down against us. We are definitely going to play uptempo, and the 6-foot girls on the other team are going to have to run. We are a small team, but we all know that we have some speed. It will come down to effort and who wants it more.”

This year, all of the Warrior girls’ league games will be broadcast on KPOD, along with the boys games. Broadcasts can also be streamed live online at delnortesports.com.

The Del Norte boys team will kick off against Fortuna at about 7 p.m. following the girls game.

“(Fortuna) returns a couple good kids with a first team all league player and an honorable mention all leaguer,” Lopez noted. “They have won a few games and their football guys are probably just starting to get into basketball shape after they won a state championship in football. Especially on the road, every game is a tough one. That is just the way it is. We haven’t won in Fortuna in a while.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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