For the first time in four seasons, the Highland Park Giants didn't travel with a star named Lena Munzer.
Perhaps the best girls basketball player in Highland Park history, Munzer graduated last spring.
So you'd figure host Mundelein would handl this Munzer-less club with no problem on Wednesday night in the the third contest of the day in Mundelein's tournament.
Well, not quite. It was still anyone's game midway through the third quarter. Mundelein's lead was 28-24.
And then the veteran in Mundelein's lineup, junior Maggie Mahar, took matters into her own hands.
Her 3-point shooting woke up her team, along with the crowd in the Mundelein gym.
Held to 2 points in the first half, Mahar rang up three 3-pointers in the second and scored 14 of her 16 points. Mahar and Mundelein's newest inside threat, Jamie Hemmer, combined to turn back the Giants 57-38 and move to 3-0 in their own tournament. A year ago, the Mustangs dropped all five games in this tourney.
"We needed to turn up the speed,'' Mahar said. "Nobody was really excited."
Certainly the good start to the season has this junior excited about her third season on varsity. As a freshman, she broke her ankle, but she's been a fixture on this team the last two seasons.
"I'm really excited about this year,'' Mahar said. "We just have a lot more commitment. We have a chance to show what we can do in the conference."
Mahar is also happy to have the 6-foot junior Hemmer on her side.
"She's a strong softball player,'' Mahar noted. "She's working really hard. It's nice to see her improve."
Mundelein coach Brian Evans felt Hemmer's work inside opened the outside for Mahar.
"Jamie scored a lot of points inside,'' Evans said. "But we must have an inside-outside game."
Hemmer kept her Mustangs in the game early. She scored her team's last 7 points of the first quarter. Mahar scored her lone bucket of the first half after collaring a rebound. The Mustangs led 25-18 at halftime.
"Mundelein is quick,'' said Highland Park coach Jolie Bechtel. "They are also disciplined on offense, which we are not."
An Amy Richards 3-pointer openeded the second half. With less than five minutes to play in the third quarter, Mahar grabbed another rebound and scored. Her back to back 3-pointers broke open the game and extended the Mundelein lead to double digits at 40-26. Her final 3-pointer started the fourth-quarter scoring.
The Giants may have a player to watch in junior Lizzy LoGrande. She led her team with 15 points.
Hemmer led the Mustangs with 17 points. She and Mahar were the lone Mustangs in double figures in scoring. Maria DeVito added a pair of 3-pointers for her 6 points.
Mundelein will be back in action on Friday night against Grayslake North (7:30 p.m.) as the tournament continues.