CAPE GIRARDEAU -- The holiday season is upon us and with it comes a Southeast Missouri tradition, the 62nd annual Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament.
Sixteen high school basketball teams will be on hand at the Show-Me Center on Tuesday to vie for area bragging rights and the coveted tournament championship.
The Charleston Bluejays, with an 8-1 record and ranked No. 1 in the Missouri Class 3 poll, garnered the top seed once again and look to improve on a third-place finish in last year's tournament.
"We've got that bullseye on us again," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "I don't know offhand, but it seems like every year we're No. 1. The No. 1 seed is expected to do only one thing and that's win it, which is, obviously, what we want to do. We've got enough to motivate us; we should come ready."
The Bluejays will likely be absent star senior point guard Shawn Sherrell. His availability is questionable due to a recent hand injury, but there's a possibility he could be suited up for the semifinal or final game, should the Bluejays survive. Ironically, Sherrell was forced to miss last year's tournament with an injury, also.
"More than likely, he won't play," said a skeptical Farmer. "Right now, I'm not even thinking he's going to play."
Charleston is led by '05 high scorer and all-tournament selection, 6-foot-5 post Jamarcus Williams and 6-4 forward Justin Clark.
Williams, who brings not only scoring but tenacity on the boards, is rounding into shape after a broken leg suffered during football season.
Clark, one of the area's deadliest perimeter shooters, is coming off a tremendous shooting display in which he scored 16 first-quarter points with 4-of-4 accuracy from deep beyond the arc.
The 'Jays own a record 15 Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament championships, the last in 2002.
Notre Dame, the defending champion, is once again a favorite, coming in with a 9-1 record including an impressive win over 2005 Class 4 state runner-up, Sikeston. The Bulldogs, seeded second, are currently ranked fourth in the Missouri state Class 4 high school poll.
Ryan Willen, 6-6 junior post, and Ty Williams, a quick junior guard, lead the up-tempo Bulldogs.
Jackson, last year's tournament runner-up, is seeded third. The Indians, with a frontline averaging about 6-feet-5 inches, are a threat anytime they step on the court, but have shown a lack of consistency recently while missing a key player in 6-6 Spencer Goodman. Returning starting guard Jake Leet was an all-tournament choice last season.
Scott County Central, under interim coach Ronnie Cookson, is also a team to watch. Cookson came out of retirement to lead the Braves in a crisis situation created by the MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) suspension of coach David Heeb.
The Braves bring a 5-1 record which includes two close wins over rival Bell City, the Class 1 state runner-up in '05.
Cookson, who led the Braves to a record 12 state titles in his previous coaching stint at the school, gets an opportunity to add to his four Christmas Tournament titles, the last one in '90.
Should Scott Central, the fourth seed, and Bell City, the fifth seed, get by their respective first-round opponents -- Scott Central vs. No. 13 Chaffee and Bell City vs. No. 12 Meadow Heights -- a third early-season matchup would be in the offing in the quarterfinal round.
Leading the Braves are junior guard D.D. Gillespie and junior forward Caleb Johnson.
Bell City trots out the tournament's biggest starter in 6-10, 300-pound senior Will Bogan, also an '05 all-tournament choice. Bogan, nearly unstoppable inside, is complemented by junior outside threat Nick Niemcyzk. Looking for a darkhorse? The No. 9-seed Oran Eagles, under first-year head coach Denver Stuckey, may warrant consideration.
"We've won three in a row since taking it on the chin against Scott City," said Stuckey. "I was anxious to see how they would respond after getting whipped. I think our confidence is high right now. We've had a lot of kids step up from night to night."
The Eagles (6-2) come in with a deep, senior-oriented squad led by the active frontcourt trio of Chase Seyer, Robert Lange and Hunter Glastetter.
Stuckey finds himself in a unique situation as he makes his coaching debut in the Christmas Tournament following a standout playing career at Kelly High School in the mid-90s. The Hawks finished second in '97, Stuckey's senior season.
"Growing up in this area, the Christmas Tournament is one of the highlights of the year," Stuckey said. "I looked forward to it as a player and I'm really looking forward to it as a coach."
Oran opens against No. 8-seed Cape Central (4-5), which has shown steady improvement under first-year head coach Drew Church.
Charleston coach Farmer, whose Bluejays, barring the upset of upsets, will face the Oran/Cape Central winner in the quarterfinals, is taking nothing for granted.
"Even though we're the No. 1 seed, I think, if we get by Oak Ridge, that next game is not a gimme when you're talking about Cape Central and Oran," he said. "Both teams are playing well and you can't count either one of them out. We'll have to be ready.
"Our bracket is full of hungry teams and we can't go in there thinking that anything is going to be given to us."
Kelly, the No. 10 seed, struggled early to a 1-4 record but rides a three-game win streak into the tournament. Senior post Spencer Ayers is a returning all-
No. 6 Advance, No. 7 Scott City, No. 10 Kelly, No. 11 Leopold and No. 14 Woodland round out the tournament field.
Tuesday, Dec. 26
Charleston (1) vs. Oak Ridge (16), 9 a.m.
Notre Dame (2) vs. Delta (15), 10:30 a.m.
Jackson (3) vs. Woodland (14), 12 p.m.
Scott Central (4) vs. Chaffee (13), 1:30 p.m.
Bell City (5) vs. Meadow Heights (12), 4:30 p.m.
Advance (6) vs. Leopold (11), 6 p.m.
Scott City (7) vs. Kelly (10), 7:30 p.m.
Cape Central (8) vs. Oran (9), 9 p.m.