MARSEILLES — When a tournament votes on its first eight seeds, then conducts a blind draw of the rest to determine topening-round opponents, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see a few pairings that would appear to be, shall we say, rather one-sided matchups.
However, while that's the way the Marseilles Holiday Tournament went about creating its lineup for its opening on the day after Christmas, there doesn't appear on paper to be a real mismatch in sight.
Of the seven Times-area teams involved in the 16-team field, the defending champion Marquette Crusaders drew the highest seed and will be third behind top-seeded Indian Creek and No. 2 seed Spring Valley Hall when the 10th annual event convenes on Wednesday, Dec. 26. Meanwhile, Flanagan-Cornell was tabbed the No. 4 seed and Seneca No. 5, while unseeded locals Somonauk, Leland, Serena and Woodland all drew competitive first-round matchups within what appears to be a well-balanced field.
"Dealing with small schools, you're always going to have a strong eight and a weak eight, and things balance out after the first day," said Marseilles principal and tournament director Jeff Owens, "but for trying to get this all done as early as this is, with so many teams being young or that are coming off football and Thanksgiving tournaments, I feel this is a pretty well-balanced, competitive field that we're really excited about."
In the late quadrant of which MA is a part, the Crusaders (5-0) will meet Putnam County (0-6) at 8 p.m. on that Wednesday night, with the winner and loser of that game taking on the same from the 6:30 p.m. contest between Woodland (2-5) and No. 6 seed Reed-Custer (3-4). Also in that portion of the bracket, Serena (3-4) will do battle against No. 7 seed Kewanee (2-5) at 3:30 p.m., with those competitors advancing to the like decision from the 5 p.m. meeting between No. 2 Hall (4-1) and their Spring Valley rival, St. Bede (1-6).
"I can't comment on the seed, because with these teams, that's a really tough thing for the committee to do," said Marquette coach Todd Hopkins. "We were going to have a tough one, no matter who we faced, and Putnam County is a rivalry game, and they'll be a handful. It'll be a good game. ...
"There are some really good ballclubs in here. I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite. Just look at our game and the rest of the top eight teams. Any one of us could lose in the first round. It's gonna be fun, that's for sure, and we're looking forward to it."
Said Woodland coach Connor Kaminke, "I think this tournament this year is competely up in the air. Among the top 13-14 teams, anyone can beat anyone, so I like where we're at. There will be some competitive games for us. ...
"I've been coming to this tournament since I was a player, and it's pretty close to my heart. I have a lot of good memories here, and I love it. It's always good for some upsets and close games. It's a great environment here, and we look forward to being a part of it, starting with Reed-Custer."
In the upper-bracket games played earlier on the opening day, Flanagan-Cornell (5-2) will meet Wilmington (0-2) at 1:30 p.m. before advancing either way against a team from a rematch between the No. 5 Fighting Irish (3-2) and Somonauk (2-5).
Finally, unseeded Leland (1-4) will take on top-seed Indian Creek (5-1) at 10:30 a.m., advancing to meet the like decision of the contest between neighbors No. 8 Gardner-South Wilmington (4-2) and Dwight (2-5).
"This is a great tournament, Jeff always does a good job, and this year no matter who you draw in the first round, it's going to be a good game," said F-C coach Brian Yoder. "We've played Woodland and we've played Reed-Custer, and they were both good games, so this should be a really good, competitive tournament with good teams, top to bottom."
"We've played to the seed that we are," said Seneca coach Russ Witte. "At our Thanksgiving Tournament, even though we finished second, we didn't play that well. If we go 4-1, maybe we're a top-two seed, but we're where we're supoposed to be, and we have a tough first-round game with Somonauk, no doubt about it. When we played them at our tourney, they led the whole game and took us to overtime, so we'll have to play much better this time around."