MORRIS – The calendar has turned to June and the strains of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" can still be heard echoing in the distance. For sports fans, that can only mean one thing.
The annual caravan of hoops teams will trek to Morris Community High School for shootouts. The competition starts Tuesday morning in the 32-team Morris Girls Shootout. Pool play will be at the fieldhouse and MCHS gym Tuesday, with the first games tipping off at 8 a.m. and the last at 7 p.m. Wednesday will be bracket play based on teams' pool positions.
The champions and second-place pool teams will play in the morning session Wednesday, with the third- and fourth-place teams playing in the afternoon brackets.
Next week, the same thing will take place Wednesday and Thursday with the boys shootout.
The field is an array of Illinois teams, both in terms of size and geography. From Annawan to Waubonsie Valley, Pleasant Plains to Plainfield North and South, the field is sprinkled with schools small and large, near and far.
"I want to say this is the 18th year for the girls shootout," Morris basketball coach Kate Carey said. "Last year, we only had 28 teams, but this year we actually have had a few teams contact us and want to be in it, so we are back to 32, which is where we want to be for ease of scheduling and bracketing.
"We want it to be one of the top shootouts in the state, so we try to invite teams from all over. Then, word of mouth will get out in all areas and teams will want to come because they heard good things about us."
There are eight pools of four teams. Each pool will play round-robin on Tuesday. All games in each pool are scheduled an hour apart, so no team is stuck waiting too long to play their next game, and can plan transportation accordingly.
"We try to arrange the pools to make things as easy as possible for as many teams as possible," Carey said. "For example, we know we don't want to make Geneseo get here for a game that starts at 8 a.m."
Morris is in a pool with Waubonsie Valley, Minooka and Plano. The Redskins – who return three senior starters and one junior starter from last year's team – begin with a 3 p.m. game against Waubonsie Valley and will take on Minooka at 5 p.m., both in the main gym. They will play Plano at 7 p.m. in the fieldhouse.
Minooka faces Plano at 3 p.m. and Waubonsie Valley at 7 p.m., both in the fieldhouse. Plano will play Waubonsie Valley at 5 p.m. in the fieldhouse.
Coal City, meanwhile, plays Lincoln-Way West at 8 a.m. in the main gym, East Aurora at 10 a.m. in the fieldhouse and Sycamore at noon in the fieldhouse.
The three returning senior starters for the Redskins are Julie Jurasits, Jessica Ponsay and Alex Kjellesvik, while junior Leona Burton started the past two years as a sophomore and a freshman. Emily Burling, also a senior, returns and will see increased playing time from last season, as will juniors Jessica Jurak and Devin Pacheco.
"It should be interesting this year," Carey said. "I think we will be pretty strong. For the last year or two, our team has been considered young. Now, these girls are older, and we will have to find out how they react to that.
"We have more height than we've had in the past. We have a couple of 6-footers [Jurasits and Kayla Cryder] and Pacheco is 5-10 or 11, real close to six feet. That's not a luxury a lot of teams will have."
Though the tourney is during the summer, Carey is confident the prospect of warm conditions won't present too big a problem.
"The Morris Fire Department always does a great job of helping us out," she said. "They bring big fans in to help keep it cooler and to dry the floors when it's humid outside. And, Joe Thomas does a great job running the officials to make sure everything starts and finishes on time.
"We're looking forward to getting out there and seeing what we have."
Carey pointed to Sycamore, Waubonsie Valley, Kankakee Bishop McNamara, Benet Academy, Bloomington Central Catholic and Peoria Notre Dame as some of the top contenders for the title.