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Monday, March 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State Hoops '06 - Complete coverage

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4A Hoops Preview: Girls group "a loaded field"

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — Pick your poison.

It will be that kind of Class 4A state girls basketball tournament this week at the Tacoma Dome. There doesn't appear to be a killer team in the bunch, but nearly every qualifier has a lethal weapon or two.

"It's a loaded field," Prairie coach Al Aldridge said. "There are some great teams."

Like Prairie (23-2), a traditional powerhouse that has been ranked No. 1 in the state all season and recently as high as No. 22 nationally by USA Today. The Falcons have placed fourth or better in each of the past eight tournaments, winning in 2003, 1999 and '98 during that stretch, and are making their 23rd appearance overall — more than any other 4A or 3A girls program.

Like Lincoln (24-1), which just happens to be coming off a 54-40 victory over Prairie in the West Central/Southwest 4A bi-district tournament on Saturday. The Abes, making their first appearance in the tournament since 1988, have perhaps the most talent of any team in the field — including 6-foot-1 senior Samantha Tinned, a Garfield transfer who was voted the most valuable player of the past two tournaments and has a habit of playing big in big games.

Like University of Spokane (22-3), home of the state's best all-around player: Angie Bjorklund, a junior already committed to Tennessee.

Like Woodinville (22-1), hoping to carry on the recent success of Sea-King 4A District qualifiers. Garfield won last year and Roosevelt in 2004.

"Why not us?" Woodinville coach Steve Segadelli said.

And that's just for starters. All but three of the 16 teams in the field have won 20 or more games. Not only is there not a heavy favorite this year's tournament, but the list of contenders is considerable.

"It's pretty wide open," Aldridge said. "Everybody had better bring their best game every night. If you don't, there's going to be some upsets."

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Gauging the upsets won't be easy. Who should beat whom? That was evident at the tournament draw Sunday at the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association headquarters.

"There weren't a lot of oohs and aahs like there have been the last couple of years," University coach Mark Stinson said. "This is a very deep tournament. I think there are many teams who could win it."

The biggest shudder might have come when Lincoln of Tacoma was drawn into the tournament opener Wednesday at 9 a.m. Coach Kevin Strozier knows his players aren't exactly morning girls, but after last year's late collapse in the district tournament, they won't nitpick.

"We'd play at 7 if we had to," Strozier said.

Lincoln will face Roosevelt (20-5) in a bit of a strange twist. Roosevelt grabbed the Sea-King District's No. 2 berth by eliminating Garfield, last year's champion. The Abes owe their only loss to Garfield in overtime.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

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