HIGHLAND — Four of the top 10 teams in the latest Associated Press Class A high school girls' basketball poll will be on hand this weekend as play begins Saturday at the 21st Annual Highland Girls Basketball Tournament, and Teutopolis High School Coach Laurie Thompson is looking forward to seeing where her squad fits into the mix.

"I think it gets you ready for the postseason," Thompson said of the highly competitive field. "It's my favorite tournament, actually, and we've been in it a lot of years. I love to go there because you get to see Elite Eight teams and there's usually never a bad game."

Thompson's Wooden Shoes are ranked No. 5 in the state, but that is incredibly good enough for only a No. 4 seeding in the star-studded 16-team field at Highland High School.

Ahead of T-town are No. 1 Olney, No. 2 Hillsboro and No. 3 Highland.

Olney is of course the top-rated team in the latest Class A poll at 19-0 overall with Ohio State-bound senior Brittany Johnson adding to her state-record career points total with every game she plays.

Hillsboro is the defending Class A state champion led by seniors Maria Pretnar and Hope Schulte; this year's team is essentially the same squad that won it all a year ago in Bloomington.

Its two losses were very early in the season to Class AA opponents Jacksonville and Taylorville; Hillsboro hasn't lost since its Nov. 17 meeting with the Tornadoes.

Third-seeded Highland received votes in the latest Class AA poll although it didn't appear in the top 16. The Bulldogs were 14-4 as of Thursday morning but have suffered losses to Okawville and Carlyle although they also have beaten Carlyle twice.

Breese Central, the No. 9 Class A team in the state, is the fifth-seeded team while Breese Mater Dei, Okawville and Paris round out the top eight in the tourney field. Both Paris and Mater Dei were Class A vote-getters in the latest poll.

Altamont joins T-town as an Effingham County representative in the field; the Indians are part of the unseeded eight teams that fill out the brackets and have drawn No. 6 Mater Dei as their first-round opponent.

Altamont has struggled as of late but will look to rebound in that 1 p.m. Saturday contest. Mater Dei has amassed a 14-5 mark so far and is riding a five-game winning streak that includes a recent 59-51 win over Effingham St. Anthony.

Meanwhile, T-town draws Petersburg (PORTA) in its first round game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Bluejays, representing the Sangamo Conference, are just 4-10 but will not be overlooked by Thompson's squad.

"I don't know a whole lot, but I know they're kind of a rounded team with a lot of kids that contribute, kind of like us," said T-town's skipper of her team's first-round draw. "This could be a very good game; I think they have a big girl we'll have to contend with and their guards are pretty good little shooters. We'll find out.

"I won't allow (my team) to look ahead. We're going one game at a time, and that's how we have to approach it."

Focus will be the key if the Shoes want to advance to a second-round game against the Breese Central/Nokomis winner and possibly a semifinal meeting with Olney.

"You've got to be prepared for every game, and at times we don't come in focused," said Thompson. "I told them they've got to come focused and play it like its their last; be ready to play offensively, defensively, physically and most importantly mentally.

"Our defense has got to get better," Thompson continued. "I thought we were making strides at the Charleston Holiday Tournament, but we've kind of regressed.

"We've been working hard, and if our defense is the way we know we can play it then I think we'll be very successful. We've got to be able to get stops and then come down and be able to get points off of them."

Olney, meanwhile, faces Greenville in the first round while No. 8 Paris has a tough draw in Nashville. The Hornets are Class A vote-getters in the latest poll.

On the other side of the bracket, fellow vote-getter and seven-seed Okawville faces Carlyle and the winner there faces the Hillsboro/Wesclin winner in quarterfinal play.

If Altamont manages to upset Mater Dei, it would face the winner of No. 3 Highland and Hamilton County (McLeansboro). A first-round loss for any team results in a trip to the consolation portion of the bracket; with so many strong teams the consolation championship will still be a nice achievement.

That kind of competition is what makes a coach like Thompson love a tournament like Highland's.

"I'd love to get to the final, but I'll tell you what else this tournament does for teams," said Thompson. "It gets them prepared and shows them what their weaknesses are against good teams.

"I look at it this way, hopefully its a win-win situation. Either we do real well or we do have a defeat and we can learn from it. These are teams that we are going to face again later, hopefully."

Win or lose — and neither outcome is certain for any of these 16 teams — this is a definite building block for the fast-approaching postseason.

"It's a perfect timing for us," said Thompson. "When this tournament is over, we still have three weeks left in the season before regionals start. We can still get a lot done and see where we're at."

Play at Highland continues all next week leading up to a 1 p.m. championship game on Jan. 20.

Championship semifinals and consolation semifinals will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday, while semifinals for each side of the bracket are scheduled for Thursday.

Friday will feature the consolation championship game as well as the fifth-place semifinals featuring the losers of the four championship quarterfinals.

Saturday's fifth-place game is at 10 a.m., followed by the 11:30 third-place game and the championship finale.


Recommended for you