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Local teams rank high for 51st annual Plano Christmas Classic

Published: Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Craig Lincoln for Shaw Media)
Tanner Sampson of Morris shoots while being defended by Nick Peters of Coal City during the Coalers' 67-59 win at their own Turkey Tournament in late November. Both teams will participate in the 51st annual Plano Christmas Classic, where they could meet again in the quarterfinals.
Caption
(Craig Lincoln for Shaw Media)
Evan Bjelland of Morris attempts a shot in the Redskins' most recent game, a 58-55 win at Yorkville on Saturday. Both teams will participate in the 51st annual Plano Christmas Classic, which begins next week.

At the 50th annual Plano Christmas Classic in 2012, three of the four teams that reached the semifinals were seeded 10th or worse before the tournament.

A repeat of that would bode poorly for the local entrants at the 51st classic, which begins next week. Three of the four – No. 3 Coal City, No. 6 Morris and No. 8 Seneca – were deemed to be in the top third of the 24-team field at Monday’s seeding meeting. Seeded 13th, Newark was left just outside of the top half.

“The seed is nothing more than a number,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. “If you have a week to prepare for someone, upsets are probably not as common. But to play on a Thursday, scout before or after and turn around and play on Friday without a practice to prepare for a team, it’s tough.”

Being seeded in the top eight does get a team a first-round bye. Newark will face Little Ten Conference rival Hinckley-Big Rock at 10:30 a.m. Monday in one of eight pigtail games. Coal City, Morris and Seneca will wait until Dec. 26 to begin tournament play.

Coal City is currently 5-0, though it will play once more, Friday at Sandwich, before the classic. Its first game at Plano will be against either Plano or Princeton at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 26. Coach Brad Boresi does not expect staying perfect and delivering a second 2013-14 title – the Coalers won their own Turkey Tournament – to be easy.

“We’ve gotten off to our best start since I’ve been the head coach; however, I still don’t think we’ve put together a complete game yet,” Boresi said. “There are several quality teams at Plano and we’re going to have to play our best each game in order to win.”

Coal City is a two-time classic champion, having placed first in 1998 and 2002, as well as second in 1992. It also has been at the opposite end of the brackets, finishing last in a 16-team field in 2010. The Coalers were 20th of 24 in 2011 and 12th of 24 in 2012.

“Each of the past three years we’ve improved on our finish from the previous year, and hopefully we can do that again this year,” Boresi said.

Morris will enter the tournament at 5-1, having lost only to Coal City. Following a 58-55 win at Yorkville – the 10th seed in the classic – Saturday night, the Redskins are in the midst of an 11-day layoff until their 3:30 p.m. Plano opener against Indian Creek or Rockford Christian.

“Rockford is very athletic and has length, and Indian Creek has two post players [standing] 6-foot-5 and 6-8, and it took a steal by [Ben] Ortiz with under five seconds to go last year to beat [Indian Creek],” Blumberg said. “All of our focus right now is on preparing for that game on Wednesday.”

Since coming to Plano in 2009 and finishing fourth, Morris has never placed higher. It was seventh in 2012. Morris has only one loss on its resume.

The 6-1 Seneca Fighting Irish are perfect since falling to Mendota, the Classic’s No. 9 seed, at their own Turkey Tournament.

“I like the way we have been playing so far. We are getting better every single day,” Seneca coach Russell Witte said.

The Irish will face Wilmington this Friday, meaning that their first game at the classic – at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 26 against Mendota or Wilmington – will be against a team they already have faced. They are seeking a record fifth classic championship, which would be their first since 2008.

“It is going to be a very tough tournament,” Witte said. “We have a goal as a team to win the tournament this year. We have a tough task ahead of us as there are a lot of really good teams in this field. Regardless, this tournament is only going to help us move forward toward the postseason.”

The only other team that has as many classic titles as Seneca’s four is Newark, which will have to win a game more than the Irish would to get its fifth this year. The Norsemen have not won a classic championship since 1992, though they were second in 2010.

After a slow start, Newark has ensured it will take a winning record into the classic. It currently is 5-3 and will face Earlville-Leland this Friday.

“We are playing pretty well as we won our sixth game in a row this season with a win over Aurora Christian,” Newark coach Rick Tollefson said. “We hope to finish in the top 8, but will have to play very well to get there.”

Ottawa and Burlington Central are the top two seeds. All but two coaches voted Ottawa, which is the defending champion, No. 1 at Monday’s meeting.

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