It's that time of year again.
For most of you out there, two weeks from Christmas and Hanukkah means last-minute shopping, putting up that tree and planning the holiday dinner.
Me too. If you have any gift ideas for mom and wife, pass them along.
But for the high school sports writer the second week in December also signifies the second round of holiday tournament time. Brackets, road trips and hospitality rooms galore -- and hopefully no snow in the forecast.
Let's take a quick peek at what's in store for the area's holiday girls basketball tournament scene:
Oswego Tournament (Dec. 10-17)
Neuqua Valley (6-1), which just suffered its first loss on Tuesday at top-ranked Bartlett, won this eight-team event last year. The Megan Doody-led Wildcats should be an even bigger favorite this time. Neuqua is young, deep and far more talented than the rest of the field. Hampshire (3-5), which Neuqua beat in last year's final, isn't as good this year but could still be Neuqua's toughest challenger. Host Oswego is a far cry from the team that went to the Class 3A semifinals two years ago.
Benet/Naperville North Tournament (Dec. 15-23)
This eight-team round-robin could be as competitive as it's been in years. Five of the top 16 teams in the latest Daily Herald Top 20 are here, led by No. 3 and defending tournament champion Geneva (6-0). The Vikings will have the best player in Marquette-bound Ashley Santos but aren't head-and-shoulders above the field as the Vikings have been in recent years. A matchup with No. 7 WW South (7-0) and Meghan Waldron will be a track meet and one to watch, but look out for No. 12 Benet (5-4) and No. 10 York (6-2).
Sterling Shootout (Dec. 16-22)
No. 4 Montini (7-1) looks to repeat as champion in its third and perhaps final year at the six-team round-robin event in western Illinois. The Broncos are a little banged up with starters Nikia Edom and Kelly Karlis hurt, but they should get Edom back by next week and still have Tianna Brown to dominate the paint. Moline (5-3) beat Montini here two years ago, Hononegah (7-0) is receiving votes in the Associated Press Class 4A poll and Rockford Lutheran (8-0) in the 2A rankings. Peoria Richwoods (6-1) is always one of the better teams in 3A.
Wheaton North Tournament (Dec. 26-29)
Expect the unexpected at the Bill Neibch Falcon Holiday Classic this year, with a slew of young teams experiencing growing pains. The exception is top seed Waubonsie Valley (7-0), which has lost to Hersey in the last two championship games and with four senior starters must be considered the big favorite. The return of point guard Becky Williford is an added boost. The Warriors surely will be glad to not see Megan Rogowski on the floor for Hersey (4-4), which is seeded third behind Waubonsie and Glenbrook South.
Dundee-Crown Tournament (Dec. 26-29)
It's another loaded field at the Charger Classic, annually one of the area's best holiday tournaments. No. 1 Bartlett (9-0), which fell to Fenwick in last year's title game, is rolling behind a senior-laden group led by Indiana-bound Haley Videckis. Fenwick (6-1), led by Yale recruit Meredith Boardman, averaged 86.2 points per game in winning the Niles North Invite at Thanksgiving, New Trier has Northwestern recruit Maggie Lyon, and No. 5 Fremd (6-0) is off to a fast start behind junior guard Ashley McConnell. Naperville Central (5-4) is off to an uneven first month, but Emma Donahue and Co. can't be overlooked here.
Montini Christmas Tournament (Dec. 27-30)
The host Broncos haven't lost a game over the first two years of this tournament but have been tested. They should be again this year. Marian Catholic (5-2) graduated a standout in Simone Law, but 6-foot-1 junior Megan Walsh has stepped in nicely. Montini could get a sectional preview with St. Joseph and senior guard Arriel Anderson joining the eight-team field. Oak Park brings in Illinois State recruit Stekara Hall.
Lisle Cage Classic (Dec. 27-30)
The 16-team bracketed event is always one of the better small-school tournaments and should be again. Lisle (7-2), led by Kelly Urban and Darian Payne, is off to a good start, as are Timothy Christian (5-1) and Tessa Bosman. Walther Lutheran already beat St. Joseph and gave Montini a scare, and Wheaton Academy brings in an experienced team. St. Edward (6-3), which lost by 12 to Walther Lutheran this week and in double overtime to the Broncos in a sectional final last year, is another team to watch here.