There's something about tournament play. Even when the tournament is held in the early stages of the season, the games seem to be charged with a bit more intensity than that of a typical early-season contest.

Take, for example, the LaVista Tournament. All four basketball teams at New Canaan High School and Darien High School get to compete in this tournament every season.

The tournament, which is named after Anthony LaVista, former New Canaan coach, science teacher and Darien Assistant Principal who passed away in 1995, features a four-team field with a semifinal round followed by a championship game and a consolation game. It is an interesting alternative to just another regular season game.

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And while it is certainly a small field and probably doesn't compare to the intensity of the FCIAC or State Tournaments, the LaVista tourney could give New Canaan and Darien basketball players a small taste of what's to come, should they finish with a good enough record to qualify for FCIACs and States.

It encompasses the urgency of a playoff tournament -- lose one game, and you will not be crowned the tournament's champion. However, it doesn't have the same finality of an FCIAC or State tournament, in which a team's season can end with a loss. The LaVista tournament also serves a nice jumpstart from the nearly week-long layoff that all basketball teams had to go through over the Winter Break.

And since the four basketball teams at New Canaan High School and Darien High School all take place in the LaVista Tournament every year, it also increases the possibility of an extra Rams vs. Blue Wave showdown. While New Canaan and Darien never play each other in the first round in either the boys or girls tournament, dueling wins or losses would ensure that the Rams and Wave square off in either the championship game or the consolation game.

With both girls teams winning their opening round games on Tuesday (New Canaan defeated Greenwich 46-28 and Darien upended Foran 39-32), Darien and New Canaan indeed squared off in the tournament's championship game on Thursday.

Each girls team made the FCIAC and State Tournament's last year, and the Rams and Blue Wave entered Thursday's championship game with records of 4-2 and 3-2, respectively. With a midseason championship to be decided between crosstown rivals, this game was probably not one to miss.

As for the boys teams, Darien, which won its first game of the season in a 65-34 victory over Stamford Academy in Tuesday's tournament opener, had a golden opportunity to be crowned tournament champions when it squared off with Greenwich in Thursday's Championship game. For a program which has struggled in recent years, winning even a small tournament could serve as a significant confidence boost.

For the New Canaan boys team, which was defeated 56-42 by Greenwich on Tuesday, winning the consolation game against Stamford Academy would also give the Rams their all-important first win of the season.

For full coverage of Thursday's LaVista Tournament, visit www.newcanaannewsonline.com or www.dariennewsonline.com.