Mat Mikesell

Geography forces northeast Missouri schools to play each other repeatedly

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 10, 2019 12:01 am

For basketball teams in Northeast Missouri, the months of December and January almost seem like a movie that you've seen dozens of times.

Three in-season tournaments -- the Monroe City Tournament, the Highland Tournament and Palmyra's Tony Lenzini Tournament -- all will be played within seven weeks. Those tournament fields have many of the same teams.

Palmyra is the only one to play in all three tournaments, while Monroe City, Highland, Clark County and Canton play in at least two of them. Depending on seeds and how the games play out, some teams could face each other at least two times over the course of these tournaments. Most of those teams are in the Clarence Cannon Conference, most of them are in the same district, and some of them even play a regular season game against each other.

Some teams could see each other four or five times by the season's end.

Is it worth seeing the same team that many times? Some coaches in Northeast Missouri say they might not have a choice.

"For us, geographically it makes the most sense," said Clark County boys basketball coach Adam Rung, whose team plays in the Highland and Tony Lenzini Tournaments. "We'd like to play more teams, but we've had some new teams enter the Highland Tournament. A lot of the same teams end up playing in the semifinals or championships."

It happens more times recently than it doesn't.

In the last 10 tournaments, starting with the Highland Tournament in 2016, Monroe City, Clark County and Palmyra had combined to win 18 of the possible 20 boys or girls championships. More often than not, the title game was a combination of two of those three schools.

The Mexico boys won the Highland Tournament in 2016, and the Paris girls won the Monroe City Tournament last month.

"It does feel a little repetitive, but at the same time, those are the teams you'll see in your district as well," Palmyra boys basketball coach Ryan Wood said. "We could see Monroe City and Clark County two more times by the end of February. I like the in-season tournaments because it's a foreshadowing of postseason basketball, but at the same time, I'm not a big fan of playing the same teams over and over again."

Some teams have branched out to try and find newer competition. Clark County played in the Quincy Shootout last season and makes several trips across the Mississippi River. Monroe City's boys recently played Quincy Notre Dame at home and against Mount Vernon in the Webster Groves Shootout, and they will play in the Quincy Shootout later this month.

The Highland girls basketball team played in a shootout in Moberly, Mo., and both the Highland and Clark County girls played last month in John Wood's Rumble on the River. The Monroe City girls basketball team played Quincy Notre Dame in November, and they will play in the KHQA Superfan Shootout next month.

Coaches say continuing to play in the same in-season tournaments is really the only option to fill out the schedule. Clark County, which is tucked in the corner of the state between Iowa and Illinois, would have to make two-hour drives on school nights to find different in-state tournaments.

"It's just our location within the state," Highland girls basketball coach Meleia Niemann said. "Our radius isn't as wide as a town around Columbia, where you can go 90 miles in any direction and have a wide selection of schools. Up here, we can only go so far in one direction."

The biggest draw is playing in championship games of the in-season tournaments gives the players a taste of big-game atmospheres.

"I know coaches say games are an extension of practice, but I don't have practices with hundreds of people watching," Wood said. "If you want to win big games, you have to be in those atmospheres and crowds."