Montini grows into premier showcase for girls basketball

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Holiday tournaments are a chance for teams to play opponents they otherwise would never face.

Trinity’s debut in the Montini Holiday Tournament presents a different challenge, as the Blazers will play Plainfield East for the second time in six days.

Undefeated Trinity was already scheduled to host Plainfield East on Tuesday. By coincidence, the Blazers also drew Plainfield East as its opening opponent at Montini when the tournament begins at 8 a.m. Monday.

Trinity coach Eddie Stritzel admitted earlier this week: “We don’t know anything about them [Plainfield East].”

That should change quickly. The Blazers (10-0) will have a good scouting report for their second meeting with the Bengals at the 16-team tournament. Second-seeded Trinity will play Batavia or Zion-Benton in the second round Dec. 26. The championship game is 8:15 p.m. Dec. 28.

Trinity senior Laura Sikora won’t miss the now-defunct Holiday Showcase, which featured games at Trinity, Loyola and Stevenson last season. Now every game Trinity plays will be in Lombard.

“The teams there will get us ready, definitely, at Montini,” Sikora said. “Everyone you want [to play] wants to be there. We’re very excited about getting the No. 2 seed.”

Montini coach Jason Nichols added Trinity, Huntley, Neuqua Valley, Geneva and DeKalb to the fifth annual tournament field. They replace teams like Hinsdale South, Romeoville, St. Francis de Sales, Bogan and Westinghouse.

“My focus was getting the best tournament in the central part of the Chicago area similar to what Proviso [West] does on the boys side,” Nichols said. “You had Dundee-Crown [tournament] in the northern suburbs and Hillcrest [tournament] in the southern suburbs, so I felt it makes it easier for people to come and view the best of the best.”

Nine teams at Montini are ranked in the’s Top 25, led by defending Class 4A state champion Marian Catholic.

St. Joseph (4-4), which won the Montini title in 2011, drew Marian Catholic in its opener at 8:15 p.m. Monday. The Chargers, who entered the week riding a three-game losing streak, will play Huntley or Geneva in the second round Dec. 26.

St. Joseph had its game at St. Francis de Sales on Saturday postponed due to snowy conditions. The Chargers will play at Queen of Peace Dec. 19 and welcome Bishop McNamara Friday.

“This is one of the top tournaments and I’m glad we were able to stay in it,” St. Joseph coach Jim Maley said. “Our first game obviously will be very tough. Right away, we get the state champs. You can never hide from everybody [in this tournament].”

Oak Park-River Forest (5-7) finish the Benet-Naperville North Invitational with games on Friday and Saturday, then will head to Montini to open that tournament against the host Broncos at 3 p.m. Monday. The Huskies went 1-3 last year at Montini.

Senior forward Erin Orr compares OPRF’s schedule of nine tournament games in two weeks to the grind of the AAU season over the summer.

“You start to realize that [Montini] is a very important tournament,” Orr said. “It’s one of the best in the area. We’re trying hard to prepare for it and show college coaches [our talent].”

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