The holiday tournament season commences here Thursday with the annual St. John’s Prep Christmas Tournament.
It’s the tip-off to a whole bunch of intriguing tournaments, but the first involving a bunch of area boys basketball team, including the host Johnnies.
The new team in the field is Carlton. They’re called the Bulldogs, have an enrollment of 132 and are located southwest of Duluth in northeastern Minnesota.
“We thought it’d be fun playing them,” St. John’s Prep head coach Bryan Backes said. The Johnnies play Carlton at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Old Gym.
It’s a traditional, eight-team, three-day bracket. On Thursday, Holdingford plays Onamia at 6 p.m. at the Old Gym, then St. John’s Prep follows.
At Sexton Arena, Rush City plays Eden Valley-Watkins at 6:30 p.m. and Milaca faces Maple Lake at 8 p.m. Play continues Friday evening at the two sites.
The final round is Saturday at Sexton, with the seventh-place game starting at 1 p.m. and the championship scheduled for about 6:30 p.m.
Prairie Seeds Academy, the defending champion, is not returning. That created the opening for Carlton, which has a new athletic director and and had an open schedule when Backes was contacted in September.
St. John’s Prep, meanwhile, is off to a 1-3 start, with a win over Royalton, close losses to Eden Valley-Watkins and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle. The Johnnies was blown away by Upsala, ranked seventh in the state in Class A, in their opener.
“We’ve played well, but not the full time,” Backes said. “This team doesn’t have any superstars, so we have to play well together as long as we possibly can in order to be successful.”
He’s using a nine-man rotation on a roster than includes nine seniors, unusually large for a school with an enrollment of 223.
“A lot of them have been role players in the past,” Backes said. “It’ll be fun to see who turns into key players.”