A look at defending girls' champion St. James.

It’s a no-brainer who the team to beat is heading into the upcoming US Bank/Rolla High School girls’ Holiday Invitational.

The defending tourney champs who just happen to be ranked No. 1 in the state will be in the house.

Indeed, it starts with the St. James Lady Tigers in the Rolla event.

The US Bank/Rolla High School Girls’ Holiday Invitational Tournament will be held Dec. 29-31. The majority of the tournament will be played in the Rolla High main gym.

In first-round games on Dec. 29 at the RHS gym, St. James meets Sedalia Smith-Cotton at 2 p.m., Waynesville faces St. Clair at 3:30 p.m., host Rolla plays North County at 5 p.m. and Newburg challenges Lindbergh at 6:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Dec. 30 at the RHS gym, the St. James-Sedalia loser plays the Waynesville-St. Clair loser at 2 p.m. and the Rolla-North County loser plays the Newburg-Lindbergh loser at 3:30 p.m. in consolation action while the St. James-Sedalia winner meets the Waynesville-St. Clair winner at 5 p.m. and the Rolla-North County winner tangles with the Newburg-Lindbergh winner at 6:30 p.m. in semifinal play.

On Wednesday, Dec. 31 the seventh-place game is set for 9 a.m. at Missouri S&T’s Bullman Building while at the RHS gym the fifth-place game is slated for 9 a.m., the third-place game at noon and the championship game at 3 p.m.

Last year St. James knocked off Waynesville 61-43 in the championship game. The Lady Tigers went on to be ranked No. 1 in the final regular-season Class 3 state poll. But then the team was upset in the district tournament and finished the campaign 24-3.

STJ has come back with a vengeance, putting up a 7-0 record heading into the holiday break and is again Missouri’s top-ranked team in Class 3.

“The girls are unselfish,” said Lady Tiger head coach Terry Wells. “They’re working hard, they’ve executed. It’s a true blessing to coach them.”

Balanced and unselfish play has again been the key to the Lady Tiger success.

Devin Fuhring, a 5-10 sophomore forward, is averaging 19.0 points - ranking 13th in the St. Louis area - while grabbing 9.3 rebounds, making 2.5 steals and shooting 58 percent from the field and 89 percent from the free throw line.

Ashlee Marlatt, a 5-6 returning all-state senior guard, averages 17.1 points and 4.0 steals while hitting 18 of 39 three-point attempts.

Alexis Uffmann, a 5-7 senior guard, is the team’s on-floor leader, pacing the St. Louis area in assists at 8.7 to go with 4.4 steals and 7.4 points.

And rounding out the talented STL starting lineup is 5-6 junior guard Shauna Rinehart (9.3 points, 14-of-33 from three-point range) and 5-10 sophomore forward Kenzie Guese (9.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocked shots, 54 percent shooting from the field).

Wells says he’s looking forward to the challenges awaiting in Rolla.

“It’s a good tournament because there are teams you don’t see and not familiar with,” Wells said. “And that’s good - you learn on the fly. And our side of the bracket is tough.”