The EQT Energy Classic started out in 2010 as a Christmas basketball tournament in Pikeville, Ky.
A year ago, it became a tip-off event when it was moved to Canon-McMillan.
For year No. 3, the company’s goal of making yearly improvements to the event will continue, as eight girls teams will join the eight-team boys field, creating one of the biggest and most highly publicized tip-off tournaments in Western Pennsylvania.
“Being able to be a part of that tradition and building on it, it’s growing like leaps and bounds,” said Linda Robertson, who’s a Media Relations Manager with EQT. “People are completely turning out for it and supporting it.
“I think adding the girls teams doubles up on the excitement.”
As part of its community outreach, EQT tries to hold tournaments – usually piggy-backed off of ones that already exists – within areas where the company has a significant presence.
Canon-McMillan and Washington County created a perfect fit, but the tournament had to be a tip-off because of the annual Powerade wrestling tournament held in late December.
The EQT not only features a ton of basketball – 20 games spread over three days – but also contests, prizes, giveaways and entertainment, including Air Elite, an acrobatic dunk team that will perform at halftime of the boys championship game on Sunday night.
“They do a great job, and they run it almost like a Division I tournament, the Maui Invitational or other preseason tournaments,” said Canon-McMillan boys coach Rick Bell. “It’s done first-class.”
The local girls teams involved include Trinity, Washington and Canon-McMillan. Blairsville, Pikeville, Upper St. Clair and Linsly comprise one of the four-team brackets, while Saltsburg joins on with the three local squads to create what are essentially two separate tournaments happening simultaneously.
While Trinity, Wash High and Canon-Mac will play in different classifications this season, there are obvious, geographic rivalries that will be indulged when the Hillers play the Prexies at 10 a.m. Saturday and the Big Macs take on Saltsburg at noon. Both games will be at the middle school.
“I think that this will be a good way to get started,” said first-year Trinity coach Bob Miles, who spent the previous 15 years at Fort Cherry. “It will be good for us.”
The Hillers, who went 7-16 last year, will count on four senior leaders in Lauren Simpson, Kelsey O’Connor, Kylie Victoria and Jessica Lavelle.
Canon-McMillan has a pair of talented juniors guards: Olivia Lorusso and Brittany Hutchinson, who averaged 11 and 7.9 points per game last season, respectively.
Six-foot-1 center Mya Williams is one to watch for Wash High after averaging eight points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game last season. Guard Taylor Ellis put up 5.6 points per game a season ago.
Bell’s Canon-Mac team won it all last year, beating Trinity 53-52 in the championship game behind tournament MVP Zach Wesolowski, a 6-6 senior center. Wesolowski is one of the Big Macs’ top two returners along with senior guard Brett Haney, who averaged a team-high 13.2 points per game last season and should be one of the area’s best.
Trinity and Wash High, though, both return all five starters.
“Having Wash High and Trinity, it’s going to make for a pretty competitive tournament,” Bell said.
Wash High will be led by senior guard Josh Wise, who averaged 20.2 points per game in 2011-12. Trinity brings back Christian Koroly (15.8 ppg), along with other All-District selections Corey Hunsberger and Jared Deep.
“It’s going to be a good early-season tune-up for us,” Wash High coach Mark Gaither said. “There are some quality teams, and we’ll see them all because they loaded up our side of the bracket.”
Tonight’s boys games feature Burgettstown and Waynesburg at 4:30, Trinity and 2010 champion Pikeville at 6:15, Wash High and Saltsburg at 8 and Canon-McMillan versus Blairsville at 9:45.