MARSEILLES — It's a fact that Marseilles Elementary School principal and Marseilles Holiday Tournament director Jeff Owens has brought up the last several years before coaches vote on the top eight seeds and then use a blind draw to put in stone the opening-round pairings.
No team has walked away from the four-day get-together — now in its 11th year, this edition running December 26-28 and 30 — with a second tournament championship.
Ten years, ten different champions. Will this be the year?
Of the seven Times-area teams involved in the 16-team field, the Somonauk Bobcats (3-1) received the highest seed and will be third behind top-seeded and defending champion Hall (4-0) and No. 2 seed Indian Creek (2-0). Kewanee (3-2) was selected the No. 4 seed, Gardner-South Wilmington (3-2) No. 5, Marquette Academy (1-0) No. 6, Seneca (2-3) No. 7 and Wilmington No. 8, while unseeded Earlville (2-4), Flanagan-Cornell (3-2), Serena (2-3) and Woodland (1-4) all will look to upset the apple cart the day after Christmas.
Since the tournament went to the top-eight seeding seven years ago, the best seed to lose on the first day was a No. 5.
"The thing about this tournament, especially this year, is that it's so balanced," said Hall coach Mike Filippini. "It's a great tournament, and we've played very well here the past three years. Kewanee as the No. 4 seed is probably the toughest No. 4 seed in a long time in this tournament."
The Red Devils open play in the upper bracket with Woodland at 10:30 a.m., the winner/loser facing the teams in the 9 a.m. contest, Serena against Wilmington.
"We haven't seen Woodland yet," said Filippini, "but we'll get out and see them now for sure. If we are fortunate enough to win our first game, that may set up a game against Serena, which is a well-coached team that we've played in the regular season the last five or six years and we know plays hard."
The Bobcats begin action in the bottom bracket against Dwight (2-4) at 8 p.m., then the winner/loser from the 6:30 p.m. tilt between Marquette and Earlville.
"Hearing Jeff talk at the beginning, saying this is the first time in a long time every team comes into the seeding with at least one win and seeing everyone's record so far, it tells how competitive this tournament is going to be," said Somonauk coach Curt Alsvig. "We've already faced a couple teams that will be there, and we play four or five more before the tournament starts. I think it's going to be a super-competitive tournament.
"For us, it's been a good start to the year, but we just have to keep getting better every day, and hopefully we'll be playing well heading into the tournament."
"The top four seeds are all legit, very good teams." said MA coach Todd Hopkins. "The other 12 teams, it's kind of an any given night, who plays better will probably come out with a win."
In the bottom half of the upper bracket on opening day, Gardner-South Wilmington plays Reed-Custer (2-3) at noon, while the winner/loser will take on the same from the 1:30 p.m. game between Kewanee and St. Bede (2-3). In the upper half of the bottom bracket, Seneca faces Flanagan-Cornell at 3:30 before advancing either way against either Indian Creek and Putnam County (1-3), who play at 5 p.m.
"The first thing is, Hall brings back a ton of talent, and they are going to be a tough matchup for anyone, but second, I really feel it could be a case of who plays better that day each day of the tournament," said Seneca coach Russ Witte. "It's a competitive field for sure, and one that each day you're going to be facing a pretty good opponent. With Flanagan-Cornell right off the bat, it's going to be a grind-it-out game with both teams playing hard-nosed defense."