Holiday Hoops Invitational features another strong field

One of the main goals of a basketball tournament is putting together a competitive field for the event.

Organizers believe they’ve accomplished that for the annual holiday events in Jefferson City later this month.

“We’ve got a good mix of teams and I think all of three of the events (Machens Great Eight, State Farm Holiday Hoops Invitational, Missouri National Guard Shootout) should have a lot of close ball games and that’s what people want to see,” Jefferson City Lady Jays head coach Shane Meyer said Wednesday during a media conference for the three events.

The Lady Jays will face Southeast High School of Oklahoma City, the lone out-of-state team in the State Farm Holiday Hoops Invitational, in the first round Thursday, Dec. 27, at Rackers Fieldhouse. Jefferson City is off to a 2-1 start heading into tonight’s home opener against Kickapoo, impressive considering that matches their win total from the regular season a year ago.

“The kids have done a great job of buying in what we’ve been trying to do,” Meyer said.

For the Helias Lady Crusaders, playing in the Invitational is a traditional highlight on the schedule.

“It’s just a neat thing to be a part of,” Helias coach Doug Light, who will be coaching in his 12th event, said.

Helias (1-0) will face Blue Springs South in the opening round. The Jaguars are coached by Brad Oyler, who previously brought Liberty High School teams to the Invitational.

“We’ve had some great matchups through the years,” Light said.

Then you have the Fatima Lady Comets (0-1) aiming to play the role of spoiler. The Class 3 squad begins with defending tournament champion St. Joseph: Benton.

“We are excited to be in here and test ourselves against some bigger schools,” Fatima head coach Dustin Hays said. “We asked to be in this, and I’m thankful for the committee for allowing us to participate. The girls are excited about it. At the same time, they get to see themselves compete against larger schools, and they want to not just compete, but they want to win as well.”

Although it was just a jamboree, Fatima acquitted itself well last month by taking a pair of two-quarter games from Helias and Jefferson City. The Lady Comets hope that translates to games that count.

“We kind of want to be the Cinderella story,” Hays said. “We want to be that Cinderella for this tournament. You see those upsets all the time in the NCAA Tournament, and we want to be that type of team to do that.”

The other first-round game pits Hickman against Eureka.

In one change to the event, the entire Invitational will be played at Rackers Fieldhouse instead of shifting to Fleming Fieldhouse for the final day. The change came because the final day of the Invitational is Sunday, so action will begin that day at 1:30 p.m.

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