The seventh annual Chadron Rotary George Watson Holiday Basketball Classic will help end the Old Year for area sports fans. It will take place in the Chicoine Center at Chadron State College this weekend.
Four games will be played each day, starting at 2 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Chadron and Valentine were among the teams that helped launch the tournament during the holidays in 2011 and have participated in at least five of the six classics since then. The Chadron boys have been involved every year, but the Lady Cardinals skipped the extravaganza in 2013 in order to meet stiffer competition at the Energy Classic in Gillette.
The Valentine teams were absent in 2014 because of the potentially hazardous highway conditions. The Chadron junior varsities filled the breach and the classic went on as scheduled.
This will be the sixth straight year that the Hemingford Bobcats, who have never won a championship but are always competitive, have been involved. New on this year’s schedule are the Custer Wildcats, who have replaced Spearfish, a participant the last two years.
Valentine and Custer will open this year’s competition Friday afternoon. The girls’ game will tip off the action and the boys’ teams from those schools will meet at 4 p.m. Chadron and Hemingford will tangle in the evening contests with the girls taking the court at 5:30 and the boys to follow.
Both Chadron teams won the championships last year. Jadyn McCartney sank seven 3-pointers while pouring in 34 points in the girls’ title tilt as the Lady Cards defeated Hemingford 47-31 and the Chadron boys overcame a 28-22 halftime deficit to whip Spearfish 55-44 for their title. The Spartans downed the Cards 45-25 in the 2015 finals game.
The Hemingford girls bounced back to avenge last year’s loss in the classic finals by downing Chadron 49-33 two weeks later.
The Chadron girls enter this year’s competition with a 4-4 record and the boys are 3-5.
The Lady Cards have defeated Greeley West, Gordon-Rushville, Torrington and Hot Springs and lost to Mitchell, Gering and Scottsbluff twice. The Chadron boys have wins over Mitchell, Hot Springs in overtime and Gering, and have lost to Sterling, Gering, Gordon-Rushville, Torrington and Scottsbluff.
Both of the Chadron boys’ games with Gering were extremely close. The Bulldogs won 45-44 during the Western Conference Tournament that opened the season, but the Red Birds got some big plays on both offense and defense in the closing minutes to win the rematch on Dec. 16 by a 58-55 score.
Sophomore Cooper Heusman is the Cardinals’ top scorer through the first eight games with a 12.5-point average. Seniors Coy Bila, Jeff Cerny, Joe Matt and Brayden Richardson have been other regulars and a big boost came in the final three games before Christmas from junior Colton Olson. Coach Eric Calkins also has a couple of defensive specialists, senior Logan Tiesvold and 6-foot-8 junior Pat Rust, at his disposal.
Four players—senior Dana Dunbar, juniors Carsten Hageman and Peyton Underwood and sophomore Shea Bailey—are leading the Lady Cardinals in scoring with averages between 7.1 and 8.5 points, but coach Jonn McLain said several others have been contributors.
“I’m comfortable with a lot of lineup combinations,” McLain said. “If we play hard, things go well for us. If we don’t, nothing good happens.”
After winning at least 20 games each of the last four seasons, the Hemingford girls have no returning starters and are 0-6 this winter. The LadyCats have good height with senior Kelly Horstman and junior Lauren Gasseling, both about 5-10.
Gasseling scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Hyannis. Horstman also was playing well, but suffered a concussion against Hay Springs on Dec. 12 and did not play in the final two games before Christmas.
The Hemingford boys are 3-3 with wins over Hyannis, Hay Springs and Leyton and losses to Gordon-Rushville, Mitchell and Bridgeport. Junior guard Casey Lashley is averaging 12.8 points while senior Brandon Chancellor has scored in double digits in each of the last four games.
Other starters include senior Miles Davis and junior Austin Farritor. All four are between 6-foot and 6-3.
Both Valentine teams have struggled this season. The girls are 1-5 with their victory a 47-44 decision over Ainsworth and the boys are 0-6.
The Lady Badgers include a pair of 5-3 hustlers, Mataya Ecklund and Anna Perrett. Ecklund scored 16 points against Spearfish in last year’s game to decide third place. The Valentine boys are led by the 5-9 junior Jaydon Owen, who is averaging 13.8 points, and 6-6 senior Kooper Reece, who is averaging 7.5 points and 6.2 rebounds.
The Custer girls are 3-2 and the boys 1-4. The Lady Wildcats defeated Newcastle, Wyo., Little Wound and Standing Rock, but lost by wide margins to Pine Ridge and Red Cloud. The boys’ only win was over Standing Rock, 70-65. Three of their losses have been by 10 or fewer points.
The Custer girls return three seniors who were starters on last year’s 13-10 team. They are 5-9 Tori Glazier, who averaged 14 points, and 5-7 Taylor Carlson and 5-5 Kenzie Hetley, both 8 points a game.
The Wildcats’ boys were 10-11 last year. Returning starters are 6-3 senior Reed Ashmore and 5-8 junior Nolan Patzlaff, who averaged 8 and 12 points, respectively, a year ago.
Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students and senior citizens per session.