By Kyle Daubs
Once upon a time, Charleston’s longtime girls basketball tournament was nearly swept away.
However, budget cuts could not stop the Charleston Holiday Tournament from disbanding.
The Charleston Booster Club continues to support a holiday tournament that spans three days with games at Baker Gym.
Until 2010, games used to be played at both Baker Gym and Lantz Arena at Eastern Illinois University. Today, teams play up to four to five games and feature some of the top competition in Class 3A and Class 4A.
The first Charleston Holiday Tournament took place in 1993, which was won by Teutopolis. Teutopolis left the holiday tournament after the 2009 tourney after winning the tournament seven times, tops among all teams.
Teutopolis, led by coach Dennis Koester, was always a scare. Koester coached Teutopolis from 1982 to 2006, amassing 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.
The tournament has brought some iconic coaches to Charleston. Before leaving the tournament in 2013, Galesburg used to bring their unique sub-five style and three-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. Another Hall of Fame coach in Carey McVickers coached 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 outplayed Galesburg 89-93 to make the championship game. Despite turning the ball over 34 times, CHS was paced by nearly four 20-point scorers. Holly Wholtman led CHS with 24 points, Haley Sparks added 20 points, while Brittany O’Dell added 19 points, and April Lunt rounded up the group with 18 points.
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. Those include 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 to 2018. Charleston first won the holiday tournament in 2015 despite many runner-up finishes, and then won back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018.
Many fans might remember many of these players and teams, but below is a compilation of all tournament winners with the tournament MVP. Below the table includes the top-10 players to ever go through the Charleston Holiday Tournament.
Tournament Winners & MVPs
|Year||Winner||MVP (Same as Winner unless denoted otherwise)|
|1997||Mount Zion||Dottie Bradley|
|2002||Effingham||Julianne McMillen (Pana)|
|2003||Pana||Brittany Johnson (Olney)|
|2006||Edwardsville||Emily Maggert (Paris)|
|2008||Edwardsville||Stephania Harper (CHS)|
|2014||Effingham||Morgan Sherwood (CHS)|
|2020||No Tournament (COVID)||–|
In the long history of the tournament, I have read and watched some of the finest girls’ basketball players in the state. To this day, I still return to the tournament as my vacation. After researching and watching, I have concluded that these are the top players that have gone through the Charleston Holiday Tournament.
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 three-point record holder when she graduated.
10. Paige Swango (Charleston) & Jessica Lieber (Galesburg)– Swango is the all-time leader in three-point field goals at CHS. She also helped knock off Effingham in a bottle of future top ten state-ranked teams on 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. Lieber left a game with a bloody nose to come back to make seven three-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 seed Teutopolis, third seed Salem in double overtime, and ran past one seed Paris 65-48 to win the title game.
8. Carsyn Fearday (Effingham): Fearday is one of the most clutch players Effingham has developed. Fearday helped lead Effingham to back-to-back Elite 8 appearances in 2018 and 2019. As a sophomore, Fearday led Effingham to a tournament title over Charleston and won MVP honors. Fearday was an eventual All-American at Lake Land College.
7. Anya Covington (Edwardsville): Helped lead Edwardsville to back-to-back tournament championships in 2006 and 2007. Covington finished as the school’s all-time rebounder, and played four years at the University of Wisconsin, finishing her senior year as an honorable-all Big Ten selection in 2012.
6. Emily Maggert (Paris): Led Paris to a title in 2004 and played well in a year that Edwardsville won to be named 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 is better than the other. Harper is one of a handful of players to ever finish her career with at least 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Sherwood is one of three players to be named MVP twice and she is the school’s all-time point holder.
4. Jodi Heiden (Altamont): Leading Altamont to back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999, Heiden at one point was averaging 28.0 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 ever in a tournament. She scored 35 points twice against 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 days and averaged 26.2 points over five games, which included three wins over state-ranked teams. Littleford won MVP and is set to continue her career at UT-Martin.
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.