The stage has been set.
Both the Red Lion and New Oxford girls' basketball teams cruised in their midweek games, ensuring both will be undefeated in league play heading into their enormous early-season clash Friday at 7:30 at Red Lion.
But why such a big deal about a game in the first week of January? Well, several reasons.
First, both these teams are hot. They each have won eight in a row going into Friday's matchup.
Second, they have a history of knocking each other off. Red Lion and New Oxford split their two meetings last year, with the Colonials earning a 56-42 win on Feb. 3 in their last meeting.
Third, it appears that these are the two teams that will ultimately duke it out for the YAIAA Division I crown. That seems even more clear following Red Lion's 60-35 romp over Central York (previously 3-0 in the league) on Wednesday and New Oxford's relatively easy 58-41 win over Dallastown on Tuesday.
And if you think both teams aren't approaching an early-January game with a hightened sense of urgency, well, think again. Red Lion coach Don Dimoff was at Dallastown on Tuesday to get an early peek at the Colonials.
"Very solid team," Dimoff said Wednesday night. "It will be a great basketball game. I've been very impressed by what I've seen."
The Colonials will have to solve Red Lion's nasty press, which has continually confounded opponents this season. The Lions forced 27 turnovers in their win at Central York. Red Lion also boasts an extremely deep bench -- 11 players had baskets Wednesday -- and can wear teams down. New Oxford, conversely, only played six players Tuesday against the Wildcats (senior Liz Myers was hurt and could not play). It will be interesting to see if fatigue plays a factor.
New Oxford does boast senior forward Julia Antonelli, who is averaging 19.3 points per game this year. At 5-foot-10 she possesses the size to dominate inside, but can still handle the ball if asked to.
"We're definitely going to have to strategize, but we have to come out and play right away," Antonelli said of Red Lion. "We can't let them get on any runs."
Besides her, the Colonials started two sophomores and two freshman against Dallastown. One of those freshman, Lindsey Miller, dropped 19 points against the Wildcats, including five 3-pointers. How those younger players handle the Lions relentless pressure could go a long way toward determining New Oxford's fate.
Of course, Friday's game isn't the end-all, be-all. There's too much season left for this one game to decide anything. But certainly whoever emerges with the win Friday will earn the title "Team to Beat" in Division I.
At least until these two teams play again on Feb. 2.