Teri Rodgers calls it "a litmus test."
The New Trier girls basketball coach also says being the No. 1 seed at the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic Christmas Tournament really means little.
"Calling someone a No. 1 seed is kind of silly," Rodgers says. "There's 16 great teams. It's a great test because you know you're going to go out and play really good teams. It's a litmus test. You come away from Dundee-Crown knowing your strengths and weaknesses and you can work on the weaknesses for the rest of the year. You can only have that true test when you're playing quality teams, which is what you get at Dundee-Crown."
New Trier is one of the last originals of the Charger Classic, now in its 31st year. And while others -- most recently Montini -- have put together good tournaments, Dundee-Crown has stood the test of time of being one of the top holiday tournaments year in and year out.
"You always know you're going to get four quality games and a first-class tournament that is run well and where they make you feel so welcome," says Bartlett coach Denise Sarna, whose team won the Charger Classic title in 2011.
The quality of this year's tournament is as good as ever. Only four of the 16 teams have sub. 500 records, and two of them are just a game under. Rodgers' Trevians and tournament newcomer Burlington Central are undefeated, while Evanston, Prospect and Barrington each come in with one loss. The collective record of the 16 teams through Tuesday was 118-61.
The tournament tips off at 10 a.m. the morning after Christmas with Hononegah (10-3) taking on Buffalo Grove. The Bison, while just 6-6, handed Prospect its first and only loss of the season last week. Game 2 has No. 2 seed Evanston (9-1) facing Naperville Central, last year's runner-up. The Redhawks are having an uncharacteristic rebuilding year and stand at 2-9. Evanston's only loss was a 73-64 setback to New Trier last week.
Prospect (9-1) will take on Bartlett (6-5) in Game 3. Bartlett has had its ups and downs with some early inexperience but Sarna is confident her team, which is 3-0 in the Upstate Eight Valley, is making progress.
"We keep talking about learning and getting better and I think we are," said Sarna, who won her 300th career game earlier in the season. "Our early schedule was tough and we had some inexperience but we're getting better.
"Obviously this tournament is very good. You want great competition and we'll get that. You just want to work at getting better."
The Hawks have relied on the senior leadership of Ally Giampapa and Elizabeth Arco but Sarna has also been happy with her younger players and her bench. Sophomore Kaitlin Brohan has returned 100 percent from an ankle injury suffered during the soccer season and scored 21 points in a win over South Elgin last week, while 6-foot-1 sophomore Kelly Harris is playing with more consistency. Sarna also lauded the consistent play of junior point guard Shelly Lyjak.
"I've been pleased with a lot of the sophomores," Sarna said. "Kelly Harris has really been steady. And we've gotten some nice play off the bench from girls like Nicole Gerdevich and Nina Pavell.
"The interesting thing about our team is we don't know who it's going to be from one day to the next offensively. We have to stay consistent defensively so we can progress."
In Prospect, Bartlett will see one of the top teams and two of the best players in the Mid-Suburban League. The Knights are led by 5-11 junior guard Taylor Will and 6-foot Catherine Sherwood.
"They have a lot of talented players," Sarna said of the Knights. "We just have to prepare and be ready."
Game 4 at D-C pits defending champion Maine South (7-8) against Stevenson (6-4), a longtime tournament staple that is returning this year after leaving for four years. The Patriots, who are now coached by former Buffalo Grove state championship coach Tom Dineen, won three straight D-C titles from 1993-95. Maine South won the title last year in its first year as part of the Charger Classic.
The bottom half of the bracket opens with St. Charles North (5-6) taking on New Trier. The Trevians have one of the top post players in the Chicago area in 6-3 sophomore Jeannie Boehm, who is averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. Rodgers, whose 2009 team won the D-C title, said she's also been getting steady play from 5-7 senior point guard Alexa Czyznski and 5-9 senior guard Isabella Bosco.
"One of the things we're real pleased with is how unselfish the kids have been," Rodgers said. "We've had 6-7 kids score in double figures."
Maine West (8-3), a five-time D-C champ under legendary coach Derril Kipp, will take on Resurrection (7-4) in Game 6. Maine West is led by 6-foot senior forward Brittany Collins, a Saint Xavier recruit who earlier this week set the Maine West career scoring record.
Game 7 features Burlington Central (9-0) taking on Mother McAuley (8-2) and standout guard Elizabeth Nye. BC is led by junior Alison Colby and sophomores Sam Pryor, Kayla Ross, Becca Gerke, Shelby Holt and Sam Cruz.
