For many teams, playing in a holiday basketball tournament is an exercise in freedom. Facing opponents you have not seen and will not see again provides a welcome breather from the detailed preparation that takes place during the regular season.
So the Gar-Field girls will have clear minds Tuesday through Thursday when they host the eight-school Lady Indians Holiday Classic.
"It's nice to see how you play against teams you have no advance scouting on," Indians Coach Larry Baker said. "You just go out and play."
No. 12 Gar-Field's first-round opponent is Annandale, at 8 p.m. Tuesday. But the game of the day might be at 4 p.m., when No. 14 Anacostia faces Midlothian, the top-ranked team in the Richmond area.
Midlothian, which returned four starters off a 24-4 team, features Anna Prillaman, a 5-foot-8 guard who Monday led the Trojans to the inSync Holiday Hoops Tournament title. As the event's most valuable player, she set a single-season scoring record by pouring in 30 points.
Prillaman, who has committed to the University of Virginia, averaged 21 points last season.
Gloucester, from the Newport News area, is led by senior guard VaKara Forrest, another Division I prospect.
Gar-Field's top player, senior forward Kia Manuel, scored 16 points in her last outing, a 71-47 win over North Stafford, after missing a game because of a virus. Twelve Gar-Field players scored in that game.
Tournament director Fred Milbert, who coached the Gar-Field girls for 15 years before taking an administrative job with Prince William County public schools, is trying to model the Lady Indians Holiday Classic after a tourney his team once entered in Wisconsin.
"They had a tremendous amount of community support," Milbert said. "I'd like for our community to really get behind it. I'd like to see it grow."
Tough Draw Entered in the 27th annual IAABO Girls Invitational at Prince George's Community College, Woodbridge finds itself in a tournament perhaps more suited to last year's state semifinal team than to this year's 3-4 injury-plagued squad.
Of the six Washington area schools in the eight-team tournament, Woodbridge is the only one not ranked. The ranked schools are No. 3 Riverdale Baptist, No. 7 Largo, No. 9 Bullis, No. 10 DuVal and No. 18 Madison.
The Vikings' first-round opponent Monday, DuVal, is the defending Maryland 3A state champion. The Tigers have three players who have committed to Division I schools.
"We wanted to go somewhere where we'd have stiff competition that will prepare us for district play," said Woodbridge Coach George Washington, whose team already has lost to No. 11 Elizabeth Seton and No. 3 Riverdale Baptist by 49 and 29 points, respectively, the past two games. "I didn't think [the competition] would be this good, but this is good."
Vikings sophomore point guard Kristin Portell has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Her tournament availability has not been determined. The team's leading scorer, senior forward Kanee Booth, is playing at less than full strength, also because of an ankle injury.
Campus Tour The Woodbridge boys team will make several college visits in between its games in the Chapel Hill Men's Tiger Holiday Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C.
On Monday, after playing East Mecklenburg (N.C.) at 5 p.m., the Vikings will watch the University of North Carolina practice at the Dean Smith Center. On Tuesday morning, the team will visit North Carolina A&T University, where players will meet with admissions personnel and watch part of a basketball practice there.
If the Vikings play the 8:30 p.m. game Tuesday, they also will visit Duke and/or North Carolina Central universities that afternoon. On Wednesday, trips are planned to North Carolina State and Shaw University.
"It's a great opportunity to expose our kids to a lot of colleges," said Woodbridge Coach Will Robinson, himself a staunch UNC supporter.
The Vikings will be without senior point guard Jacob Garner, who has missed the past four games with an ankle injury. Garner has been suspended for violating team academic policy, Robinson said. Garner will make the trip with the team but will not play. His suspension will end after the tournament.
Back in Action The Stafford boys team did not participate in holiday tournaments in recent seasons because Coach Steve Spicer thought the break gave the Indians a chance to address weaknesses in practice, and also gave the coaches greater opportunity to scout opponents.
Spicer said he has learned otherwise.
"I felt that [opponents] had an edge coming back in after Christmas," said Spicer, whose team is 6-0 headed into the Fauquier Times-Democrat Holiday Classic, in which it will play a first-round game against Liberty.
"You can't take the place of game competition. It's great to scrimmage and you can work on a lot of stuff, but it's not like going against competition."
Through six games this season, five different Indians have scored in double figures. Senior guard Rudy Kelly did so the first five games.
Gar-Field Lady Indians Holiday Classic
at Gar-Field High School
University City (Pa.) vs. T.C. Williams, 2
Anacostia (D.C.) vs. Midlothian, 4
Gloucester vs. Fairfax, 6
Annandale vs. Gar-Field, 8
University-T.C. loser vs.
Gloucester-Fairfax loser, 2
Anacostia-Midlothian loser vs.
Annandale-Gar-Field loser, 4
University-T.C. winner vs.
Anacostia-Midlothian winner, 6
Gloucester-Fairfax winner vs.
Annandale-Gar-Field winner, 8
Consolation games at 2, 4 and 6
Admission: $5 a day or $12 for a three-day pass.
CAPTION: Gar-Field's Kelly Brown, front, snatches the ball from North Stafford's Christina Carmon in a contest earlier this month. The Indians play host to seven teams, and some stunning talent, this week for their holiday tournament.