As a rookie to 4A Colorado Springs Metro League basketball, Ardie McInelly doesn't have the breadth of local historical knowledge of, let's say, 18th-year Widefield girls' coach Jim Mason.
But after just a few short months, the Harrison girls' coach has proved to be a quick study in learning about recent league history.
Mesa Ridge is good. Really good.
She'll find out firsthand at 7 p.m. Thursday when her 5-5 Panthers open up league play by travelling to meet the Grizzlies (8-0), one of only three undefeated 4A girls' teams left in Colorado.
"We might as well start out with the best first," said McInelly, who formerly coached the Air Force women's basketball team for nine seasons. "They're obviously very strong, and we definitely have our work cut out for us. You can learn so much from these games. It'll be good to see where we are and what we have to work on."
While it's no stretch among area coaches that the Grizzlies could run the table for a second straight season, the real questions remain in the rest of the league field.
The past two seasons, Sierra got hot late and won two playoff games, including an upset of No. 3 seed Thompson Valley last March. And Widefield won three of four to end last regular season and nearly turned that late momentum into a first-round upset of Erie but came up short by two points.
"Mesa is the class of the league right now," Mason said. "Then there are quite a few teams with similar records that are capable of playing good at times, then capable of playing not so well at times. There are some very young teams in our league this year."
Sierra, despite a 3-4 start, could be poised to make noise when it counts the most. With the addition of Harrison transfer Lundyn Jackson in two weeks and a late-season projected return of injured senior post Rebecca Cross, the Stallions hope to peak at the right time.
But they're not looking that far ahead, yet.
"We're a young team, just trying to weather the storm," third-year Sierra coach Joe Williams said. "Toward the end of January and into early February, we'll get things in place. If we can get healthy, maybe we can make a strong run like the last couple of years."
Sierra opens with Coronado, which boasts the league's best scorer in power forward Taryn Frazier at 17.4 points.
"They're a young team that got its feet wet last year," said Williams about Coronado, led by second-year coach Lavon Jackson. "They could make a run, too. They're not deep at post play, but they have shooters. If you let them loose, their outside shooting can make up for the inside game."
4A Metro League girls' nonconference standings (through Tuesday)
Mesa Ridge 8-0 1.000
Harrison 5-5 .500
Widefield 4-5 .444
Sierra 3-4 .429
Coronado 4-6 .400
Woodland Park 2-7 .222
Mitchell 1-6 .143