Sometimes, parity is evident right at the start of a tournament. There’s a top seed, but no clear-cut favorite. One team has as good a chance of winning it all as the other.

That’s not the case in Class D South this year. Undefeated and defending champion Vinalhaven is the favorite. And the coaches the Vikings could end up facing aren’t trying to deny it.

“Definitely, Vinalhaven is the team to beat,” Temple Academy coach Joe Rossignol said. “They’re undefeated, they have five starting seniors, they won states last year. They’re definitely the team to beat.”

Clearly, the Vikings have earned that status. After winning the state championship last season, Vinalhaven brought back its top six players and finished the regular season at 18-0, grabbing the first seed in the region and setting up a quarterfinal game Tuesday with No. 8 Valley (6-12). Rangeley (16-2) took the second seed and will face No. 7 Pine Tree Academy (5-13) on Monday, Temple (11-7) is third and will play No. 6 Islesboro (4-9) on Saturday, and Greenville took fourth and will play No. 5 Seacoast Christian on Tuesday in a matchup of 9-9 teams.

As the tournament gets underway, Vinalhaven looms as the giant. But the other coaches know that the tournament can be full of surprises.

“I think you’ve got to respect them. … I can’t imagine anyone not picking them,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery said. “On paper, it’s all Vinalhaven. But you know how that is.”

The Vikings will open against a Cavaliers team that has authored some of those surprises themselves. It was only two years ago that Valley stunned No. 2 Forest Hills as a seventh-seed, and coach Paul Belanger said his team is embracing the underdog role as it tries to do it again.

“We’re expected to go nowhere. We have the eighth seed, so all the pressure is on them,” he said. “We came in nice and relaxed (in 2016), nobody was expecting anything out of us except ourselves.”

They’ll have to do it with a new cast of players, one that makes them the mirror opposite of the Vikings. While Vinalhaven brought back everyone, most notably stars Paige Dennison and Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes, Valley had to make do with an entirely rebuilt starting five. The lineup, led by junior forward Kennedy Savoy, has come on as the season has progressed, however, and though the schedule included 57-19 and 60-29 losses to Vinalhaven, Belanger pointed out that the Cavaliers had an answer for the Vikings’ size in the post and were hanging close in the first half of the first game before Vinalhaven started hitting long jumpers in the second.

On Tuesday, Valley will force Vinalhaven to do it again.

“They have no weaknesses,” Belanger said. “We’re going to play the game of percentages and try to make them hit from the outside.”

Deery said Rangeley’s path to the tournament’s second seed likely took some following the sport by surprise.

“We have one senior. I don’t think anybody picked us to be in the spot that we’re in,” she said.

The Lakers have combated that turnover in the starting lineup by leaning on a bench that Deery said is as deep as any she’s coached.

“Really, all the way down the bench, (it’s) the strongest group that I’ve had,” she said. “I’ve had some great teams, obviously, over the years. But we play 11 people in most games. I think there’s only been one game that 11 kids didn’t play.”

The Lakers will open against a Pine Tree team that it faced twice late in the season and stifled both times, beating the Breakers 49-10 and 29-19 on Jan. 30 and 31.

“We’ve got to execute, and what that means within our fast break and our halfcourt offense (is) making great passes and hitting the open man and reading the defense,” she said. “We don’t have to invent something new or come up with a gimmick, we just need to play.”

Temple will face an Islesboro team it only played once, coming away with a 58-44 victory on Dec. 21. Rossignol said the team isn’t taking much for granted from that game, especially since the Eagles were without their starting point guard.

“We’re a much, much better team than we were then, and we’re expecting them to be a much better team,” he said. “We’re not looking past it. We’re watching video and looking for any weaknesses to exploit and try to see what their strengths are so we can minimize them.”

Though plenty has changed since that first matchup, Rossignol expects enough to be the same — particularly Islesboro’s commitment to a half-court offense and zone defense — for the faster-playing, more aggressive Bereans to accurately scout and prepare.

“We need to play hard defense. … We need to play aggressive defense without fouling, and keep our offense moving,” he said. “When our offense is moving, things happen. Stay out of foul trouble, play aggressive defense, keep the offense moving and we’re going to be fine.”

The matchup carrying the most intrigue is likely the tournament’s 4/5 matchup between Greenville and Seacoast Christian. The teams have the same record, and a lack of head-to-head matchups accentuates the sense of unpredictability going in. With a largely D North schedule, Greenville hasn’t played any of D South’s top seven seeds, while Seacoast earned a big win over Temple in December.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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