Holiday tourney is demanding, but beneficial

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Forest Park's Reid Steffe passes the ball during the Holiday Hoops Classic basketball tournament in Ferdinand on Thursday. Forest Park defeated Salem 77-63. 


FERDINAND — When do high school basketball coaches start planning for post-season play? During pre-season practice? At the midway point of the season? As the team is closing out the regular-season?

Well, if you’re on the coaching staffs for Dubois County teams Forest Park and Southridge during the Christmas holidays, visions of championship hardware replaces any thoughts of yuletide sugar plums.

That’s why the Access Storage Holiday Hoops Classic at Forest Park’s Buechler Arena and Retro Gym is just what the doctor — or, at least, the coahces — ordered this week.

The Rangers and Raiders are two of eight teams that tipped off the second annual invitational tournament at 10 a.m. Thursday, and are the two teams that will meet in today’s 8:15 p.m. championship game — the only two teams ever to reach the title game for the young basketball festival.

All eight squads played two games Thursday and then close out the tournament-format event with a third game today.

“The real good benefit of this tournament is that we get to play two games in one day — one morning and one evening game — which is similar to a regional atmosphere, and we’re kinda also looking at it as in a Friday/Saturday type deal again with sectionals, so it kinda sets you up with a tournament-play style of games in terms of time. And for both coaches and players, game planning for those quick turnarounds is nice, also,” said Drew Messmer, junior varsity coach and varsity assistant coach at Southridge, who spoke on behalf of head coach Mark Rohrer prior to the Raiders’ 52-33 victory over Tecumseh that propelled Southridge to the title game.

“You have to learn to deal with fatigue — both mentally and physically — playing three games within 30 to 36 hours, which is something, again, that prepares you for tournament play and prepares you for down the line where you’re gonna be pushed to your limits both mentally and physically,” Messmer said.

During the holiday break, teenagers often take advantage of no classes to sleep late (as if they need a reason), which is something with which coaches must deal at the Forest Park tournament.

Forest Park's Curt Hopf shoots the ball during the Holiday Hoops Classic basketball tournament in Ferdinand on Thursday. Forest Park defeated Salem 77-63. 

“You’re gonna be more aware when you’re playing at 8 o’clock on a Friday night — you know your players are gonna be awake and ready to go for those games,” Messmer observed. “When you play Thursday at 10 a.m., as a coach you’re aware to make sure [the players] are awake and moving and not asleep, because that can be what determines [the outcome] of the game. If that regional game is 10 and 12 in the morning, same deal, you’ve got to be ready to play as soon as you wake up — get off the bus and play.”

Ranger head coach David Welp is also quick to point out the challenges such a tournament format presents, as well as the benefits for the teams involved.

“It’s a two-day grind for coaches and players, three games in two days for players, where you don’t usually have that in the post-season” Welp said. “In regional, you play two games in one day, but you don’t have three games in two days. So the first day is really good preparation for the regional concept.

“As far as coaches, it can be a tiring, stressful period of time, because it’s three opponents you have to scout and you have to prepare your team for in a matter of less than 48 hours. That can be stressful and tough to prepare your team for that.”

But he acknowledged the positives outweigh the negatives.

“The benefits [of this kind of holiday tournament] is to play some teams you don’t normally play. We’re playing some new teams, seeing some new strategies that we play against that will help us down the road,” Welp said. “We want to continue to host [the tournament] because we feel like this is a good opportunity to play new teams, teams that we don’t normally see.”

A team with which the Rangers are very familiar, however, is waiting for them in tonight’s championship game. Southridge would like to reverse its fortunes from a year ago, when Forest Park took home the tournament title as one of three defeats the Rangers handed the Raiders last season.

Forest Park head coach David Welp speaks to his players during the halftime of the Holiday Hoops Classic basketball tournament in Ferdinand on Thursday. Forest Park defeated Salem 77-63. 

And if the two county rivals weren’t playing three games in this holiday tournament, they’d probably have lined up some other competition to keep their teams honed for a run at the post-season.

“I believe it’s important to have at least a couple of games during this time to stay fresh, to stay in the rhythm of the game,” Welp said. “Some teams, some coaches will take this week off to rest legs, to give the guys some time to rest, but I believe you need to sustain the rhythm.”

Rohrer and Messmer agree.

If the Raiders didn’t have the opportunity to play in the holiday tournament, Messmer said the coaches would look to schedule some regular-season games. Southridge’s most recent regular-season game was Dec. 21, and the Raiders’ next game isn’t until Jan. 4, “so that would be giving them two weeks off, and you just really don’t want to go two weeks without playing,” Messmer said.

As far as Messmer’s concerned, the Access Storage Holiday Hoops Classic is “a good atmosphere and good competition.”

The road to the tournament’s championship game for Forest Park started with a 77-63 defeat of Salem in Thursday’s opener, while the Raiders dispatched of Christian Academy, 45-35. Forest Park closed out Thursday’s schedule with a 57-44 toppling of Lanesville. Other teams competing in the tournament are Eastern Pekin and Class 1A defending state champion Morristown.


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