Three holiday basketball tournaments are filling up the slate this week on the Grand Strand.
The events fire up Tuesday with the CresCom Holiday Invitational, the girls hoops tournament taking place at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. Myrtle Beach and 15 other prep teams from across the country will be competing in the 14th annual tournament, which serves as the precursor to the Beach Ball Classic.
It will be the first high school tournament for first-year Seahawks head coach Jennifer Dennison. It will also be the first time in seven years Myrtle Beach has played in the tournament without former standout guard Khadijah Sessions.
“I’ll see the difference once they get into the Convention Center,” Dennison said of her team, which includes eight first-year varsity players. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Beach Ball, region play, non-region play, those young girls I have are going to play until the end. We could explain to them what they’re facing, but they haven’t seen it.”
A last-minute schedule change has Myrtle Beach playing Center Point (Ala.), the team that defeated the Seahawks 71-61 last season. The core group of Center Point starters are now seniors. Combined with the absences of the last two champions – Norcross (Ga.) and Spring Valley – the Eagles are considered one of the favorites this year.
One of the other contenders may be Archbishop Carroll. The Radner, Penn., team was a semifinalist in the Holiday Invitational a year ago.
The tournament opens up at 4 p.m. Tuesday with Atlantic (Fla.) vs. C.E. Murray.
The championship game is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. Saturday.
On Wednesday, the third annual Panther Classic boys tournament will start it’s three-day event at Carolina Forest High School. The tournament features host school Carolina Forest, as well as local schools Carvers Bay, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach and St. James. Spartanburg’s Oakbrook Prep, Charleston Math and Science and Bearden (Tenn.) round out the eight-team field.
Myrtle Beach won the tournament last season, but Carolina Forest coach and tournament coordinator Brian Brunson said this year’s is a “toss up.”
“You want to put together the strongest field,” he said. “I like to win; I love to win. But in our scheme of things, there are eight games that determine if we get into the playoffs or not. I want to see a high level and different variety that will show our guys the type of teams that we’re going to play [in region games].
“They make you examine what you do and how you do it. They expose your weaknesses.”
Five of the area teams are dealing with significant turnover. Carolina Forest, for instance, has nine new players on the varsity roster after it graduated five starters and eight seniors altogether from last year’s teams.
Carvers Bay is in the top five in the statewide coaches poll for Class A, and St. James was in the initial Class AAA rankings.
Those two teams will play the first game at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Each of the other three games that day will feature one local team and one visiting school.
The semifinals will start at 7 p.m. Thursday, with the finals slated for 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Shootout By The Sea
Jude Hunt knows the North Myrtle Beach girls team is already playing with some high expectations.
A strong performance this week could increase those exponentially.
The Chiefs are 6-0 and have some strong competition for the Shootout By The Sea tournament, which begins Thursday at North Myrtle Beach. The eight-team field on the girls side includes Hunt’s team – ranked No. 4 in the Class AAA poll – as well as Goose Creek (No. 5 in Class AAAA) and Scott County (Ky.), a traditional power from the Bluegrass State.
Hunt sees this as a good glimpse into later on in the season.
“We look forward to this kind of for that opportunity,” Hunt said. “We’d like to do well in it this year. It’s a big deal for us. It’s an opportunity to play against some teams that we don’t normally see. It’s a simulation of playoff-type games for us.”
On the boys side, North Myrtle Beach will be playing against the likes of Forest Hills (N.C.), Sumter and Center Point (Ala.), a team that has won six straight coming into the tournament.
North Myrtle Beach is the lone area school in the event.
The Goose Creek and Marlboro County girls teams will play the opening game in the tournament at 10 a.m. Thursday. Girls and boys games will alternate throughout the tournament.
The girls title game will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday, with the boys championship to follow at 7:30 p.m.