The final game of the first round will have the host Chargers (5-8) facing 10-1 Barrington, whose only loss was a 50-48 verdict at Huntley. D-C is riding a four-game winning streak under first-year coach Sarah Miller. The Chargers, led by senior Emily Michalski and junior Lauren Lococo, face Crystal Lake South Friday night in the semifinals of the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic at McHenry. Barrington, which could be a sleeper in the tournament field, has a talented team led by 5-11 senior guard Brooke Gunderson.
At Montini: Some of the state's top-ranked teams, including No. 1 Marian Catholic, will compete in the Montini tournament, a field that includes Huntley and South Elgin. The tournament opens Monday.
South Elgin (6-4) drew the No. 12 seed and will play No. 5 Fremd (8-1), which defeated Marian Catholic last weekend. The Vikings are led by 6-foot junior Haley Gorecki.
"We're looking forward to it," said Storm coach Tim Prendergast, whose team is led by seniors Savanah Uveges, Anna Tracy and Kennede Miller. "You want to be playing good basketball at Christmas and get some wins and by the end of this tournament we should have a pretty good idea of where we stand moving forward."
Huntley (11-1) will face Geneva (6-2) in the first round. The Red Raiders bounced back from a 71-41 loss at Whitney Young last weekend to beat Prairie Ridge and remain atop the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division standings. The Raiders are led by the Andrews sisters, senior Sam and sophomore Ali, and senior Bethany Zornow.
"We're really excited for the opportunity to play in the tournament," said Huntley coach Steve Raethz. "It's some of the best teams in the state and all four games will test our mettle. That's what we want. Hopefully we come out of this better and in a position to compete the second half of the season for the conference title and into the postseason."
Raethz said his team learned a valuable lesson in its 30-point loss at Young last weekend.
"We understand now we have to come to play four quarters," he said. "When you face the elite teams you can't afford to not put forth your best effort for 32 minutes. Hopefully we learned that at Whitney Young and I think our girls understand that."
With Marian Catholic the No. 1 seed and facing St. Joseph in the first round, No. 2 Trinity (11-0) will take on Plainfield East (3-6), No. 3 Rolling Meadows (11-1) sees Proviso West (5-2) and No. 4 Montini (10-1) takes on Oak Park-River Forest (5-6) in the first round. Other top teams at Montini include Neuqua Valley (10-2), Batavia (9-2) and Zion-Benton (8-1).
At Mundelein: Cary-Grove coach Rod Saffert is hoping his young team continues to come of age at the always competitive Mundelein tournament. The Trojans (9-4) are on a three-game winning streak and face Niles West in Monday's first round.
"We feel good," said Saffert, whose team bounced back from losses to Prairie Ridge and Huntley to score quality wins over Stevenson and Buffalo Grove. "This is a good tournament again. Anybody can win it. I like the fact there's a lot of parity there."
The Trojans have relied on the scoring of junior standout Katie Barker all season.
"We're averaging 54 points a game so we can't complain," Safferts said. "We do need other kids to step up and they have."
Streamwood (2-5), with senior Hannah McGlone now healthy, takes on Grayslake North (4-5) in Monday's first round.
Defending Class 3A state runner-up Vernon Hills (6-3) is also part of the field but the Cougars have lost 3 of their last 4 and have struggled without injured senior Lauren Webb.
At Wheaton North: Elgin (3-4) and Jacobs (2-9) are part of the field at the Bill Neibch Falcon Classic, which tips off Monday. The Maroons, who host crosstown rival Larkin on Friday, face No. 6 seed Hinsdale Central (7-2) in the first round, while Jacobs takes on No. 8 seed Glenbard South (5-4). The top four seeds here are Hersey (9-1), Downers Grove North (7-1), Willowbrook (10-0) and West Aurora (9-1).
Others: At Oswego East, Larkin (2-6) meets No. 3 seed Proviso East in the first round on Monday. Metea Valley, Joliet and York are the other top seeds. ... At Lisle, which begins Dec. 26, St. Edward (6-3) takes on Reed-Custer in the first round. The Green Wave are without 6-3 junior CeCe Rapp for 6-8 weeks after she was injured in an auto accident. Hampshire (5-4) plays Walther Christian (0-7) in the first round. ... Harvest Christian will play in the Alden-Hebron round-robin tournament beginning Dec. 27.