Cara Nance received the most coveted present given out at McHenry on Wednesday, as she and her Wauconda basketball teammates clutched the championship trophy of the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic and posed for pictures with it.
The other "gifts" the senior forward got during the Bulldogs' 52-44 win over Richmond-Burton weren't exactly on her wish list.
A driving shoulder to her stomach.
A poke to her left eye.
A less-nasty poke to her right eye.
"That's OK," a smiling Nance, a softball catcher and daughter of a wrestling coach, said of the beating she took. "Merry Christmas."
The holidays will be happy for the Bulldogs, who still haven't lost since last season.
In winning all five of its tournament games -- the first three at Marengo and the last two at McHenry -- Wauconda improved to 14-0.
"I'm very surprised, but I'm very happy," said guard Tammy Ellis, who paced the Bulldogs in the finale with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. "Our defense has been the key this year."
Defense and the play of Nance keyed Wauconda in the second quarter, when the Bulldogs took control by outscoring Richmond-Burton 16-6.
Nance came off the bench to score all 10 of her career-high points, as she was the beneficiary of a well-run offense directed by Ellis, guard Melanie Prudhomme (7 points, 6 assists) and point guard Diana Enriquez (12 points).
"Cara Nance was doing awesome," Ellis said.
Wauconda got a spark, too, from another reserve. Melissa Latham had 5 rebounds in the second quarter and fed Nance for a baseline bucket in the closing seconds to give the Bulldogs a 25-15 lead at the break.
"We have some very key role players," Wauconda coach Jaime Dennis said. "They may not play a lot of minutes, but they play some very important minutes for us, whether it's rebounds, hustle, or defense. If they can get a few more baskets for us, that's even better."
Nance had an eventful second quarter in addition to her sinking 5 shots.
Richmond-Burton's Lauren Smith got tripped up and landed her shoulder in Nance's stomach. Both players crashed to the court.
"Plowed me over," Nance said with a laugh.
Smith sat on the court for a couple of minutes, but Nance quickly bounced up with barely a grimace.
"Playing softball and all the collisions I've had in that (sport) being a catcher, I think my pain tolerance has gone up a little bit," Nance said. "She knocked the wind out of me for a little bit, but I wanted to keep playing, of course."
Later in the quarter, Nance rebounded a missed shot by a teammate in transition and, while being poked in the left eye, scored.
"I didn't even know (the ball went in)," said Nance, sporting a bloodshot left eye afterward. "I'm bent over and Tammy (Ellis) goes, 'Cara, you scored!' I was like, 'Really?' "
For good measure, at the end of the third quarter, Nance got hit in the right eye.
No worries. After the game, Ellis was bruised too, particularly her right knee.
"They each kind of take their lumps each night," Dennis said of her players. "It's just part of the game. They sacrifice everything for the ball and for the win. You don't coach that. They either have it, or they don't."
Wauconda, which beat Richmond-Burton 48-37 in the season-opening Marian Central tournament, saw the Rockets close within 48-44 late in the fourth. But free throws by Enriquez (3 of 4) and Ellis (1 of 2) finished off the win.
"They don't want to lose," Dennis said of her girls. "There have been some nights when we haven't played our best basketball, but their determination has gotten them the victory. We find ways to win."