Girls holiday event looks big on parity, short on favorites

Friday, December 19, 2003

Since the HealthSouth Holiday Classic Girls Basketball Tournament began in 1996, the final round has had a familiar look.

Only four different teams have reached the finals in the event's seven years. Only three teams -- Poplar Bluff, Jackson and Notre Dame -- have won it.

The eighth edition of the tournament appears wide open. Four-time winner Poplar Bluff dropped out of the tournament, Notre Dame and Jackson feature strong players but little varsity experience and Central -- which has been the runner-up twice -- has only two upperclassmen on its roster.

Coaches kept that parity in mind for the seeds. Farmington drew the top seed, and tournament newcomer Sparta (Ill.) is third. Jackson is second and Notre Dame fourth. Perryville, Dexter, Central and the Central JV round out the eight teams.

"This could be one of the most competitive tournaments we've had," tournament director Mark Ruark said.

Several teams in the field have had strong starts heading into the holiday tournament. Jackson (5-1) has recovered after losing a close game to Poplar Bluff in the Farmington Tournament and has won three straight, including 68-33 over Cor Jesu on Saturday.

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