Holiday tourney brings Indiana’s favorite gift

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper seniors Ian Jahn, left, Corban Bell and Alexa Stenftenagel cheered with pompoms during last year’s championship where the Wildcats captured the event for the third time in the tourney’s three years. This year’s tourney moves from Huntingburg to Jasper with the same four teams participating: Jasper, Southridge, Forest Park and Northeast Dubois.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, not the season where all the little boys and girls find out who made Santa’s good list, but rather a collection and celebration of some of the area’s talented athletes as they match up against one another on the hardwood this Saturday.

But each team is on a mission besides showering southern Indiana with holiday cheer. They’re looking to use the Dubois County Classic to sharpen up their games in and use the early tournament setting as a preview for the competitive conditions which accompany sectional play.

The Jasper Wildcats (1-2) won the tournament the past three years. While they’ve gotten off to an uneven start so far this season, Coach John Goebel knows a few fixes can go a long way.

“The biggest criticism is communication amongst our players and offensive execution on the floor,” he said. “If we get those things shored up, we have a chance to be much more successful. We’ve been right there and we just have to perform a little bit better to get over the hump. ”

He wants to address issues with offensive spacing as he feels that his players have not been working as well as they possibly could to feed the ball inside to 6-foot-5 junior forward Jared Englert and 6-foot-7 senior center Ben Elliot.

“We got a couple of really nice post players in Englert and Elliot,” he said. “We just haven’t utilized them very well.”

He would like to see both of those guys improve their movement and positioning in the paint, as well as better recognition and passing from the guards so they can hit the big guys when they get in their spots in the lane.

Goebel relishes the opportunity of getting all four Dubois County teams teams together, which he feels infuses the games with a healthy bit of county rivalry spirit to go along with the natural competitive instinct to prove who’s the best in all of the land.

“Anytime the teams of Dubois County get together and play each other there’s usually a bit of extra emotion and crowd interest,” he said.

To that end, Goebel does not feel the pressure is on his team, as Jasper has won the tournament over the last three seasons. But Northeast Dubois coach Terry Friedman thinks the Jeeps, who have drawn the Wildcats for the early game at 10 a.m. Saturday, might have something to say about that this season.

“We’re going in to win this thing,” he said. “Our mindset is if we play Jeep basketball we’re very capable of winning this tournament.”

The Jeeps (3-2) are another team that has been going through the early season struggle of finding that consistent rhythm, and Friedman believesthe Classic offers his boys a prime opportunity for growth in their offense.

Friedman has no complaints about his defense, as the Jeeps have been playing the tough, hard-nosed brand of basketball that has kept them in every game they have played thus far.

Where he wants to see progress is in his team’s half-court offense, running successful sets instead of looking for the three-pointer to bail them out.

“We’ve been pretty strong in our transition game,” he said. “And we’ve struggled more in our ability to grind out a basket when we needed it and working in some of our half-court opportunities. It’s not something we’re really concerned about, it’s just something I feel is going to take us a little time to develop the offensive rhythm we want to establish.”

Another big area of improvement the Jeeps are focusing on is rebounding. Heritage Hills created extra shot opportunities and an extra 16 points off of rebounds when they beat Northeast Dubois a few weeks ago, and Friedman has been trying to renew his players’ commitment to crashing the boards ever since.

“We’ve really worked hard the last couple of weeks on our rebounding,” he said. “Heritage Hills was a very athletic and tall team and they did cause some problems on the offensive glass.”

While the first game Saturday will feature two teams with similar goals and positions, the second first-round match up will pit two foes who are on the opposite ends of pendulum so far this season.

Forest Park (4-0) is the hot team coming into the tournament, as the Rangers boast an undefeated record so far this season. Forest Park coach Jeff Litherland wants to see sharper details on a few of the team’s mechanics, such as better screens and sharper cuts in their sets, which he believes is simply a function of team chemistry, which will come with increased familiarity amongst the team. Tournaments like the Dubois County Classic have helped accelerate that team cohesion in the past.

“In the years when we played in this tournament we’ve kind of seen our team come together,” said Litherland. “I’m hoping that we do that again this year. We’re just trying to take that next step forward as far as guys playing on the floor and trusting each other.”  

Litherland insists that while the team wants to win, they are not going to necessarily live and die by the results of Saturday’s games. However, what is of interest to the coaches is the play and progression of some of the key reserve players, such as Elliot Rothgerber, Isaac Uebelhor, Reid Steffe and Braydon Voegerl, which Litherland believes will be the key to sustained success for the Rangers.

“We want to develop our bench and we want to settle on a rotation before the new year with eight or nine guys,” he said. “This holiday tournament along with ours (Forest Park Tournament, Dec. 28 to 29), that’ll really give our coaching staff a good feel for where we’re at with our bench and rotation.”

The challenge is different for Southridge (1-2), as they are working to overcome a late start to the season due to the football team’s extended run to the the state title. Southridge coach Ted O’Brien said it’s the first time in his four years at Southridge he’s had to deal with the issue, and he is looking to use this time to get the team into proper game shape, as the limited practices have not left the team with much time to get their conditioning up to speed.

“We’ve had eight practices with everybody there,” he said. “I only had three kids playing on varsity who were not on the football team. You have to make a decision as a coach how much do you work on conditioning and how much do you work on putting things in so you’re prepared for a basketball game. It was an interesting balancing act we had to do.”

O’Brien wants to use the tournament to get his team over a bad habit he is seeing early: slow starts.

Southridge has been outscored 55-33 combined in the first quarters of their three games so far this season, and O’Brien hopes the Classic will get his boys playing with energy early so they don’t have to go through the trouble of digging themselves out of a hole.

“We played well in spurts, we just didn’t put together four quarters, and got ourselves some bad starts.” he said. “In both games we battled our way back, which is a positive. Against Corydon we had some breakthroughs and it was a more complete game.”

Each team has their goal and their specific philosophy on how to go about executing their game plans on the court. With there missions on their minds, the teams will face each other at Jasper’s gym on Saturday to find out who can lay claim to early-season county supremacy. Some fans will be elated and overjoyed when the final whistle blows, others will be disappointed and sad that it’s all over. But one thing is for sure: Everybody who attends this weekend’s games will be in for an early holiday treat.

“We look at it as a very positive experience,” Goebel said. “Quality teams, quality opponents, and the money stays right here in Dubois County. It’s beneficial for everybody.”

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