A most fulfilling holiday season for DuPage County teams
Did you get all you wanted for Christmas?
I had one wish fulfilled — no snow.
Holidays for the prep sports writer means tournament season. I'm glad to report the shovel is still dry and stowed away in the garage.
That allowed me to get to basketball snow-free, and I took full advantage of my own little 12 days of Christmas. Seventeen days, 17 games.
It was a good holiday season for area teams. Five of them — Metea Valley, Montini, Naperville Central, St. Francis, Wheaton Warrenville South — won six tournaments.
Before we jump into the next phase of the season, allow me to unwrap my four takeaways from tournament time:
The girls can play — and draw:
Attendance at most girls basketball games, unfortunately, doesn't hold a candle to the boys.
If you think the girls game can't draw though, you weren't in Lombard last week.
The gym the last two nights at the Montini Christmas Tournament was jam-packed, at near-capacity for Saturday's Montini-Rolling Meadows final. DePaul's Doug Bruno and Marquette's Terri Mitchell were among the college head coaches spotted at the event.
And the action didn't disappoint.
Rolling Meadows' Jackie Kemph put on a show the first three days, scoring a combined 88 points, Fremd's Ashley McConnell went for 38 in a game and conference rivals Plainfield East and Romeoville played a nail-biter quarterfinal with a controversial finish. Both semifinals, Montini-Plainfield East and Rolling Meadows-Marian Catholic, were basketball at its very best. Then Montini capped it all off with a stirring comeback to beat Rolling Meadows for the championship.
Jason Nichols intended to make his tournament the best of its kind in Chicago, and it delivered.
The DVC gets it done:
The top three teams in the DuPage Valley Conference — WW South, Naperville Central and Wheaton North — all had very good holiday seasons.
Down two players, dressing just seven varsity players for its championship game with DeKalb, WW South still won the Naperville North/Benet Tournament. Meghan Waldron averaged 18 points over five games, and hit the shot in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime with DeKalb. Diamond Thompson, whose contributions are even more critical now with Maggie Dansdill out for the season, played perhaps her finest game as a Tiger in the semifinal win over Geneva.
Wheaton North, behind hot-shooting Mandy Traversa, advanced to the championship of its Falcon Holiday Classic before falling to No. 1 seed Glenbrook South. Traversa hit eight 3-pointers to beat Hersey.
Naperville Central had perhaps the best holiday season.
In their first year at the Oswego Holiday Tournament, the Redhawks rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to knock off unbeaten Neuqua Valley in the final on Victoria Trowbridge's free throw in the final seconds. Then, Naperville Central advanced to the Dundee-Crown championship game for the first time since 2003, beating undefeated Evanston behind Trowbridge's season-high 24 points in the semifinals.
What's it mean, big picture? The DVC race between these three should be very interesting, starting with a Wheaton North-Naperville Central matchup this Saturday.
Don't count us out:
Montini and WW South, DuPage County's two top teams, both have dealt with adversity.
Montini's was mostly in the preseason, four of its players transferring. WW South came via the injury bug.
Neither team is without warts, but the holidays proved it best not to count these two out.
Minus Dansdill, and Kelly Langlas for the time being, WW South is a little bigger, a little slower and definitely not as deep. Close wins over teams like Benet, DeKalb and Geneva, and the play of Sierra Bisso, Melinda Franke and Olivia Linebarger around Waldron, prove the Tigers can still go far.
Montini shows flashes of brilliance. Look no further than its 20-2 run against Plainfield East and 21-2 run to rally past Rolling Meadows. The Broncos can be inconsistent, especially at the offensive end, in part because Nichols plays five freshmen off the bench.
Montini, though, made an impressive bounce-back from a loss to Peoria Richwoods, beating Fremd to win the Sterling Shootout and winning its tournament behind all-tournament players Kateri Stone and Malayna Johnson. Johnson was outstanding against Fremd with 17 points and 7 blocks, and freshmen Lea Kerstein and Paulina Castrino hit big 3s to hold off Plainfield East.
As Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky noted, Montini still plays "the best 2-3 zone in the state," and the Broncos proved it Saturday, holding the Mustangs 29 points shy of their 72-point average.
It should be noted, too, that Montini has now beaten two of its ex-teammates, Thompson and WW South and Nikia Edom and Plainfield East. Don't be surprised if a third, Jasmine Lumpkin, and Joliet Catholic are awaiting Montini at the Class 3A state tournament.
We've come a long way:
Lisle, Metea Valley and St. Francis all got off to so-so starts to the season. All three got it going when the calendar flipped to December.
Lisle, led by seniors Kelly Urban and Kristina Fernette, won 13 straight games, beating Antioch in its tournament semifinal behind Urban's 15 points before getting nipped by Newark 40-39 in the final.
St. Francis started its season 0-6, but since has won 7 of its last 9 games. Senior guards Kate Slattery and Aly Germanos are a big reason why. Both were named all-tournament at Riverside-Brookfield, Slattery scoring 17 in the win over host R-B last Saturday to win the tournament.
In November, Metea Valley lost late leads against Naperville Central and Neuqua to fall to 4-3.
Since then, though, the Mustangs have ripped off 10 straight wins, and beat tournament host Oswego East 59-53 behind Lori Obendorf's career-high 28 points to win its first-ever tournament.
The Mustangs' hot streak will be put to the test right away in January.
Next Tuesday Metea Valley plays Wheaton North, and three days later hosts Neuqua Valley.
It should be an interesting new year.
Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96
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