Five state Division III basketball teams step into postseason play tonight, with a matchup involving two local schools serving as the featured attraction.
Centennial Conference men's champion Johns Hopkins receives the honor of hosting its opening Mid-Atlantic regional game against Villa Julie in its first tournament appearance since 1999. They will meet at Goldfarb Gym at 8 p.m.
Hopkins (23-4) broke the school record for victories under veteran coach Bill Nelson, who is wary of a team that has 15 straight victories, the second-longest streak in the country, and beat the Blue Jays in their most recent two meetings. They did not play this season.
"Fifteen straight is no fluke," Nelson said. "They've got some studs and they're very athletic. They can get up and down the floor. They've really been rolling since they got Cilk McSweeney back. He's a legit Division I player."
McSweeney began his career at Towson, transferred to Penn State and then to Villa Julie, where he is averaging 15.7 points, just behind Mustangs captain Steven Segears (16.3 points, 9.7 rebounds).
Interestingly, it was Villa Julie (20-7) that was picked ahead of the Blue Jays for an at-large berth last year.
"I love this game," said Mustangs coach Brett Adams, whose school footed a large bill last season when it was sent to New York to play in the first round. "I think it'll be great for Baltimore basketball. They couldn't have picked a better place to send us. If we had already played, I don't think the NCAA would have paired us."
The Blue Jays have some daunting factors on their side, notably the home court and a tough frontcourt combination of Matt Griffin (17.0 points) and Danny Nawrocki (12.3 points, 10.8 rebounds) and a capable perimeter shooter in T.J. Valerio (12.6 points).
Hood (21-7) received an at-large bid after bowing to Catholic in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game and will travel to Virginia Beach, Va., to take on Hampden-Sydney (18-10), which upset the host school, Virginia Wesleyan, in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference final as a No. 5 seed.
Coached by Tom Dickman, who led Thomas Johnson High to seven Maryland state crowns during a 29-year tenure, Hood is making its tournament debut in only its fourth season of men's basketball.
"We had a good year in a tough conference," said Dickman, the league's Coach of the Year. "We were lucky in quite a few games and were rewarded with an at-large bid. We were kind of on the edge."
First-team All-CAC choices Ryan Junghans (20.4 points) and Jesse Gutekunst (19.3 points, 11.6 rebounds) give the Blazers an outstanding inside-outside punch.
"Junghans is a great perimeter and free-throw shooter and Gutekunst [a 6-8 sophomore] is a difference maker at this level who can score inside and on the perimeter," the coach said. "So, the opposition can't concentrate on one area."
On the women's side, McDaniel (23-3) and the College of Notre Dame (18-6) will be invading Virginia sites for their opening games.
McDaniel, whose 19-game winning streak was ended by Ursinus in the Centennial Conference final, meets another at-large entry, William Paterson of New Jersey (22-5), in Ashland, Va.
The Green Terror's balanced attack is paced by Katy Powell (12.9 points) and Heather Thompson (11.6 points). Notre Dame makes its first tournament appearance and draws a tough assignment against homestanding and nationally eighth-ranked Mary Washington (26-2) in Fredericksburg, Va.
Mary Washington has won 22 in a row and made the final 16 last season. Gloria Broady (St. Frances) and Kimberly Ordille each average 12.4 points for Notre Dame.