Quality high school basketball will be on display next Tuesday through Friday at the 20th annual Ace Communications and Midwest Wireless Warrior Club Holiday Basketball Tournament at Winona State University.
This year's tournament will feature the defending Minnesota Class 1A girls state championship team Elgin-Millville, the defending Minnesota Class 1A boys state runner-up team Rushford-Peterson, not to mention a handful of other teams that have been ranked in the top 10 in state in their class so far this season.
Fans will also have a chance to see nine teams that have never ventured to McCown and Talbot gyms before for this event. Boys and girls teams from Kingsland and Kenyon-Wanamingo will be taking part, as are girls teams from Lanesboro, E-M and St. Paul Johnson, as well as boys teams from La Crosse Logan and Poynette, Wis.
"It looks like a well balanced field," tournament director Mark Patterson said. "We're bringing in nine new teams. That's exciting. We're bringing in Poynette and a lot of good area teams."
The 32-team tournament is broken up into eight separate four-team tourneys. All teams are guaranteed two games, and every team will play at least one game on the big floor at McCown Gym. There are 14 junior varsity games scheduled at the John Nett Rec Center. A total of 46 games will be played in the four days.
The boys and girls teams from both Winona Senior High School and Cotter High School will be taking part. And the tournaments they are taking part in should be very competitive.
The WSHS boys team, with just one loss entering this week, will take on La Crosse Logan at 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday in the first round. Eagan and Poynette, which were both unbeaten before this week, play in the other game in the bracket.
Cotter's boys team will have to tangle with the likes of Plainview, Kingsland and Kenyon-Wanamingo.
The Rambler girls will have their work cut out as well, taking on E-M and scoring wiz Kali Olstad, who scored 41 points against Lewiston-Altura earlier this year, in the first round. Kingsland, which is ranked in the top 10 in state in Class 2A, and K-W are on the other side of the bracket.
Winona High's girls team will have to contend with Northfield, Richfield and newcomer St. Paul Johnson, which is led by junior guard Ebony Black, who averaged 20 points a game as a sophomore.
"Eagan beat Bloomington Jefferson, which I believe was ranked fifth in the state, on Friday," Patterson said. "As the season's progressed, there are no clear-cut favorites. There should be some competitive teams. The Cotter girls bracket is really tough. Cotter and Kingsland have been ranked. Kali Olstad is very good. She shoots 3s like she shoots free throws.
"The Winona High boys are tough. I got an e-mail from the Poynette coach and they are 5-0 with four wins against Division 2 teams (Poynette is a Division 3 team). Tuesday and Wednesday will be tough. That should get the tournament off to a great start."
The tournament will also feature two coaches (Rushford-Peterson's Tom Vix and Eagan's Kurt Virgin) with over 400 career wins.
The event actually kicks off with a free youth basketball clinic, which is put on by the WSU men's and women's basketball teams, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. There is no pre-registration for the clinic and all participants will receive a free basketball. Over 100 basketball players in grades 3-7 took part in the event last year.
Money raised from the four-day tournament goes to Winona State's Warrior Club, which raises money for athletic scholarships. Over $20,000 has been raised in each of the last three years.
"Area teams have certainly supported us," Patterson said. "We're lucky to have the facilities we do. I think the kids look forward to it."