Gary Fishel is relatively new in his job as a high school athletic director, but he understands the commitment and dedication it takes for a coach to successfully host a prep sports tournament.
About Lady Longhorn coach Jen White, who this year hosted the Holiday Hoops invitational, Fishel said, “She really put her heart and effort into the tournament.”
The fray, which was held Dec. 28 and 29 in Wilson Dome and Julia Randall Elementary School gymnasium, drew 16 teams representing schools of all size classifications.
“They were outstanding teams and really good competition,” Fishel said.
Xavier, an exclusive Jesuit college prep school in Phoenix, was the only team to finish undefeated going 4-0 and winning the Hoops championship title.
Xavier’s toughest game occurred on the second day in Wilson Dome when Marana pushed the Gators to the limits before falling 48-39.
In the championship finale, Xavier easily disposed of runner-up Mesa Westwood, 62-41. Tucson Catalina Foothills finished 3-1, but had to settle for the consolation championship
Marana finished third, besting fourth-place Payson 44-38, in the bronze medal showdown.
“Our girls played their hearts out and ended up fourth, which is very respectable considering the top tier, larger schools that were participating,” Fishel said.
In a voting of coaches for all-tournament team, Payson landed two players — Teanna Lopez and Chioya Hill — on the prestigious squad.
Xavier also placed two players while Marana, Gilbert and Queen Creek each had one player selected.
The all-tournament honorees received souvenir sweatshirts thanks to a $400 donation from the Tonto Apache Tribe.
“We are very grateful to them; it was a fine gesture,” said White. “The tribe was also one of our tournament sponsors.”
Lopez, a sharp shooter from three-point land, was the Lady Horns’ leading scorer throughout the tournament, while Hill was a fierce rebounder and solid defender.
In Payson’s tournament-opening 59-32 win over San Tan Foothills, Hill dominated on the boards, finishing with a game-high 13 rebounds.
But it might have been her defensive effort in the loss to Marana that was her finest performance of the holiday fray.
Playing man-on-man against Marana’s Jamee Swan, a 6-foot, 3-inch senior who averages 24 ppg and is a D-1 recruit, Hill more than held her own.
“I was so proud of her, she did such a good job,” said White.
The Lady Horns’ success in the tournament might be attributed in part to the team’s stifling man-to-man full court pressure, which the players executed buzzer to buzzer in every game.
“We didn’t shoot well in some games, especially against Marana, but we always seemed to play good defense,” said White.
Payson opened the tournament with the win over San Tan and followed it up with a 37-34 victory vs. Queen Creek.
On the tournament’s second day, the Lady Horns fell 48-28 to Mesa Westwood before dropping the bronze medal game to Marana.
Planning for next year
While the tournament is now only a memory, White has already begun laying plans for next year’s tournament, which she predicts will be even more competitive and festive.
“We want to include an ice cream social so the players have an opportunity to interact with one another,” she said.
Also White plans to revive the three-point shoot-outs that were held in Holiday Hoops tournaments during Rory Huff’s tenure as Lady Horn head coach.
The format then was for two of the tournament’s top three-point shooters to meet head-to-head during a halftime showdown.
When all the results were in, a championship round was held on the afternoon of the second day.
In the shoot-outs, each contestant was awarded a total of 25 shots from beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc. Five attempts were shot from five different locations beginning at the baseline and continuing 180 degrees to the opposite baseline.
Among the most exciting of those past three-point shootouts was the 2003 competition that pitted Tempe Marcos de Niza senior Angie Schultz against Tucson Canyon del Oro freshman Jessie Ingram. Both sunk eight of 15 shot attempts in the regulation shoot.
To decide a winner, then tournament director Teddy Pettet called for a five-shot sudden death shoot-out. By sinking three of five attempts from beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arch, Ingram claimed the hotshot crown.