Erin Blair (above) brings the ball downcourt for Charleston against Cairo during last year’s tournament.
By Kyle Daubs
The Charleston Holiday girls basketball tournament has attracted several iconic coaches and numerous talented players players over the past quarter-century to both Baker Gym and EIU.
Teutopolis coach Dennis Koester’s teams were always a scare. Koester, who coached Teutopolis from 1982-2006, compiled 635 career wins to go along with five state championships, four state runner-up finishes, and a third-place finish to go along with 13 total trips to state. Teutopolis won the tournament seven times, which tops all other teams, before leaving the tournament after 2009.
And Galesburg used to bring its unique sub-five style and continuous 3-point shooting. Coach Evan Massey, who has a career 931-364 record over a span from 1975-2020, saw success winning the tournament two times. Carey McVickers, another Hall of Fame coach, brought Taylorville’s girls’ teams for many years before taking over the boys’ program.
Charleston and Galesburg played in one of the highest-scoring affairs in IHSA history. To keep their undefeated season alive, Charleston outgunned Galesburg, 93-89, to reach the championship. Despite turning the ball over 34 times, CHS was paced by several scorers: Holly Wholtman (24 points), Haley Sparks (20), while Brittany O’Dell (19) and April Lunt (18).
Charleston eventually lost to Teutopolis in the title game, but the combined 172 points are just outside the top 20 in the highest-scoring games in IHSA history.
Four Charleston players have earned MVP status – Stephanie Harper in 2008, Morgan Sherwood in 2014 and 2015, Paige Swango in 2017 and Shae Littleford in 2018.
At one point, Charleston and Effingham played in the tournament championship game for six straight seasons, while Effingham has made the title game every year from 2012-18. Charleston first won the holiday tournament in 2015 despite many runner-up finishes, and then won back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018.
Here are the top 10 players to play in the Charleston Holiday Tournament. At the bottom of this story, we have also included a compilation of every tournament winner and MVP.
Honorable Mention: Megan O’Dell (Charleston): O’Dell led a bad 8-18 team to the championship game her senior year and finished as the all-time 3-point record holder when she graduated.
10. Paige Swango (Charleston) & Jessica Lieber (Galesburg) – Swango is the all-time leader in 3-point field goals at CHS. She also helped knock off Effingham in a bottle of future top 10 state-ranked teams en route to winning the tournament MVP. Swango signed with Rose Hulman in Terre Haute, Indiana. Lieber was potentially one of the toughest basketball players to ever play at Baker Gym. She left one game with a bloody nose only to return and convert seven 3-point field goals. Lieber was diagnosed with diverticulitis and gluten sensitivity after graduating but still went on to play college basketball at Carl Sandburg College.
9. Jenny McMillian (Pana) – Helped Pana accomplish the impossible in 2003. The unranked Pana team knocked off second-seeded Teutopolis, third-seeded Salem in double overtime and ran past top-seeded Paris, 65-48, to win the title game.
8. Carsyn Fearday (Effingham) – Fearday (above) is one of Effingham’s best clutch players. Fearday helped lead Effingham to back-to-back IHSA Elite 8 appearances in 2018 and 2019 before heading to Lake Land where she earned All-American status. As a high school sophomore, Fearday led Effingham to a tournament title over Charleston and won MVP honors.
7. Anya Covington (Edwardsville) – Covington helped lead Edwardsville to back-to-back tournament championships in 2006 and 2007. Covington finished as the school’s all-time rebounder before playing four years at the University of Wisconsin, finishing her senior year as an honorable-all Big Ten selection in 2012.
6. Emily Maggert (Paris) – Maggert led Paris to a title in 2004 and played so well in a year when Edwardsville won the team title to garner the MVP again in 2006. Maggert, a Ball State recruit, led the 29-3 Paris team that qualified for state.
5. Stephanie Harper & Morgan Sherwood (Charleston) – It is impossible to say one player is better than the other. Harper is one of a handful of players to finish her career with at least 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Sherwood, one of three players to be named tournament MVP twice, is CHS’s all-time scoring record holder.
4. Jodi Heiden (Altamont) – Leading Altamont to back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999, Heiden at one point averaged 28 points and 13.8 rebounds a game. The six-foot center eventually played at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
3. Shae Littleford (Charleston) – Littleford carried Charleston to a tournament championship in 2018 by having one of the best offensive streaks in the tournament. She scored 35 points against both Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin and Tri-County. Then, she added 25 points against Effingham in a 45-43 win that sent CHS to the title game. Altogether, she scored 131 points in three games and averaged 26.2 points over five games, which included three wins over state-ranked teams. Littleford, set to continue her career at UT-Martin, was obviously named MVP.
2. Amy Niebrugge (Teutopolis) – The 1995 MVP had a stellar career at McKendree University where she became the school’s leader in points (2,245), rebounds (1,107), and field goals (995). She was instrumental in leading the team to NAIA Division I National Championship appearances in 1998 and 1999. In high school, she was just as talented.
1. Brittany Johnson (Olney – She eventually became the winner of Ms. Illinois Basketball 2007 and played at Ohio State University. Johnson was the career record holder for points in Illinois until that record was broken in 2014. She averaged 36.4 points per game her senior year and was the holiday tournament MVP as a freshman.
Tournament Winners & MVPs
|1997||Mount Zion||Dottie Bradley|
|2002||Effingham||Julianne McMillen (Pana)|
|2003||Pana||Brittany Johnson (Olney)|
|2006||Edwardsville||Emily Maggert (Paris)|
|2008||Edwardsville||Stephanie Harper (CHS)|
|2014||Effingham||Morgan Sherwood (CHS)|