It didn't take long to figure out that the 29th Annual Charger Classic Christmas Tournament at Dundee-Crown this week was going to offer its usual variety of drama and girls basketball excellence.
From Maine West's thrilling 54-53 upset of Prospect in the tournament's first game right on through to Game 32, Bartlett's 76-66 championship game win over New Trier, the Charger Classic again offered some of the best girls basketball you'll find outside the state tournament anywhere in Illinois.
In fact, there's a whole bunch of us old-timers who would rather spend four days in Carpentersville in December than two days in Normal in March. The four-class state tournament has turned into a relatively boring affair attended by smidgens compared to years ago, especially in Class 4A.
But Dundee-Crown has always been unique and it still is. The history and the memories never fade, one of the greatest this year being the quarterfinal matchup between Fenwick and Maine West, pitting the second and third winningest girls basketball coaches in state history -- Fenwick's Dave Power and Maine West's Derril Kipp -- against each other. Watching two guys match wits who have over 1,500 career wins between them is worth the price of all four days' admission just in itself.
What follows are some random thoughts from a full notebook of the past four days at Dundee-Crown.
•Some will say the championship game didn't have the flair it would have had New Trier standout Maggie Lyon played, and that's probably true. But I doubt even Lyon could have put much of a dent in third quarter Bartlett had, which essentially won the game for the Hawks as well as their first Charger Classic championship. Lyon is a great player and one that is a lot of fun to watch. Her ankle sprain suffered in the Trevians' semifinal win over Fenwick was unfortunate, and while she might have been "able" to play, it was a wise decision for her not to. She has a bright future ahead of her at Northwestern as well as a high school season to finish and there's no sense jeapordizing that for one game. Lyon's teammates stepped it up and gave Bartlett all it could handle but in the end, the Hawks prevailed and now they take an 18-0 record, the No. 1 ranking in the Daily Herald Top 20, and an even bigger bull's eye on their collective backs into the 2012 portion of the season. While Bolingbrook and Whitney Young will surely be the consensus 1-2 choices when the new statewide poll comes out next week, Bartlett has made a solid case to be No. 3.
•Bantered about was who the best individual player in the tournament was. Lyon's name was mentioned by many but my vote goes to Bartlett senior Kristin Conniff. I'm sure Conniff, nor Hawks coach Denise Sarna, thought when the week started that the 6-footer would walk away from Dundee-Crown having reached 1,000 points for her career. I know I sure didn't. But she hit for 97 points in the four games, including a career-high 32 against Fremd in the semifinals and 24 against New Trier in the title game, eclipsing 1,000 points on a drive to the basket early in the third quarter. She showed the ability to handle the basketball against pressure, score from inside, hit the 3-pointer, and crash the boards. There are a bunch of college coaches out there who should be a whole lot more interested in this unsung hero after this week.
•It was good to see Dundee-Crown achieve its goal of going 2-2 in the tournament. The Chargers played Bartlett awfully tough in the opening round and then had a letdown the next day against Mother McAuley, which went on to win the consolation title. But D-C bounced back with wins over Johnsburg and St. Charles North and coach Michelle Russell's squad should have some confidence heading into Tuesday night's Fox Valley Conference Valley Division showdown at home against Huntley. Both are 3-0 in the Valley right now, and Tuesday's winner will have the inside track on challenging Cary-Grove for the Valley title. Chargers' senior Ali Sanders proved she's one of the best players around. Another fun one to watch, Sanders has all the tools to have a prosperous college career at Florida Southern.
•While overall attendance was fair to midland -- the championship session drew about 800 -- the Bartlett student section was outstanding. You don't see many girls basketball teams draw a lot of their classmates to Christmas tournament games but the Hawks, who have always had a strong fan base, are the exception to the rule. They were vocal and enthusiastic, but classy at the same time -- kind of like their team.
•As exciting as things are inside the gym at D-C every year, it's just as fun to sit in the hospitality room and have conversations with the coaches and officials. OK, so the free food is always a highlight, especially the quality spread D-C puts out every year, but the camaraderie that takes place in that room every year is second to none. And the memories that are shared are priceless. Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum, who will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in April, told stories of his first game coaching, when his team was behind 47-7 before he really knew what had hit him. Maine West's Derril Kipp is a walking girls basketball encyclopedia, and I have to say it was good to see former Chicago Sun-Times girls basketball writer Steve Tucker out at D-C a couple times. Tucker is still the one newspaper guy who knows more about girls basketball history than any other in the state.
•Kudos to everyone at D-C for another well-run Classic. Athletic Director Dick Storm and "retired" coach Joe Komaromy did another outstanding job of everything from A to Z. And special kudos to Joe's daughter, Kristin, for all her hard work keeping up on stats and box scores. She has no idea how much that means to us media types.
•Storm and Komaromy will begin planning now for the 30th Charger Classic and you can bet they'll come up with something special for another anniversary edition. One topic of discussion was an all-tournament team for the 29 years of the tournament. Man, would that be a list! I won't even start naming names -- the list of potential candidates would fill a page or two of today's paper.
•Outside of D-C, big-time congrats to the St. Edward girls on winning the Lisle Holiday Cage Classic championship Friday night over Timothy Christian. The Green Wave are going to be a force to be reckoned with come postseason time in Class 2A. A fitting New Year's present to coach Michelle Dawson and her husband Colin after welcoming their new son, Nathan, into the family last week. And kudos as well to South Elgin for taking West Chicago to the limit before falling 60-59 Friday night in the title game at Oswego East.
The 2012 portion of the season is shaping up to be an exciting one.
Happy New Year everyone!