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story.lead_photo.caption The Jefferson City Lady Jays celebrate after winning the holiday tournament title last year at Rackers Fieldhouse. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

It's difficult to be at your peak playing three games in three days.

But one thing you can control is your effort on defense.

"Defense has to be our mainstay, our focus," Lady Jays coach Brad Conway said as Jefferson City prepared for the Jefferson Bank Holiday Hoops Classic that begins today at Rackers Fieldhouse. "We feel we can control that."

The Lady Jays (7-0, ranked No. 1 in Class 5 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association) have controlled their opponents on the defensive end this season, allowing a little more than 27 points per game. No team has scored 40 or more points against Jefferson City, which has held three opponents to 22 points or less.

"We've had some pretty good defensive efforts so far," Conway said. "But we still need a better focus when it comes to game time to stop some of our breakdowns."

Offensively, the Lady Jays are totaling 49 points per game. Conway is looking for that output to improve as the season rolls on.

"Our timing is off on what we're trying to do offensively," he said. "That said, we've had a lot of shots that just didn't fall and things like that can come around."

The Lady Jays return three starters — juniors Kara Daly, Hannah Nilges and Sarah Linthacum — from a team that won the Classic last season on its way to taking second in the state tournament.

But Conway believes it's a futile effort to compare this year with last year.

"It's completely different," he said. "Last year was last year, this is a new and different team."

Part of that is due to the fact several Lady Jays are playing new roles this season.

"We're asking kids to step out of their comfort zones, playing some different positions with different responsibilities that they might not be comfortable playing," Conway said.

Jefferson City and Hickman will start the Classic at 2:30 p.m. today. It's the first of two meetings this season between the traditional rivals, who will close the regular season against each other Feb. 27 at Fleming Fieldhouse.

Hickman (2-4) dropped the first three games of the season before rebounding to win two of its last three.

"They don't have a lot of size, but they've got some athletes," Conway said. "They always get the most out of the talent they have.

"We have to beat Hickman to advance in this tournament, so they have our full attention."

That said, the Lady Jays spent their practice time for the tournament working against several different offenses and defenses.

"We're preparing for everything, but that's what happens when you play three games in three days," Conway said.

The Lady Jays break down their season into three parts. Before Christmas is Part 1, after Christmas is Part 2, while Part 3 is the postseason.

Starting Part 2 with a good effort during the next three days is important.

"One of our goals is to win the three tournaments we're in and this one of those three," Conway said. "It's here in town, there's a lot of attention that comes with this tournament, obviously we have the goal to win the title.

"We're trying to develop to where we're playing our best basketball at the end of the season and this tournament is a great chance to do that."

And a great chance for the other seven teams to do that as well.

"This will be a nice challenge for everybody in the field," Conway said.

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