Rock Island is no stranger to the marquee matchup of the IHMVCU Shootout, having played in the finale in each of the last two years since new organizers took over the annual matchup of girls basketball teams from both sides of the river.
Each time, the Rocks have faced a different opponent and this time around will face off against North Scott, the two teams meeting up for the finale on Saturday, Jan. 5, at Augustana's Carver Center.
It's not an unexpected pairing, as the teams were the preseason favorites in the Western Big Six and Mississippi Athletic Conference this winter. North Scott is ranked second in Iowa Class 4A while Rock Island debuted third in the Illinois Class 4A Associated Press poll that was released Wednesday.
"We understand that North Scott's a great opponent," Rock Island head coach Henry Hall said. "We're very appreciative of the committee selecting us as the marquee game, and when it gets to that date and we're getting ready to play, we'll be super excited about it."
The Lancers know the challenge they'll face against the Rocks. Rock Island is led by South Carolina signee Brea Beal, who is averaging 23 points and 16 rebounds per game this year.
"We know what we're up against," North Scott head coach TJ Case said. "I don't know if you're ever going to be able to stop (Beal), we're just going to try and contain her."
Grace Boffeli leads the Lancers with 18.8 points per game. The two teams met a few times over the summer, but neither Hall nor Case are putting too much stock in those meetings.
"I know their coach is a tough-minded guy and their teams always play hard," Hall said. "We understand it will be a tough task for us and we'll have to play well to win."
While Rock Island has become a fixture in the finale, this is North Scott's first time in the marquee matchup, but the Lancers are no stranger to the big stage, winning the Iowa Class 4A state championship two years ago.
"It says a lot about where our program has come from to get the last game," Case said. "Getting down to Des Moines has been a big goal for us, and this is another step. We're excited, we think we have really talented girls, but we also understand this is a basketball game and we've got to be ready to play each and every night."
Davenport West and United Township tip off the IHMVCU Shootout at 10 a.m., followed by Davenport Central and Sherrard around 11:45.
The first game of the afternoon features the area's two parochial schools as Assumption takes on Alleman at 1:30 p.m.
Davenport North takes on perennial Class 1A power Annawan at 3:15 p.m. Though the Bravettes opened up ranked fourth in their class in Illinois, this is the first time since 2010 the program has not had a VanHyfte on the roster, as all three sisters ended up playing at the Division I level.
The only rematch of the shootout takes place at 5 p.m. when Moline and Bettendorf face off. The Bulldogs edged the Maroons 45-44 last year, with the game-winning basket coming in the final seconds.
Unbeaten Pleasant Valley and Geneseo are in the penultimate pairing, what figures to be a showdown between some of the best defenses in the area. The Maple Leafs are holding teams to 28.3 points this season, and Pleasant Valley has allowed 20 points or fewer in two of its last three contests.
Since Gary Thrapp took the reins as event organizer and returned the format to an Iowa vs. Illinois tournament in 2017, Iowa has won both events, including a 5-2 advantage last year.
Hall hopes his side of the river can turn things around this year.
"I think it's one of those things where the Illinois teams, especially the ones in the Big Six, we're all rivals, but on this day we're all cheering for each other and we're wanting to make sure that we are victorious over the Iowa side as a group," Hall said. "It's also a good time for people that love girls basketball to go out and watch a bunch of great teams."