Vianney 69, DeSmet 60

The DeSmet Spartans get fired up to play Vianney Friday Feb. 10, 2012 at Vianney High School in Kirkwood. Photo by Robert Cohen,

Robert Cohen

This week marks the beginning of the end. District basketball tournaments get underway on Monday all across this great state of ours. It’s win or go home time, and many will go home without any hardware—just the memories they created over the past four months.

For some, it will be a painful ending to a career. There aren’t many tougher experiences for a high school athlete than peeling off your jersey and realizing you’ll never pull it on again. Tears will flow, emotions will be raw. It’s the natural order of things. It happens every year. And every year, no matter how many times players are told it will hurt, it feels so much worse than they imagined.

For some, it will be merciful ending. For everyone who wishes only for one more day, there are plenty of teams out there that have long since mailed it in and are only hoping that their end comes quickly and free of pain. The winter season is four months long. And long sometimes feels even longer.

While many teams will never know the joy of winning their last game and walking off with a state championship, some will. Many will lose, but one team will win. Around these parts, we’ve got ourselves some teams eyeing up that big, beautiful trophy, and the lifetime of joy it will bring. And don’t kid yourself. If you win a state championship, that is something you treasure forever. It will be brought up at every reunion, wedding, birthday and funeral. It is something you tell your grandkids about.

Who has a legit shot at making a lifetime’s worth of memories in the next four weeks? Let’s take a look…

On the boys side we have to start with Vianney. The Golden Griffins claimed their first Metro Catholic Conference title last week. It’s a nice finish to a remarkable regular season that included an 18-game win streak, an unbeaten home record and tournament titles at the Jerry Boeckman Invitational and the Meramec Holiday Festival. Vianney has one of the toughest roads to Columbia but a final four berth is within its grasp.

There are two teams that have a chance to find their way to Columbia, but their paths will intersect and only one will advance. Both Webster Groves and De Smet have solid district and sectional competition but it’s a pretty good bet they’ll meet one another in the quarterfinal round at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

In the smaller classifications, we have to take a hard look at Justin Tatum’s Soldan returning to the final four for the third straight year. But if Westminster can get out of its rough and tumble district at MICDS next week, the Wildcats could make things tough on Soldan in the sectional.

Cardinal Ritter and Maplewood-Richmond Heights should represent St. Louis in Columbia if all goes according to plan. Unfortunately for these two teams, only one of them will get out of their district.

On the girls side, Incarnate Word and St. Joseph’s Academy are almost assured to lock horns in the quarterfinals at UMSL. Both programs are among the elite in the state, and neither would have to see another elite team until they see each other. Get ready, the Angels and Red Knights will have one final tussle in them for the right to end their year in Columbia.

Principia has been playing at a level this winter that has put them into the elite conversation. A Class 3 team, if the Panthers can stay healthy they’re a good bet to reach their first final four.