When someone visits your home, you want to be a gracious host. It’s really no different for a basketball team.

But you can be gracious while still protective of your home digs.

That’s the goal of Midway’s boys and girls hoops squads as they prepare for the 57th annual M.T. Rice Basketball Tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday at six gyms across four Waco-area schools. Sure, the Midway teams want to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable tournament experience.

They also want to win the thing.

“For sure, any time you host a tournament you don’t want to see the trophy walk out of town,” Midway girls coach Ben Holder said. “There’s a lot of pride on the line. Personally, I didn’t like finishing second last year, and the girls didn’t either. We hope we can fix that.”

Even as it nears its 60th birthday, the M.T. Rice tourney continues to experience growth spurts. It has expanded to include a 48-team field in 2017, up from 40 teams last year – 24 in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions.

To accommodate all those teams, Midway has stretched out and added more gyms. Last year the tournament included Connally’s main gym as a host for the first time. Connally returns this year, and the tournament has added Lorena High School’s two gyms as additional venues, to go with two gyms at Midway High School and another at Midway Middle School.

“We’re excited,” Midway boys coach Brad Chasteen said. “We’ve worked on adding more and more teams, and when you’re hosting 48 teams over the Christmas break it’s obviously a gigantic event.”

And the idea is to continue to beef up M.T. Rice’s muscle in the future.

“Part of the idea was that we continually expand, to turn M.T. Rice into one of not just the best tournaments in Central Texas, but in all of Texas,” Holder said. “We’re very, very excited with where we’re at. It’s a very, very good tournament on both the girls’ and the boys’ side.”

The UIL mandates that all teams take at least a five-day break over the Christmas holidays, and most teams rest even longer than that. The Midway boys (11-5) last played on Dec. 19 at Vista Ridge, so they know there will be some rust to shake off following the layoff. But the Panthers will also have the added wrinkle of welcoming in several additions from the football team, including C.J. Williams and Kaitori Leveston.

“Those guys, they’re literally going to practice at 8 a.m. for the first time for about 45 minutes, and then we’ll stick them in a 10 a.m. game,” Chasteen said. “There is no question there will be an adjustment period.”

Chasteen said his main objective is to push his team to improve before Jan. 2, when the Panthers resume District 8-6A action against Killeen. But that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t like to pick up an M.T. Rice title along the way. Midway’s boys haven’t won the tournament since 1983, despite appearing in nine championship games since then.

Last year, in Chasteen’s first season at the helm, Midway won its first four games of the tournament before dropping a 79-77 thriller to Converse Judson in the semifinals and then falling to University, 55-54, in the third-place game.

“That would be special (to win M.T. Rice),” Chasteen said. “Last year we put ourselves in perfect position and then blew a second-half lead to Converse Judson for our first loss of the season. It would be super special to win the tournament, but it’s tough, because there are 24 good teams, you’re coming off a five-day break. There’s a lot of X-factors, if you will.”

Defending champion Pearland returns to try to claim its third tournament title in the past four years. The boys’ bracket also includes plenty of local flavor with the likes of Waco High, University, Temple, La Vega, Connally, Bruceville-Eddy and Vanguard all taking part.

In the girls’ division, 22nd-ranked Midway (15-4) wants nothing more than to add a third tournament title of the season to its trophy case, which would also mark the 25th M.T. Rice title in the program’s rich history.

“We’ve got a few key injuries to some good players, which might hinder us, but hopefully we’ll have some younger kids step up and play well,” Holder said.

In 2016, the Pantherettes cruised into the championship matchup with Fort Worth Boswell and then zipped out to a huge lead, running up a 31-12 advantage early in the second quarter. But Midway’s shooting touch evaporated thereafter, and Boswell ‘s Audrey Warren pumped in 36 points on her way to sparking a 79-61 victory for the Pioneers.

Holder said that his current bunch won’t dwell on that loss from last year, though.

“We graduated 13 seniors from last year’s team, so we’re very, very young this year,” Holder said. “Those kids dang sure aren’t thinking about last year. They just want to go out and perform for the home crowd and hopefully get it done.”

Warren, now a senior 5-10 guard who has signed with Texas, is back for another go-round to try to lift Boswell (16-3), ranked 18th in Class 5A, to a second consecutive M.T. Rice crown. The field also includes Class 6A’s 11th-ranked Austin Westlake, as well as Central Texas teams Belton, Waco High, University, Connally, Gatesville and Lorena.

All 48 teams will play two pool-play games on Thursday, and are guaranteed five games at the tournament. After pool play, the field will be divided into three eight-team brackets on Friday – the gold, silver and bronze brackets, leading up to Saturday’s championship games.

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