When it comes to the annual winter break for high schools, Lafayette boys basketball coach Matt Landwehr likes to spend his time off working and doing what he loves best.
His Lancers will be hitting the hardwood and playing the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Holiday Tournament this weekend. Play begins Friday (Dec. 27) and ends Monday (Dec. 30). Lafayette also is hosting the 16-team tournament.
“There is definitely something special about holiday hoops,” Landwehr said. “You’re not in school and a lot of former players are back in town so you get good crowds and a lot of people at your games. What makes the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament special is it has an amazing mission of fighting cancer and raising a lot of money to support cancer research. All the volunteers that come together to put on this tournament is amazing. Their work embodies the holiday spirit and we’re honored to be a small part of this cause.”
For more than 40 years, a winter basketball tradition was held at Meramec Community College. Among the smorgasbord of basketball tournaments over the winter break, the Meramec Holiday Festival tournament was a mainstay on the boys basketball scene and one top places to see exciting games. The Coaches vs. Cancer was a a one day shootout in the past.
In 2014, the two merged with the Coaches vs. Cancer group taking charge of the tourney and changing its name.
Then came word it needed a new home.
“The Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament committee let the coaches know that they needed a new location for the tournament this year,” Landwehr said. “I grew up going to the Meramec tournament and would have loved to see it stay there, but if that wasn’t an option then I told them that Lafayette was willing to assist them however we could to put on a great tournament. It is our honor to be a part of this great cause and to help raise a lot of money in the fight against cancer.”
Running such a large tournament is a challenge.
“This is a big tournament with a lot of moving parts,” Landwehr said. “The Coaches vs. Cancer tournament committee does an amazing job putting on this great tournament. Kevin Lyons, Greg Ranosm, Kate Bohn, and countless others work tirelessly to plan the event. Our role at Lafayette is to assist them and try to give them all the resources needed to put on a great event.”
Teams in the tourney this year are Fort Zumwalt North, Lutheran South, Hickman and Memphis University High, De Smet, Eureka, Lafayette, Lindbergh, Marquette, McCluer North, Mehlville, Parkway West, Ritenour, Troy, Vianney and Webster Groves. The defending champion is Webster Groves.
The top four seeds this time are Mehlville, De Smet, Webster Groves, and Fort Zumwalt North.
“This is a tough tournament to seed because there’s a lot of really good teams that are a lot a like,” Landwehr said. “I wouldn’t say there were any surprises as it could have gone a lot of different ways. It’s going to be a great four days of hoops at Lafayette.”
The new teams this winter in the event are Fort Zumwalt North, Lutheran South, Hickman and Memphis (Tenn.) University High. Landwehr said he is glad to have them join the fun.
“It’s exciting to have some new teams join the tournament and help us all spread the mission of the tournament to fight cancer,” Landwehr said. “They are all solid programs that will bring great competition to the tournament and make it an even deeper field.
What Landwehr likes more about this year’s field is who strong it is from top to bottom. It’s anyone’s tournament to win.
“A lot of teams could win this tournament,” Landwehr said. “Obviously the top seeds in Mehlville, Desmet, Webster Groves, and Fort Zumwalt North are favored by seed, but there’s a lot of talent on these teams and I think all the coaches would say it’s going to take 4 great days of basketball to win this tournament.”
Landwehr is eager to see what his Lancers can do in the tournament. He said not to discount Lafayette playing at 8 p.m. Monday in the championship game.
“We’re excited to take a run at winning this tournament,” Landwehr said. “We are slowly growing up and learning what it takes to win varsity basketball games. We’re starting to gel some and there will be more challenges ahead of us. All we ask is our guys play hard and represent our school and program well.”
The Lancers enter tourney action with a 3:30 p.m. game against Vianney. Lafayette is 3-3 but has won it’s last two games.
“We’ve done well against a tough schedule,” Landwehr said. “We had some tough breaks go against us but we have improved a lot already this season and will continue to get better.”
Vianney is off to a 1-4 start. The Golden Griffons have lost their last two games. Landwehr knows records mean little when it comes to playing in a tournament where anything can happen.
“Coach (Kevin) Walsh does a great job with his team. He and coach (Craig) Kennedy will always have their team prepared,” Landwehr said. “Every time we’ve played them in this tournament it has been a close game and came down to the last few minutes. I’d expect nothing different from the game this year.”
Games run each day of the tournament beginning with a game at 9 a.m. and runs until the last tips off at 8 p.m.
The Coaches vs. Cancer is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) that empowers basketball coaches, their teams, and local communities to make a difference in the fight against cancer. The program leverages the personal experiences, community leadership, and professional excellence of basketball coaches nationwide to increase cancer awareness and promote healthy living through year-round awareness efforts, fundraising activities, and advocacy programs.