Holiday tournaments — to play or not to play

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Forest Park's Brody Klem passes the ball during the Access Storage Holiday Classic Dec. 27 at Ferdinand.


DUBOIS COUNTY — The holiday season has come and gone. Most of us huddle up with family to celebrate one of the many holiday traditions that define the last few weeks in December. Yet for some local boys basketball teams, the holiday season was a time to get better and prepare themselves for the grind of January.

Some teams, such as the Southridge Raiders and Forest Park Rangers, participated in tournament play between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Both teams finished 2-1 in their respective tournaments, and both coaches were excited to get their teams a small taste of what’s coming when the sectional tournament starts in March.

“Any time you can go into that tournament and come away with a 2-1 record, you feel pretty good about how you played,” said Raiders coach Mark Rohrer, who called the Old National Bank Tournament at North Daviess the premier showcase for small-school basketball teams in the state. “There’s no easy games. You can’t simulate those types of things in other games. That was the reason we got into that tournament.”

“I thought our guys competed at a high level,” said Rangers coach David Welp, whose team, along with the Class 1A No. 13 Northeast Dubois Jeeps, played in the Access Storage Holiday Hoops Classic. “Having a double-weekend is important. It’s like a regional type of atmosphere where you have to compete twice in one day.”

Both teams had highs and lows during their tournament runs. The Raiders started strong against the Blackford Bruins, who were ranked fourth in Class 2A and undefeated at the time. Rohrer said the Raiders controlled the game for three quarters, but junior guard Luke Brown, the state’s leading scorer, helped force overtime and lead the Bruins to the 57-54 win. Despite the frustrations of letting the first one get away, the Raiders bounced back with wins against Brownstown Central, 46-33, and South Knox, 49-46, Rohrer’s former team.

“I was really impressed with the maturity of our team,” said Rohrer. “It was very encouraging the way we responded in the Friday (and) Saturday games.”

On the other hand, the Rangers were able to hang in to scrape out a 55-53 win against the Jennings County Panthers before falling to the now No. 10 ranked Christian Academy Warriors, 55-42. However, the Rangers also experienced a resurgence after their loss as they took down the county-rival Jeeps for the second time in a week, 65-55.

“That’s always tough to beat a team twice,” said Welp. “They’re hungry, they want to beat you. (Northeast) Dubois is always a very physical, tough and well-coached team.”

With that said, there is another line of thinking that suggested it was best to use the holiday period to relax and recuperate. The Jasper Wildcats didn’t participate in any sort of tournament action, and head coach John Goebel said that’s a deliberate decision to give his players time to deal with final exams and re-energize for the slog that is their January schedule.

“We don’t schedule a holiday tournament on purpose,” he said. “We just feel like January and February are a grinder for us. We start in early November, and it’s a six-days-a-week thing until Christmas. We just feel like it’s good to get away, rest your body (and) brain and get refreshed.”

That doesn’t mean the team hasn’t used the time to put in the work needed to get off to a good start in the new year. Goebel and the team got together several times during the intermission period to work on sharpening ball handling, shooting and addressing other growth areas the team identified over their first six games.

“We took one three-day period off the 24th, 25th and 26th,” said Goebel. “That was our big break away. We came in most other days, other than Sundays, and did a lot of conditioning, shooting (just) things we needed to work on.”

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