One of the most anticipated dates on the Fairfield sports calendar is just days away.
The Fairfield Prep Holiday Classic begins Wednesday at historic Alumni Hall. Warde will play ND-Fairfield in the first semifinal, Wednesday at 6 p.m., with Prep and Ludlowe following about 30 minutes after that.
The Christmas tournament, which started in the early-1970s, originally rotated between Alumni Hall, ND, Andrew Warde and Roger Ludlowe. Alumni Hall took over as the permanent site in the late-1970s.
The tournament, which originally featured all four Fairfield high schools, was forced to pull Staples, Greenwich and Trumbull during the 18 years Fairfield had one public high school. The tournament has featured Ludlowe, Warde, Prep and ND every year since Fairfield High split in 2004.
Prep's won the tournament five times since it renewed with all Fairfield teams. Fairfield Warde, which won its first Christmas tournament last year, is trying to repeat as tournament champion for the first time since the Jesuits claimed the crown in 2006 and 2007.
"We are there to defend our title," Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. "I know we have lost pieces from last year's team, but the guys from this year's team were on the bench enjoying the experience. They understand we're the defending champs."
ND-Fairfield has never won the tournament but sports the only returning all-tournament team-member from 2011. Dan Upchurch is the Lancers' leading scorer through two games, averaging 28 points per game. Earl Coleman could be a difference-maker in the Lancers' semifinal against Warde.
The Mustangs, who claimed the crown in 2011 with buzzer-beater win over ND, have the same record they had through three games a year ago: 1-2. The Mustangs were blitzed by Harding on Wednesday and will play Bassick Friday before the holiday tournament.
But Swaller, a Milford-native, appreciates that the Holiday Classic is special.
"I'd have to say it's one of the best," he said. "It fills the arena, and it's a college arena, it makes a great environment."
Fairfield Ludlowe, which last won the tournament in 2009, is 2-1 through three games. The Falcons have beaten Trumbull and Wilton and will meet Greenwich on Friday night before the Christmas tournament.
Ludlowe's coach, Brian Silvestro, is an Andrew Warde High School graduate and, although he never played in the Holiday Classic, his sons did. Silvestro's been on the bench for many tournaments-- as Ludlowe's assistant and head coach-- and appreciates what it means for the players.
"It's the biggest stage they play on," Silvestro said. "I totally get it ... it's a great experience for the kids ... and I know they really look forward to it."
Silvestro will square off in the semifinals against a fellow Fairfield-native, when Ludlowe plays the state's No. 4 team, Prep. Silvestro also appreciates the rivalry between Ludlowe and Prep, and marvels at Prep's ability re-load after the graduation of Division I talent Terry Tarpey.
"There's clearly a rivalry and the kids look forward to it," Silvestro said. "I'm so impressed with Prep, they've totally re-loaded ... we'll have our hands full."
Leo Redgate, a Prep alum, brings a 3-1 tournament record into Wednesday's second semifinal. Redgate's Jesuits claimed the 2010 title, Prep's last tournament championship.
The third-year coach, who also coached the classic as an assistant, appreciates the tournament's ability to captivate.
"I think it's great for the community of Fairfield," Redgate said. "You can come and see all four local teams play in a four-hour period of time, then do the same thing two nights later, in a very historic setting of Alumni Hall."