Carson High's boys and girls basketball teams know if they can finish at least second place in the Sierra League, all of their Northern 4A zone playoff games will be played at home.
The higher seeds -- meaning the first and second place teams in the Sierra and High Desert Leagues -- will receive home games in the first round of the zone playoffs. Carson will then host the semifinals and the finals of the zone tournament.
Carson's girls will have high expectations as it returns 10 of 13 players from last year's team that advanced to the semifinals of the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Championships. The Senators figure to be one of the top contenders for one of the three qualifying berths from zone into the state event.
Meanwhile, Carson's boys will be hard pressed to match last season when the Senators won the Sierra League title with an 11-1 mark. But the Senators should still have a strong enough nucleus this year to be a prominent player in the Northern 4A.
"I'm sure everybody's expecting big things," Carson girls coach Paul Croghan.
A lot of those expectations come from last season's finish in which Carson upset Reno High in the zone semifinals to qualify for state.
Croghan said the key this year will be the same as last year -- to peak at the end of the season.
"I thought we played our best basketball in the last month of the season," he said.
Part of the reason was Carson is so good at the end of the year is its tough schedule and nothing has changed this season. The Senators begin the year on Friday at Colfax, Calif., a traditional power in its division.
Carson will again host its tournament Dec. 12-14. The event will be a 10-team tournament divided into five-team pools.
In each pool, all the teams will play two games on Thursday and Friday in the round-robin format. The top teams in each pool will play for the title on Saturday. Among the teams in the tournament will be defending champion Armijo from California and defending 3A state champion Lowry. During the tournament, Carson's boys will play Foothill of Las Vegas on Dec. 13.
The Senators will also travel to Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 18 for a tournament that will feature top teams from across the nation.
Among the players that Carson lost were Erin Stieber and Megan Anderson, who provided size inside.
"We did lose some people we're going to miss," Croghan said. "Erin was a floor leader. Her energy was tremendous.
Stieber is the only starter that graduated from last year's team. The Senators return five players who saw starting action last year: Point guard Ciarra Christian, Tabitha Adams, Talia Joyce, Katie Kotter and Terri Niederer.
Kotter figures to take over Stieber's role as the team's all-around floor leader. Croghan said Kotter is effective on the perimeter and can play inside as well.
"She's a great rebounder for her size," he said. "She plays all out."
Carson has four seniors in Bethany Henry, Joyce, Rosalia Nunez and Niederer. The Senators also have four juniors who have been on the varsity since they were freshmen: Christian, Adams, Kotter and Terah Laack.
Laack returns after missing last year with a knee injury. "I don't look at them as being young," said Croghan about his four juniors.
Also returning are Kelli Weyrick and 6-0 Andrea Hoff, who will provide Carson with some size. But the Senators will still be one of the smallest teams around.
Once again, Carson will depend on a frenetic style in which it will look to score fast break points off of its press.
Getting back to the state tournament won't be easy for the Senators. Defending state runner-up Douglas, Reno, Galena, Reed and McQueen will all be among the teams looking to make serious playoff runs.
When practice began, Carson had 55 players in its program, including 21 on the varsity. Croghan said he would cut that number down to 12 or 13.
The Senators lost their top three players from last year's team in Vince Inglima, Ryan Buttner and Adam McKenzie.
"That's probably about 80 percent of our scoring and the senior leadership," Carson coach Bruce Barnes said.
But the cupboard isn't bare. Senior Ryan Henry is a returning starter who came on strong at the end of last year.
"Last year he filled his role," Barnes said. "Now, he'll have to change his role a little bit and take on more of the responsibility."
Carson has four other seniors in Ricky Correlli, Andy Baum, Gary Borst and Ed Jaquette. Correlli was the back-up point guard last year and figures to take over at the position this season.
Among the other top players should be Aaron Henry, Rory Wunsch, Curtis Dixon and Jeff Hurzel.
"We don't have any size," Barnes said. "We didn't have a whole lot last year."
So Carson will continue to use a frenetic style as well. "We'll play the same type of game," Barnes said. "We have to play up tempo. We want change our style a whole lot.
"We have a lot of perimeter players. We won't have much of a post game."
But Barnes said his team should be able to create some matchup problems for its opponents. When practice began, the varsity had 22 players and Barnes said he expected to cut that number down to 13.
The overwhelming favorite in the north will be Reno, which features Kansas-bound David Padgett. The Senators will play on Dec. 5 in the Douglas Tournament.
Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor.