March 18, 2010

A stocking full of tourneys

— It's high school holiday basketball tournament time and that can mean only one thing: The Maine Mall Holiday Basketball Classic is back for its 22nd consecutive season.

The 15-team tournament, which runs from Dec. 26-29 at the Portland Expo, will have its usual contingent of talented local schools and one team from out of state. With consolation games, each team is guaranteed three games.

The teams look forward to the competition for a number of reasons. For one, it gives them an opportunity to play teams they wouldn't face otherwise. For another, it gives every player a chance to play, which isn't always the case during the season. Coaches like to try different combinations to find which ones work best.

And the games also provide another chance to debate Class A versus Class B.

The tournament opens Wednesday with seven games. The first matches Portland, the tournament host, and Sanford at 11:30 a.m. The second game has Deering against Yarmouth, a Class A versus Class B matchup, at 1 p.m. The final game on Day 1 will be Cheverus-Falmouth at 8:30 p.m.

The tournament will continue Thursday and Friday, then wrap up Saturday with seven games, including the final.

Because Cheverus has traveled to out-of-state tournaments in the past, it has been an infrequent participant in the Classic.

''We always went away because we wanted to give the kids a trip,'' said Cheverus Coach Bob Brown.

''Now that the Western Maine Class A tournament quarterfinals are at the Expo, you would be foolish not to play.''

Deering, the defending holiday tournament champion, knocked off Portland and Cheverus in the last two rounds last year to win.

Attendance at the tournament is usually strong.

''It's become very popular for the alumni,'' said Portland Coach Joe Russo. ''For the college kids, it might be the only time during the season that they get to see their alma mater play.''

Joining Portland, Cheverus, Deering and Sanford as Class A schools in the Classic will be Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Marshwood, Scarborough and Windham.

Yarmouth will be joined by its Class B counterparts -- Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely and Mountain Valley.

Susan Wagner High of Staten Island, N.Y., will begin its play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the Portland- Sanford game.

Portland has the most Holiday Classic titles with six. Deering is next with four, followed by Falmouth with three.

The boys' holiday action is alive and well at the Expo, but some leagues and teams aren't involved in tournaments. That's because some have regular-seaseason games scheduled after Christmas. That's the case with Eastern Maine teams and also with the Southern Maine Activities Association girls' league.

THE PORTLAND EXPO isn't the only site with games next week. Other holiday tournaments will be at Biddeford, Bonny Eagle and Medomak Valley, where a combined boys' and girls' tournament will be held.

Biddeford will hold its its sixth annual tournament next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Joining Biddeford in the round-robin format will be Thornton Academy, Massabesic, Morse, Old Orchard Beach, Wells and Poland. There will be three games each of the first two days and two games on Friday. The game times will be 5, 6:30 and 8 p.m. for Wednesday and Thursday, and 5:30 and 7 p.m. for Friday.

The Bonny Eagle tournament will be Dec. 28-29. Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Poland and Lake Region are entered. The game times will be 5:30 and 7 p.m. Friday, and noon and 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Medomak Valley Holiday Classic will be Wednesday and Thursday. The boys' teams will be Medomak Valley, Freeport, Boothbay Region, Wiscasset, Georges Valley, Lincoln Academy, Rockland and Belfast. The girls' teams are Medomak Valley, Rockland, Georges Valley, Wiscasset, Lincoln Academy, Boothbay Region, Belfast and Mt. Blue.

The Westbrook boys aren't in a tournament but still will be busy with exhibitions next week at Bangor and Hampden Academy. The Blazes play Bangor on Wednesday and Hampden Academy on Thursday.

PORTLAND AND CHEVERUS will renew their rivalry at 7 tonight at Cheverus. Both teams have been among the top teams in Western Class A for several seasons and this year is no exception. This represents the first real test of the season for the Stags (4-0).

''We haven't beaten anyone that has won more than two games,'' said Cheverus Coach Bob Brown.

''It's a good rivalry. I would be surprised if we don't have a full house.''

Portland (3-1) has won three straight since losing to Thornton Academy in the opener.

''We're looking forward to the challenge,'' said Portland Coach Joe Russo. ''We need this game more than Cheverus does.''

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

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