Tip-off tournament time is fast approaching, with a different look.
For the first time in 10 years, local basketball teams will not compete in a county-wide tournament to open the season. Rather, the Lady Dragons are hosting their own tournament Dec. 6 and 7 at Warren Area High School, and Sheffield will welcome Youngsville and Eisenhower for those schools' opener at the Ralph Santo Gymnasium the same weekend. The Warren boys will travel out of the county, as they begin play at the Franklin Tip-Off Tournament.
"We enjoyed playing at home for the tip-off and wanted to work hard to continue it," said Warren girls coach Lisa Ruhlman. "The county tournament was fun, but we knew we needed a tougher tip-off tourney against bigger schools to challenge us and make us a better team. Based on school size the county tournament was not fair to us or the other schools in an effort to build stronger programs."
The Lady Dragon Tournament features varsity and junior varsity teams from Warren, Conneaut, Olean (N.Y.), and Orchard Park (N.Y.). Olean advanced to New York's "Elite 8" in Class B (the equivalent of Class AAA in Pennsylvania), while Warren and Conneaut were District 10 Class AAA playoff qualifiers last year. Both the Lady Dragons' varsity and junior varsity squads will face Olean in two separate tournament brackets. The junior varsity plays Olean at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, with the Conneaut JV playing Orchard Park JV there at 5. The varsity tournament opens at 6:30 with Conneaut vs. Orchard Park, and Warren plays Olean at 8.
The JV consolation game Saturday is at 3 p.m. at WAHS followed by the JV championship at 4:30, varsity consolation at 6, and varsity championship at 7:30.
In Franklin, the Warren boys open their 2013-2014 campaign against St. Marys out of District 9 while the host Knights take on Vision Quest in the nightcap. Warren coach Jeff Berdine said he is excited to play in a tournament with two other Class AAA teams, as well as a "very athletic" Vision Quest team.
"It is my understanding that the Franklin tourney should be wide open this year," said Berdine, whose team won eight straight Warren County Tip-Off titles before the tournament ceased naming an official champion last year. "Our schedule this year does not include a region game until January, so I am looking for this year's team to use these games as well as December's non-league games to help figure out their roles and understand my expectations before region play kicks off."
Down the road in Sheffield, the field and format is similar to the old Warren County Tip-Off Tournament. Varsity boys and girls teams from Youngsville, Eisenhower, and Sheffield will square off, along with the Austin High School boys and Port Allegany girls added to the brackets in place of Warren.
"I always liked playing in the Warren tournament," said first-year Sheffield boys coach Tony Richards, who had experience in the old tournament as a head coach with the Youngsville boys and as an assistant with the Youngsville girls. "It was a good measuring stick to see where your team was at, and it was a convenient location for all the teams. (The Sheffield Sports Boosters Tip-Off Tournament) is pretty much wide open at this point."
"I think playing teams from schools that are comparable in size is a big positive," added Lady Wolverines first-year coach Jaimie Ely. "We also have the benefit of extra fundraising that comes in (from hosting the tournament)."
The action kicks off Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. with the Sheffield girls taking on Youngsville followed by the Youngsville boys against Austin at 5:30. The Lady Knights open against Port Allegany at 7, and the Sheffield and Eisenhower boys close out the night in the 8:30 game.
Tournament action resumes at 3 p.m. Saturday with the girls consolation game followed by the boys consolation game, the girls championship, and the boys championship.