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posted: 1/5/2010 12:01 AM

A midterm look at Fox Valley area boys teams

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They are the unsung heroes of holiday tournaments.

Putting on a boys basketball tournaments takes a unified team behind the scenes, so a tip of the hat goes to the dedicated folks who played host at DeKalb, Elgin, Jacobs, York, Marengo, Wheeling and York, particularly those who worked as volunteers.

Hosting a four- or five-day event from sunrise to well past sunset is a massive undertaking of organization that requires scheduling every job from ticket taker to referee. Kudos to the athletic departments and volunteer armies of the host schools for another successful holiday tournament season. May the snow stay away next year.

With the season at its unofficial midpoint, let's take a look at how Fox Valley teams fared in tournament play and in the first half overall.

Bartlett (8-5): The Hawks went 3-2 at the Jacobs Tournament, settling for fourth after championship round losses to St. Charles North and Zion-Benton.

Senior forward Larry Whitaker and senior guard Luke Labedzki have been reliable scorers all season, but when the outside-shot reliant Hawks are off the mark against bigger teams, as was the case this season in losses to Waukegan and Zion-Benton, rebounds become scarce. Interior defense was a problem in losses to St. Charles North and Zion-Benton. When this team is hitting shots it can compete with anyone in the Upstate Eight.

Bartlett gets back into action Thursday with a home game against LaFollette High School from Madison, Wis. The Hawks resume Upstate Eight Conference play Saturday at St. Charles East.

Burlington Central (4-8): The Rockets went 1-4 at DeKalb, beating only North Grand. However, a trend suggests this could be a dangerous team in the second half of the season. Central allowed 65.3 points per game through its first 6 games but only 58.8 points in its next 6.

The offense has shown promise and should only improve. Sophomore Ray Hunnicutt has emerged as a dynamic scorer, senior Shane Larkin regularly contributes double digits and senior Sam Klein has been steady. When 3-point shooter Zach Romando is hitting, the Rockets are hard to beat.

Central aims to right the ship with home games against Big Northern-East opponent North Boone on Friday and Kaneland on Saturday.

Cary-Grove (5-8): The Trojans are poised for a solid second half after getting a late start. Leading scorer Chad McCarron and senior forward Ryan Barker didn't join the team until after Thanksgiving because they were busy winning a state football title.

Cary-Grove had the misfortune of being placed in a rough pool at the Jacobs Tournament with Bartlett and Mundelein, but it bounced back for wins over Woodstock and Wauconda before falling to Elk Grove in the finale to finish 2-3.

The upcoming schedule includes 4 straight road games: at Elgin Wednesday; at Woodstock Saturday; the Valley Division opener at Dundee-Crown next Tuesday; at Crystal Lake South on Jan. 15.

Crystal Lake South (6-6): The Gators closed with consecutive victories over Lindblom and Woodstock to finish the Jacobs Tournament 2-3, evening their overall season record.

Scoring didn't come easy at Jacobs. The Gators entered the holidays averaging 54.6 points a game. They averaged 42.4 at Jacobs, but the junior-dominated team gained valuable experience for the upcoming Valley Division race.

CL South plays a nonconference game Saturday at Harlem in preparation for Tuesday's Valley opener at Huntley. Three straight home games follow.

Dundee-Crown (1-9): No one expected miracles after the entire rotation from last year's Class 4A fourth-place finisher graduated. The Chargers' lack of experience has shown during its 8-game losing streak, which includes losses at the Elgin Tournament to Neuqua Valley, Batavia, Willowbrook and Guilford.

The Chargers get another crack at Guilford in a nonconference home game on Saturday. They open Valley Division play at home against Cary-Grove on Tuesday.

Elgin (3-9): The Maroons are a team of the future. Sophomores Kory Brown and Dennis Moore have both demonstrated the ability to take over a game, particularly Brown. This bodes well in the long term. In the short term a lack of proven veteran scorers has put the load squarely on Brown and Moore's young shoulders. How well they adjust to handling that nightly role will determine the extent of Elgin's development in the second half.

The elevation of exciting freshman point guard Arie Williams, already a crowd favorite, will help with ball distribution.

Elgin opens its 2010 schedule with a busy week. The Maroons are at home Wednesday against Cary-Grove, at home Friday against UEC opponent Waubonsie Valley and at the Rock Falls Shootout against DeKalb on Saturday.

