Jason Nichols' goal was to create the best girls basketball tournament in the Chicago area.
Montini might just have it this year.
Five undefeated teams generally regarded as among the top 20 in the Chicago area highlight a deep field at the Montini Christmas Tournament. The tournament, which runs from Dec. 26-29, expanded to 16 teams this year.
Nichols wants his tournament to become the girls equal to the prestigious Proviso West boys event. Along with Montini (9-0), this year's field features Marian Catholic (9-0), Rolling Meadows (11-0), Plainfield East (10-0) and Romeoville (7-0). Added to that mix is Fremd, Batavia (8-3), Zion-Benton (7-2), Proviso West and Bogan out of the Chicago Public League.
Much of the top individual talent in the tournament could be back next year, including Marian Catholic junior Ashton Millender, Montini junior Kateri Stone, Plainfield East sophomore Faith Suggs, Rolling Meadows juniors Jackie Kemph and Alexis Glasgow, Fremd sophomore Haley Gorecki and Batavia freshman Hannah Frazier.
"The way Rolling Meadows is playing and the talent Marian has and then you throw in all those other teams, it will be interesting to see how it plays out," Nichols said. "Somebody's going to come out of here with two losses that you don't want to see in the state playoffs. This is what I wanted to do four years ago with this tournament, and it's become reality."
Montini will be busy over the holidays.
Starting with tonight's conference game against Walther Lutheran, the Broncos will play 10 games over 19 days.
The next two weekends, starting Friday, they will play at the Sterling Shootout. That round-robin event featuring Peoria Richwoods, Hononegah and Moline added Fremd this year. Nichols shortened his rotation some to get through a 58-55 win over Geneva Saturday, but he knows he'll have to throw his young bench that includes five freshmen more into the fire.
"Our older kids might have got a little tired Saturday, and that will not be a recipe of success going forward based on how we play," Nichols said. I'm excited to see which of our young kids can step up."
Here are other holiday tournaments involving area teams:
Oswego Holiday Tournament (Dec. 8-15):
New addition Naperville Central (9-1) adds a little spice to this eight-team tournament. The Victoria Trowbridge-led Redhawks likely will square off with defending tournament champ Neuqua Valley (13-0) and Allison Hedrick in Saturday's championship. Those two teams' toughest obstacles in pool play figure to be Neuqua's matchup with Batavia on Wednesday and the Redhawks' game against host Oswego on Thursday. Neuqua dominated this event last year, winning every game by double figures, but that could change with Naperville Central in the mix.
With no conference games on tap for this week, the tournament seemed a good fit for Naperville Central.
"They happened to have an opening, and it was a convenient thing for us to do," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said. "We'll see how it works."
Benet/Naperville North Tournament (Dec. 13-21):
Benet won this last year, and the winner this time around figures to come from the Redwings, Wheaton Warrenville South and Geneva. Christen Prasse-led Benet (8-4) comes in off conference losses to Joliet Catholic and Carmel.
WW South (7-2) and Geneva (7-4) are both dealing with season-ending ACL injuries to juniors Maggie Dansdill and Michaela Loebel, respectively. York dropped out of this tournament, but it is expected that Loyola will join next year. Not to be overlooked from the pool at Naperville North is DeKalb, which handed Benet a 1-point loss two weeks ago.
Thursday's opening-night's games will pit two of the area's best players in Prasse for Benet and WW South's Meghan Waldron. Last year, Prasse and Benet handed WW South its first loss.
"Benet is Benet," WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. "(Benet coach) Peter (Paul) and I, we probably don't need to scout each other. It should be another good Benet-Wheaton South game."
Lisle Cage Classic (Dec. 26-29):
Walther Lutheran (6-2), led by senior forward Isimeme Edeko, is the top seed at the 16-team tournament. The Broncos have won six straight games since losses to Plainfield East and East Aurora to start the season. Latin, Lisle and Newark round out the top four seeds. Lisle (9-2), led by Kristina Fernette and Kelly Urban, is riding a seven-game win streak.
Wheaton North Falcon Classic (Dec. 26-29):
Glenbrook South, which lost to Waubonsie Valley in last year's final, is the top seed at the 16-team tournament. It could be wide open, though. No. 2 seed Wheaton North (6-3) has played well behind hot-shooting Mandy Traversa, and No. 4 seed Hinsdale Central (6-2) boasts high-scoring sophomore guard Gabrielle Rush. The best first-round matchup could be between No. 3 seed Willowbrook (7-2), which has its best team in years led by four good guards, and West Aurora (4-5). Fifth seed Lyons Twp. and sixth seed Glenbard South (8-2) also are off to fast starts this season.
"That's the best thing about our tournament is a lot of teams can win it. I don't know if that's the case in a lot of tournaments," Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton said. "There are a lot of good quality teams."
Dundee-Crown Charger Classic (Dec. 26-29):
Nine-time tournament champion Fenwick (8-0), undefeated after a 99-97 overtime win over Marist on Saturday, is the top seed at the 30th annual event. The Friars, led by junior guard Jade Owens, took third in last year's tournament won by Bartlett. Evanston (8-0) is seeded second, and Naperville Central (9-1), which opens against Buffalo Grove at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 26, is the No. 4 seed. On the bottom half of the bracket is Maine South and Illinois recruit Jacqui Grant, as well as Mother McAuley, coached by former Waubonsie Valley and DePaul standout Ashley (Luke) Clanton.
Nussbaum noted that Naperville Central has never reached the D-C semis "without someone named Candace Parker," and he'd love to change that. But he also understands what this tournament means long term.
"We always use it as a measuring stick," Nussbaum said. "It's historically been a good indicator of what we need to work on."
Oswego East Tournament (Dec. 22, 26-29):
Metea Valley (7-3), led by Lori Obendorf and Bria Walker, took fourth last year and could be the team to beat at this tournament pared down to 12 teams from 16. York, with senior guard AnnaBell Lansdowne, is a new addition. Downers Grove South (5-2) is another team to watch here.
Tigers lose Dansdill:
Last week was one of emotional highs and lows for WW South.
Two nights after the Tigers' biggest win, in overtime at Naperville Central, WW South lost junior Maggie Dansdill to a season-ending injury.
Landing awkwardly on a layup attempt in the fourth quarter against Naperville North Thursday, Dansdill tore her ACL and MCL. Dansdill was WW South's second-leading scorer and rebounder and its best defender.
WW South coach Rob Kroehnke noted that this is the eighth straight year WW South has lost a player to a knee injury, dating back to Keilani Moeaki's sophomore season.
"You're talking about a fantastic kid," Kroehnke said. "It's an absolute shame."
Fortunately for the Tigers, they had the weekend off to recuperate some emotionally.
WW South did get back Kelly Langlas recently from a knee injury. She will assume some of Dansdill's minutes, but nobody completely fills the void.
"This group of kids, they'll find a way to battle through. Our goals haven't changed," Kroehnke said. "If they even think about quitting they'll have to deal with Maggie."