Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Tom Rackers also contributed to this article
The Jefferson City Lady Jays are veterans of the State Farm Holiday Hoops Invitational.
But their coach is not.
“This is awesome,” Lady Jays first-year coach Kristie Douglas-Wiley said Wednesday during a press conference for the event. “It’s going to be great competition with three great days of basketball.
“The players are so lucky to be part of this.”
The Invitational is nothing new for the Helias Lady Crusaders and coach Doug Light.
“It’s such a great event with a lot of tradition,” Light said. “It’s something we look forward to every season.”
The Fatima Lady Comets are back in the Invitational, scheduled for Dec. 27-29 at Rackers Fieldhouse, for the second consecutive season. Fatima coach Dustin Hays, who will be at Rackers Fieldhouse tonight as the Lady Comets take on the Lady Crusaders, is happy to be playing during the holidays.
“It breaks it up,” he said. “Instead of practicing for two weeks during the Christmas break, now we get to go play. I think (the players) really like that, and plus, I know all these coaches have already said it, but it is a great tournament. It’s first-class. The hospitality’s great, they put on a great tournament not only for the fans but also for the players and they enjoy coming here and getting to be a part of that.”
Last year’s Invitational served as a launching pad for the Lady Comets. Fatima lost to St. Joseph Benton and Eureka before defeating a team from Oklahoma City.
“Playing in this kind of propelled us to getting to where we ended up in the state quarterfinals,” Hays said. “Both of those teams ended up going to the final four, Benton in Class 4 and Eureka in Class 5. Once you’ve played those schools — not only played them but competed; we were ahead at halftime in both of those games and ended up losing to Eureka in overtime — so, showing the girls that they can compete, not only with just teams in our area but teams all over the state, no matter what your class size is, gives them a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Fatima will open the Invitational against St. Joseph Benton.
Helias will start against Eureka. The Lady Crusaders defeated the Lady Wildcats in last year’s fifth-place game last year, one of two losses for Eureka prior to the Class 5 Final Four.
“It’s a good program that’s fun to play,” Light said.
Light said the Invitational is full of those type of teams.
“No matter which way you go in the bracket, you’re going to get three pretty good games,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
Douglas-Wiley echoed those sentiments.
“It’s going to be challenging with not a lot of time to prep,” she said. “But that can make it fun as a coach and for the players.
“I think the tournament title is up for grabs among a lot of teams and that’s great.”
But the Lady Jays aren’t looking too far ahead, they have another big tournament to play in starting tonight. Jefferson City will face Crane in the opening round of the Stephanie Phillips Classic, hosted by Springfield Kickapoo.
Crane is the defending Classic champion and has won the last two Class 2 state tournament titles.
“They like to play big schools for the competition and it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Douglas-Wiley said. “We’re going to have to come ready to play.”