Hampshire (6-4): The holidays were productive for the Whip-Purs, who went 3-1 at DeKalb. The keystone win was a 53-49 win against Belvidere in the opener. Sophomore Tyler Watzlawick and seniors Justin Bieber and Shyler Ralphs have led the scoring charge for Hampshire, which enters the New Year having won four out of five.

The Whips begin defense of their Big Northern-East title tonight in the league opener against visiting Marengo. They visit Richmond-Burton Saturday.

Huntley (9-4): Huntley isn't a power yet, but a surprising first half of the season by such a young team means good things to come. Leading scorer Tyler Brunschon and active forward Dylan Neukirch, both juniors, lead a rotation that includes the sophomore trio of point guard Troy Miller and forwards Justin Frederick and Ryan Davenport. Freshman Bryce Only doesn't play like one. This developing team is ahead of schedule and could be a factor in the Valley Division race.

The Red Raiders resume play with nonconference games tonight against visiting Marian Central and Saturday at Barrington, which won the Jacobs Tournament.

Jacobs (3-8): Coach Jim Hinkle wasn't kidding when he said teams had better take their shots at the Golden Eagles early in the season because it won't be so easy in the second half.

With veteran point guard Mike Peterson back in the lineup for the first time, along with two other contributors, the Golden Eagles snapped out of their season-opening 6-game losing skid by going 3-2 at their own tournament.

With rapid improvement Jacobs could be a factor in the wide-open Valley Division race, particularly if it can upset visiting McHenry in the league opener next Tuesday. First, a nonconference tuneup at tough South Elgin on Thursday.

Larkin (7-6): After an impressive 6-2 start to the season, the Royals enter the new year losers of 4 out of 5 games, including a 1-3 showing at the Elgin Holiday Tournament.

The Royals drew a tough schedule at Elgin that included eventual champion Glenbard East (11-1), Hoffman Estates (8-4) and Buffalo Grove (9-4). When the 3-point shots weren't falling, they found few scoring options outside of senior Garrett McDaniel in the low post. Senior guard Ryan Smith should change his name to "shooter" because that's what opposing coaches scream every time he gets the ball near the 3-point line.

Larkin resumes Upstate Eight Conference play with a Saturday matinee against visiting Lake Park at 2:30 p.m.

St. Edward (6-8): It's impossible to judge the effect of playing in the Jacobs Tournament on St. Edward until the end of the season. The Green Wave was overmatched at Jacobs, where they finished 1-4. However, coach Keith Chuipek enters Class 2A St. Edward in a tournament filled with Class 3A and 4A teams to better prepare his team for the playoffs.

It worked last year, when the Wave took those same lumps at Jacobs. But when the postseason rolled around they showed no intimidation in knocking off top seed Genoa-Kingston on the way to their first regional title in five years. We'll find out in March what this team learned from holiday losses to bigger schools like St. Charles North, Prairie Ridge, Wauconda and Woodstock.

St. Edward resumes its schedule in full force this week with a Wednesday home game against Northridge Prep and road games Friday at Marmion and Saturday at Aurora Central Catholic.

South Elgin (9-4): An eye-opening first half ended on a down note with 3 straight losses at York. After a tournament-opening victory over St. Ignatius, the Storm lost senior leader Sam Jordt to a concussion and backup forward Matt Hattendorf to a knee injury. The result was the team's first three-game losing streak in two seasons.

But the first-half positives overshadow any problems at York. Senior guard Tommy Childs has become the go-to scorer, hardworking freshman point guard Jake Maestranzi proved he belongs, sophomore Matt Downing (6-6) hustles and a talented junior class has the program on track for its second straight winning season.

The Storm swing back into action tonight with an Upstate Eight Conference game against St. Charles North and a nonconference home game against Jacobs on Thursday.

Streamwood (5-8): The Sabres could be ready to make a move. Streamwood struggled to find its rhythm against an excellent schedule in the first half of the season, but they played competitively in December losses to tough teams like Neuqua Valley, St. Viator and Loyola.

Marcus Lewis and Derrick King can be as effective as any area tandem when motivated. They are now joined by big-bodied Lorenzo Mitchell (6-5), who regained his eligibility for the second semester. The tough schedule continues with an Upstate Eight game at talented East Aurora on Saturday.

Westminster Christian (8-6): The Warriors went 3-2 at the E.C Nichols Tournament at Marengo, beating the host team, Alden-Hebron and North Boone and losing to Bogan and Rockford Lutheran. The competition against bigger schools will only make Class 1A Westminster better.

The Warriors open the 2010 portion of their schedule with home games Friday against Christian Liberty and Saturday against Luther North.

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