Montini will face unbeaten Benet in a semifinal of its own holiday tournament Monday while Hinsdale Central is a surprise winner at Wheaton North.
Montini found itself in a battle against Huntley in Saturday’s semifinals of the Montini Christmas Tournament, leading just 29-20 at halftime before breaking the game open late.
Montini coach Jason Nichols wasn’t surprised.
“(Huntley’s Steve Raethz) is a good coach and we’re young,” Nichols said. “We got a freshman that plays, three sophomores that play significant time, a bunch of juniors that play.”
Montini lost a big part of its team in Saturday’s quarterfinal against Huntley when one of those sophomores – starting guard Kaylee Bambule – went down with an undetermined knee injury early in the first quarter.
“That’s going to be a big loss,” Nichols said. “She’s our leading scorer. That’s going to be tough to overcome. But it’s just going to give everybody else an opportunity to step up. That’s what we say. It’s just a matter of other kids stepping up and going to bat right now.”
Montini will face unbeaten Benet in a semifinal Monday at 6:30 p.m.
“Benet looks awesome,” Nichols said. “They remind me a little bit of Rollling Meadows with the pace that they play at, where they just go, go, go. They have a point guard like (2013-14 Sun-Times Player of the Year Jackie) Kemph and they got shooters all over the place.
“I told the girls, whether you win against Benet or you lose against Benet, you have really good games and it’s going to help you get better. We just got to get better.”
Benet is making its debut at the Montini tournament, and two of the Redwings’ biggest contributors in their 69-52 win over Geneva were two players who saw little playing time one year ago – junior Elise Stout and senior forward Emma Hlavin.
“I was on varsity last year, but I saw maybe a minute here or there.” Stout said. “Our chemistry is amazing. We’re best friends off the court. We mesh really well together on the court. I feel like I’m in the thick of it. I feel like part of it. I’m willing to do anything for these girls.”
Stout had nine points, eight steals, six assists and four rebounds and Hlavin added five rebounds, an assist and a steal in Benet’s win Saturday.
“Emma is a great player,” Stout said. “She always hustles. She always rebounds. She’s always battling it out against the big girls on the other teams and keeps getting great rebounds and kicking it out for fast breaks.”
Bolingbrook still has a formidable schedule. The Raiders just don’t have much experience.
“We’re getting a little bit more mature,” Bolingbrook coach Chris Smith said of his 3-5 team. “We have a lot of girls without a lot of experience right now, so as they start to get some of this game experience they start to see things, understand some of the things we work on in practice and try translate this into the game.
“We’re slowly but surely getting there.”
Bolingbrook opened the season with a loss at Montini without 6-3 senior Parris Bryant, the Raiders’ tallest starter and only player with much experience.
“She makes a huge difference, especially on the defensive end of the court,” Smith said. “Her ability to change alter shots in the middle because we play aggressive man-to-man defense and her rebounding as well.”
Two of the Raiders’ recent losses were a three-overtime decision to unbeaten Trinity and a four-point loss to previously-ranked Neuqua Valley in their opener at Montini.
“We just have to get over that hump,” Smith said. “But I’d rather get over that hump at the end of February and the beginning of March than to get over the hump right now. We just want to use our early schedule for what it is – the experience to help us to know what we need to work on against the better teams.”
Two of his inexperienced players who are beginning to contribute are junior guard Brittney Patrick and senior Alecia Gulledge.
“We need points from them,” Smith said. “Our biggest challenge besides getting in foul trouble is putting the ball in the basket. When Brittney and Alecia are able to put the ball in the basket, that helps us a lot.
“We also need game-time experience. There’s no substitute for it. We haven’t played a lot of games right now for a young, inexperienced team.”
One of the biggest surprises of the Christmas tournament season is Hinsdale Central (9-3), which defeated Hersey, Downers Grove North and previously unbeaten Glenbrook South to win the Bill Neibch Tournament at Wheaton North.
The Red Devils are led by one of only two returning starters from last year’s 15-10 team, senior Gabrielle Rush, a 5-9 four-year starter and 2013-2014 Sun-Times All-Area Team selection who has committed to play at Princeton.
“She’s the best player I ever coached,” Hinsdale Central veteran coach Tom McKenna said. “She’s definitely one of the top 10 players in the area. She does it all – scores, dishes, rebounds, handles pressure and makes everyone around her better.”
Rush had 33 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in Hinsdale Central’s victory over Glenbrook South, and is averaging 26 points and nearly 12 rebounds.
“She has been playing at a level so high, it is unbelievable,” McKenna said. “She is the defensive target of each of our opponents and yet she still scores and assists.”
Rush gets help from 5-6 point guard Payton Katich, the team’s other returning starter who has made a big improvement in her overall game, 5-10 junior Gilley Martinelli and 5-11 post Emma Day, a top softball player who never played basketball until the summer before her sophomore year.
A trio of sophomores also help out – 5-7 guard Paige Bareck, 5-10 forward Riley Burr and 5-7 guard Grace Hartzman.
After a 2-3 start including an opening day loss to Hinsdale South and losses to Neuqua Valley and Montini, the Red Devils have reeled off seven consecutive wins.
Geneva had two strikes going against it in Saturday’s 69-52 quarterfinal loss to Benet Saturday at Montini: the absence of 6-2 sophomore Grace Loberg, who was away at a U.S. Junior Olympic volleyball training camp; and starting two freshmen at guard.
“Just to think about the fact that we had kids 14 years old, 15 years old, that are handling that pressure,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. “That’s asking a lot of a freshman to do, and they did a phenomenal job. We knew we were going to have turnovers.
“Would I have liked to win? Absolutely. I would have liked the margin to be a little less. But overall, I’m proud of the girls. We never stopped, we never quit, and I’d like to play them again.”
Meadows was completely supportive of Loberg’s decision to miss the Montini tournament.
“Yeah, we miss her for sure,” Meadows said. “She got invited to an Olympic training volleyball camp. She’s not with her volleyball club. It’s something totally different. It’s an opportunity that she can’t pass up. Good for her. We’re happy for her. We’re proud of her.”
You can forgive Huntley’s 6-2 junior Ali Andrews if she is unfamiliar with the teammates taking the floor with her this season. The Red Raiders returned only a handful of players who were part of the run to a fourth=-place finish in 2013 and last year’s sectional finalist.
“There’s definitely a lot of new faces,” Andrews said. “We’ve been working hard in practice. Everyone is getting used to each other right now. We’ve played a lot of games and everyone is bonding well together.”
One of the biggest missing pieces is her sister Sam, who graduated last year.
“I think it’s hard without my sister, but I’ve learned to work with it,” Ali Andrews said. “I’m going to have to.”