For one team, today's Western Mass. Division IV semifinal is a new group returning to old stomping grounds. For the other team, it's a new foray into uncharted waters.
No. 2 Mount Everett makes its first trip under Scott Rote to the Curry Hicks Cage and the Western Mass. semifinals today. No. 6 Lee, meanwhile, returns to the Cage after a two-year hiatus from a location that has been kind to the Wildcats. The teams will tip off at 4 p.m.
And, if the chance at playing for a Western Mass. championship isn't enticing enough for the sides, there's also the matter of a 1-1 season record between the two South County rivals.
"We split this season, so we want to get back [at them]," Mount Everett's Gwendolyn Carpenter said. "Last year, they beat us in the [first round] and that was a really tough loss for us. That's always in the back of our minds, and getting it back."
The Eagles (17-4) are relishing their moment in the spotlight. After years of coming up short against Lee, most recently a first-round loss in overtime to the Wildcats in last year's tournament, it is Mount Everett that enters as the favorite on paper. That, though, doesn't mean much considering the opponent.
"We always used to say the road to Amherst was through Lee," Mount Everett coach Scott Rote said. "It's pretty cool to imagine Mount Everett, who has never been on the map, ... to be going against Lee to have a chance to get to the finals."
The Wildcats (13-9) are playing with house money, in a sense. While Lee has a storied history in the Western Mass. tournament, this current crop of Wildcats are making their first appearance on the big stage, and are coming off an upset of No. 3 Monson in the quarterfinals.
"I just think it's a different team," Lee coach Jenna Gangell, who won a Western Mass. championship as a player for Lee, said of making it back. "It's a different team and a different mindset. It's the first time these girls have been able to play on the Cage floor. We're just going to go in and look to play our game."
And if the first two games are anything to go by, tonight's game should be close.
Mount Everett took the first game this year, 38-34, back on Dec. 21 in the opening-round of the South County Tournament. Lee responded with a win in Sheffield on Jan. 8, taking that game 53-46.
"I think we are definitely very closely-matched teams," Carpenter said. "We didn't push the ball that well in the second game, which is the one we lost. I think we have to stick to playing our game and not play the game they want us to play."
Based on the scores of the two games, it would seem safe to bet that Mount Everett wants to slow the game down, while Lee wants to try and run up the score.
The reality is that both teams want to do the opposite.
The Eagles have found success when Carpenter is out and running. With the ability to get to the line at will, Carpenter's drives open up shooting lanes for her teammates. Carpenter has averaged a shade under 16 points per game this season.
Lee, meanwhile, counters with a dynamic guard of its own in Karli Retzel, who is averaging 14 points per game for the Wildcats, and an inside presence that Mount Everett lacks. The Eagles, in particular, are worried about the influence of Brianna Hawley to the proceedings.
"Gwen is an excellent player," Gangell said. "We have to do our diligence with her on the defensive end and we have to work to get Karli some open shots, as well."
Rote added that with Hawley, "you have to watch her inside. [Cara] Walker, a couple of their other girls, it's not one of the teams where you can let one or two girls stand off by themselves and focus on other players."
Both teams are stingy on defense, with Mount Everett giving up just 34.2 points per contest, while Lee is giving up 37.6. Mount Everett averages 45.5 points per game, and Lee is averaging just under 38 per contest.
If the game stays in the 30's, Rote said the battle on the glass could prove pivotal, and players like Parker Snyder, Jess Abbott and Madison Ullrich will have to step up.
"We need to control the boards and the post play," Rote said. "We have to control Hawley, [Kendra] Williams, Walker, we have to control the bigs."
Gangell agreed the rebound battle will be critical, as will slowing down Carpenter.
"Carpenter is extremely quick," Gangell said. "So we have to do a good job on her defensively and rebound the ball well.
"We would like to slow the pace down a little bit, but I don't think that we are opposed to getting ourselves up and down the floor, either."
The winner of this semifinal will play the winner of No. 1 Ware against No. 5 Quaboag. That game will be played immediately following Lee and Mount Everett's game. The championship game will be on 10:45 a.m. on Saturday morning back at the Cage.
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.