Before a host of area girls basketball teams dive into the meat of conference play, they’ll see where they stand in a 3-day hoopsfest that is the Dixon Holiday Classic.
This year’s event begins today, with eight games on tap at Lancaster Gym. Local teams in the field are Dixon (7-4), Sterling (7-6), Oregon (9-4) and Eastland (11-1). Also returning are Rochelle (4-7), Dunlap (6-5), Aurora Christian, Stillman Valley (3-6), Freeport Aquin (7-5), United Township (8-3), Forreston (6-6), Pekin (2-9), Rockford Lutheran (6-1) and Boylan.
Kaneland and Earlville (4-6) are new tourney entrants, replacing Chicago Kenwood and Rockford Christian.
“We’ve got a lot of really good teams coming in,” Dixon coach Luke Ravlin said. “We’ve got some teams that have big hopes and aspirations, and I think we use this as a measuring stick. When you look at Oregon, Sterling, Rockford Lutheran, Rockford Boylan, United Township, they’re all thinking about winning regionals, winning conference and stuff like that.
“Teams use this tournament as a tester, and I think that’s really good.”
When teams were bracketed, it was with the idea of avoiding conference matchups as much as possible, and it makes for some interesting first-round games, particularly among the locals.
Oregon, which finished third in the tourney a year ago, will test itself against a team just up the road in Rochelle. It is a rematch of the 2012 third-place game, won by the Hawks 58-47.
The Hubs aren’t quite as potent this season, with long-time coach Kay Dobbs no longer on the sideline and her daughter, Michelle, no longer in the lineup.
Sterling will open against the defending champion, Aquin, which went on to win a Class 1A state championship in 2012-13. The Bulldogs reached those lofty heights on the shoulders of superstar Sophie Brunner, who now plays at Arizona State.
Eastland has been beaten just once this season, by River Ridge-Scales Mound on Saturday, and will look to show it can hang with tougher competition. If the Cougars can get past Pekin, United Township will likely be waiting in the quarterfinals.
Dixon, meanwhile, didn’t rig the brackets for a first-round cupcake. Instead, it will tangle with Lutheran, annually one of the top teams in the Big Northern West. The Duchesses and Crusaders will be conference rivals, starting next season.
“We’ve really gotten better over the last few weeks,” Dixon junior guard Maggie Bushman said, “so it will be interesting to see where we stand.”
“Our kids work hard, do everything we ask, and they’re getting better every day,” Ravlin said. “We like this tournament because it’s a test for us. To come in and play four games in 3 days, to play against good competition that you don’t see week-in and week-out, that’s really good for us.”
• Oregon vs. Rochelle, 9 a.m.
• Sterling vs. Aquin, 1:30 p.m.
• Eastland vs. Pekin, 4:30 p.m.
• Dixon vs. Lutheran, 6 p.m.