It happens every handful of years or so: Christmas day is followed by a high school holiday hoops bonanza in Medford.
This is one of those years, when the long-running Abby's Holiday Classic and Southern Oregon Subaru Christmas Classic operate over the same three-day stretch, this year featuring 40 boys and girls teams.
The Abby’s boys tournament, hosted by North and South Medford, is in its 29th year. The Subaru boys and girls tourney, put on by Cascade Christian, is in its 26th year.
When Christmas and the coinciding school break fall in the same week, the Subaru -- which is normally held the week before the holiday — is pushed back. That prevents having 32 teams converging at Cascade Christian when school is in session, said Challengers boys coach and tournament organizer Brian Morse.
The last time the tournaments were held simultaneously was in 2013.
Abby’s play begins at North and South on Thursday, then moves to South for the Friday and Saturday games.
All of the Subaru games are the same days at Cascade Christian.
A common thread this year is that both varsity boys tournaments are stronger than usual.
While the Abby’s has always been an eight-team boys event, the Subaru has grown to eight varsity boys and girls tourneys and eight junior varsity boys and girls events.
The Abby’s includes undefeated Forest Grove (8-0) — which North opens against — Roseburg (7-1), McNary of Salem (5-1) and a Black Tornado (4-4) team on a three-game winning streak.
North, which has captured four straight titles, plays Forest Grove at 7:45 p.m. Thursday in the Black Tornado gym. West Albany (0-7) and West Salem (3-4) meet in the opener at 6.
South Medford (1-8) faces North Eugene (2-5) at 7:45 p.m. Thursday in the Panther gym. In the first game at 6, McNary and Roseburg square off.
“It’s a strong one, that’s for sure, compared to what we’ve had in the last few years,” North coach Scott Plankenhorn said of the field. “We have a handful of really good teams with good records coming in trying to win the tournament.”
The Black Tornado has won nine Abby’s titles. It defeated first-round foe Forest Grove for the 2016 championship.
Last year, North rode Kaison Faust’s 30 points to an 83-59 rout over McKay of Salem in the title game.
The Black Tornado is coming off four games in four days last week in the Portland area, including three straight victories in the Lakeside Tournament in Lake Oswego.
It opened the stretch with a 52-33 nonconference loss to Oregon City.
“The first one was pretty ugly,” said Plankenhorn. “They gave it to us pretty good.”
The next morning, he assembled the players in a hotel room for a meeting, defining roles — such as having top scorers Jaray Thomas and Garrett Parker become more forceful on offense and emphasizing defense through the ranks.
What followed was a near-flawless win over Lakeridge, a passable performance against Beaverton and a triumph over Reynolds that included a 48-4 spree.
“We’re definitely excited about moving in the right direction,” said Plankenhorn, “but we’re still a long ways from our top-notch play. That’s an exciting part, also.”
Thomas, a senior guard, is averaging nearly 14 points per game, and Parker, a 6-foot-6 senior post, nearly 10.
Like North, Forest Grove has double-digit wins over Lakeridge and Reynolds on its spotless record.
Hosts don’t often open tournaments against an opponent with the best record, but Plankenhorn doesn’t mind.
“Long term, it’s all good,” he said. “You’ve got to play good teams, and that’s what we’ve got. Forest Grove is undefeated, and we’ll see if we can push ourselves to keep on winning.”
South Medford’s lone win came 1 1/2 weeks ago over Red Bluff, 75-37, in the California school’s tournament.
In last year’s Abby’s, the Panthers were beaten in the fourth-place game, 62-56, by Forest Grove.
South Medford is led by junior guard Sherman Hunter, who is averaging 15.5 points per game. Junior forward Keegan Losinski has the same scoring average, but he’s been limited to two games because of injury.
Senior forward Gio Bottero averages 7.5 points and is tied for second in rebounding with senior post Jake Ramsay. Sophomore post Jude Pannell is the top rebounder.
Across town, the Subaru tournament has a decidedly local flavor, with Cascade Christian, Crater, Eagle Point, Phoenix, Hidden Valley and St. Mary’s teams in the boys and girls varsity tourneys.
The boys field includes Crater (5-3), ranked fifth in the 5A coaches’ poll; Dayton (6-2), ranked first in 3A; and Santiam Christian (8-1), ranked second in 3A.
Dayton leap-frogged then-No. 1 Santiam Christian after beating the Eagles in the Dayton tournament last week., 59-47.
“Absolutely,” said Morse, in his 31st year of coaching the Challengers, “this is definitely the strongest (field).”
High-scoring Phoenix has scored 73 or more points in five games while building a 7-2 record.
St. Mary’s, a 3A team, has won two straight and is 6-4; three of its losses have come to 4A tourney teams Phoenix (twice) and Hidden Valley (5-3).
Thursday’s first-round games are St. Mary’s vs. Crater, noon; Cascade Christian (1-7) vs. Westside Christian (5-6), 3 p.m.; Phoenix vs. Dayton, 4:30 p.m.; and Hidden Valley vs. Santiam Christian, 9 p.m.
Typically a state power, Cascade Christian’s combination of inexperience and what Morse considers the toughest nonconference schedule he’s put together in his three decades have contributed to the Challengers’ record.
“They’re working hard and doing everything that I’m asking them to do,” said Morse. “We’re playing some really tough teams that are challenging us, to say the least. But it’s still fun working with these kids. They’re giving it all they’ve got and keeping their heads up.”
Class 2A Butte Falls/Crater Lake would be in the varsity bracket, said Morse, but there wasn’t room and was placed in the junior varsity bracket. The Loggers are 6-0 and moved into the state rankings at No. 8 this week.
In the girls varsity bracket, Crater is chasing its fifth straight crown.
The Comets are ranked ninth in 5A and own a 6-2 record. They face Phoenix (4-5) on Day 1 at 1:30 p.m.
In other girls openers, St. Mary’s (5-2) plays Klamath Union (3-4) at 10:30 a.m.; Eagle Point (5-2) meets Dayton (4-4) at 6 p.m.; and Cascade Christian (2-6) takes on Santiam Christian (3-6) at 7:30 p.m.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com.