The winter high school sports preseason is already finished. Conference play will begin after the first of the year in all sports.

High school basketball is a very long season. Many teams get a quick start out of the gate during preseason but run out of gas by the time the district tournament rolls around in February. It is really difficult to predict who will surface as the top dogs when it counts. Teams that play difficult schedules early in the year will be better-prepared to handle the tough conference and district grind.

On the boys side at the large-class level many teams appear equal. Last year Rockhurst finally brought the big-class championship back to Kansas City. It was a 14-year drought since the Liberty team won a big-class state championship.

I interviewed several area coaches on my radio show last year who spoke candidly about why it has been so difficult to bring the basketball championships to the Kansas City area. For the most part, they felt that things just did not fall in place for those teams.

Right now several teams are in the hunt. Lee’s Summit West, Blue Springs South, Liberty and Park Hill have been pleasant surprises and look to be contenders. Rockhurst will be tough at the end of the year because its schedule gets it ready for tournament play. It would be nice to see boys basketball gain domination equal to that of football and wrestling.

In girls basketball, Blue Springs has been the area representative in the final four the past five years. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they have been unable to get over the hump and bring the state championship back to Kansas City. The Wildcats are not as strong this year, so the door swings open for other teams to break through and try their luck at getting the trophy.

The Truman girls are a current favorite. They are deep with experience and have a great inside game along with solid guard play. The only drawback for the Truman team is the weakness of its conference schedule. It could present a problem for the Patriots at tournament time.

Running over inferior opponents does not get a team ready for the pressure at the end of the year. Teams from the larger conference face stiffer competition throughout the season which prepares them better for the end of the year. The talent of the Truman girls most likely still keeps them at the top of the heap.

Wrestling remains the most dominant high school sport in the Kansas City area. A state championship is in line for both of the top two classes. It will be a shoo-in for Kansas City area teams to bring home both titles. Park Hill has to be the favorite. Teams like Blue Springs, Staley and Liberty will also make noise.

Wrestlers on the west side of the state compete against the very best every match. Tournament and conference duals provide the type of competition to make a wrestler tournament-ready. Oak Grove should also continue its dominance. The Panthers take a few knocks all season, as they always wrestle the big schools. When state tournament time comes around they put the wood to the schools in their class. It would not be surprising to see at least five schools bring home final four trophies from both classes.

The girls swimming championships have been very interesting the past couple of years. The Blue Springs girls have carried the banner in this sport for many years by having consistent final four trophies in addition to a championship or two along the way. However, many other schools, particularly in the Suburban Big Six, have begun to develop strong programs. It will be interesting to see if any school on this side of the state can bring home a trophy or win all the marbles.

All four of these sports provide great entertainment – get out and watch them.

• The Chiefs have eight guys who will be playing in the Pro-Bowl. It bodes well for the future of the organization. I cannot believe that Derrick Johnson once again did not make the game. He leads the team in tackles and most people feel that he is the leader on the Chiefs defense. All-star teams in all sports drive me nuts.

• I say this every year: we have way too many bowl games. The new NCAA Division I playoff system really won’t make a difference. I guess I am a Division II guy whose division has a champion that is crowned by winning meaningful games on the field.

• I am changing my Final Four teams again. I am going with Ohio State, Michigan State, Kentucky and Syracuse. That is why March Madness is so great – you actually play it out on the floor.

• My quote of the week comes from the great Vince Lombardi: “The important thought is that the Packers thrived on tough competition. We welcomed it; the team had always welcomed it. The adrenaline flowed a little quicker when we were playing the tougher teams.”

Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 5-6 p.m. every Thursday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at