The Christmas feast was Wednesday. The smorgasbord starts Friday.
That’s as in round-the-clock high school boys’ basketball at Keene State College — the 23rd edition of the Noyes Volkswagen Holiday Tournament at Spaulding Gymnasium. That’s eight games a day, Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. That’s 256 minutes of basketball per day, breakfast, lunch and dinner at the gym, not even time for a nap unless you snooze during the 10-minute pregame warmups and halftime breaks.
As usual, the 16-team tournament features teams from near and far. All six high schools in the Monadnock Region are represented, complemented by a bevy of schools just outside the region. And then there are some that travel a bit to get here, stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants. Five states are represented, including the defending champions: Mamaroneck, N.Y. in the Red Division and Murdock High of Winchendon, Mass., in the White Division.
The tournament began 22 years ago with a twofold objective — to serve as a fundraiser for the Keene State men’s basketball team and to give local teams a place to compete in a holiday tournament without having to travel several hours each day. The byproduct, of course, was giving local fans access to some superb high school basketball in their own backyard.
Clearly, the objectives have been met. It is no longer a fledgling tournament, but a mature event that teams return to year after year. Former Keene High coach Phil Hebert — who runs the 30-second clock at Keene State games — is its longtime director. “I love this tournament,” he says. “It gives local fans a chance to see some of the best basketball this area has to offer.”
Longtime local official Rick Zecha is in charge of lining up the refs, many of whom are local. Those who came from across the state often stay for the day and officiate multiple games.
There is little turnover among the teams, a sure sign of a successful tournament. This year only Mascenic High of New Ipswich is not coming back, and that’s because the talented Vikings, who are contenders for the Division III state title, want to test themselves elsewhere this year. Smithfield, R.I., a perennial participant here, will feature two teams, as the program asked if it could enter teams in each division. Its “B” team takes the place of Mascenic. Longtime competitor Wells, Maine, will also be back.
As usual, the tournament is divided into a pair of eight-team tournaments. The Red Division is for larger schools and the White for smaller programs although placement rules aren’t rigid. For instance, ConVal Regional High has been in both divisions recently, and this year will move up from White to Red.
Opening day Friday has an enticing all-local double-header to end the night. At 7 p.m., Conant High and ConVal will square off, followed by Keene and Monadnock Regional High at 8:30. Keene doesn’t open its Division I season until after the new year, so the tournament represents the first opportunity to test itself. Last year, in a game dubbed “The Santa Tussle,” Keene downed Monadnock 70-51, refusing to take its smaller neighbor from Swanzey for granted.
“It was definitely a big game,” said Blackbirds then-senior co-captain Alex Opsahl, who scored a game-high 20 points. “Even if it’s not Division I and doesn’t count (in the win-loss record), it’s a big mental game, because this is the closest thing we have to a rival, being on the other side of the state from everybody in Division I.”
The bracket setup guarantees a local team will be in Sunday night’s Red Division final. The other Red Division matchups feature Smithfield vs. Wells at 4 p.m. and Coe-Brown of Northwood against Mamaroneck at 5:30. The Mamaroneck Tigers are the defending Red Division champions, having swept past Conant in last year’s final, 63-45.
The tournament kicks off Friday morning at 10 with Mount Royal Academy of Sunapee taking on a strong Murdock team in the first of four straight White Division games. Murdock is in a bit of a unique situation in that all of its games count as regular-season contests under Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules. Last year won the White Division title by knocking off ConVal 75-65 in an entertaining final.
Two local teams will compete in the White Division: Fall Mountain takes on Sunapee at 11:30 a.m. Friday and Hinsdale will play the Smithfield B team at 2:30 p.m.
Keene State will be using its statistician crew, so results and box scores will be available almost immediately after every game. They will be updated through the tournament website, which is www.keeneowls.com/2019HolidayTournament. Admission is $8 for an adult one-day session, $3 for high school students and senior citizens, and $1 for students in grades 1 through 8. A tournament pass is $20 for adults and $45 for families, $7 for high school students and senior citizens.
Any weather-related postponements will be posted on the tournament website. Monday has been blocked out as a makeup day in case of postponements although the weather forecast is favorable for travel.