The field will be trying to knock off Mannheim’s men and women in the Army-Europe basketball championships in Grafenwoehr and nearby Vilseck.

The event, which runs through Sunday and matches the top four men’s and women’s teams in each of the command’s two regions, will cap a season thrown into turmoil by deployments.

In addition to determining the Army’s 2002-03 champions, the championships had been a qualifier to select the Army teams for the annual U.S. Forces-Europe event scheduled for April 4-6. At press time Wednesday, however, the fate of the USFE event between each service’s top two men’s and women’s teams, also known as the Army-Air Force Final Four, was thrown into doubt because of the abrupt cancellation of the 2003 USAFE tournament.

The USAFE event had been scheduled for next week in Aviano, Italy, but was scrubbed earlier this week when the command went on a war footing. On Wednesday, Army-Europe sports director Ken Wetherill was trying to determine interest among teams playing in the Army tournament of playing Air Force teams that would still be available the first week of April.

Because the Air Forces in Europe won’t crown official champions this season, “we can’t provide a true Final Four,” USAFE sports director Tom Burkett said Wednesday, “but we might be able to provide selected Air Force teams.”

Play in the Army event began Wednesday with a one-day, best-of-three play-in series between the Southern Region’s fourth-place men’s team, Kitzingen, and Vicenza. Distance prevents Vicenza from playing a regular league season against the Germany-based teams, but the Italy entry is given an opportunity to qualify for the tournament in a pre-tourney playoff.

Vicenza made the most of its chances, taking Wednesday's best-of-three series to the limit before heading home. The Italy-based team, with 30 points from Kevin Dennis and 26 from Geonte Haines, won Game 1 99-87 Wednesday morning.

Kitzingen won Game 2 80-59, and then won the deciding game 86-68 Wednesday evening to advance to the main tournament.

The tournament is scheduled to get underway Thursday morning at the Grafenwoehr Fieldhouse and Vilseck’s Hilltopper gym with two days of pool play.

The pool-play schedule, which pits each regional team against the other three in its division, will determine seedings for the weekend double-elimination portion of the tournament.

The seeding portion seems particuarly necessary this season, since unit and individual deployments kept most teams from playing a full schedule.

Mannheim’s men will be trying for a fourth straight championship, while the Lady Mustangs will be out to defend the title they won last year.

Mannheim faces tough tests from Heidelberg, whose men’s team added all-Armed Forces star Craig Marcelin in midseason, and whose women are led by veterans Tiffany Collins and Rhonda Williams and defeated Mannheim in last season’s U.S. Forces title game.

Ansbach’s men, unbeaten champions of the Southern Region, also loom large in the event.

Cross-pool, double-elimination play begins Saturday at both sites, while Sunday’s championship games will be played at Grafenwoehr.

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