This will be the third year Stephanie Hart has played in the Montini Christmas Classic, and there's a reason Geneva's junior point guard looks forward to it so much.
"I like that tournament because it's harder competition than we get in conference and it's some big teams," Hart said. "It helps us know what we need to work on. It's a really fun tournament to play against really good players. We can get some good scouting for the state tournament."
A busy week of holiday tournament play begins at Montini, and several other sites, next week. With a field that includes six of the top seven teams in the Daily Herald Top 20, Geneva indeed will get a look at the caliber of teams it will play if it wants to make a long run in the postseason.
The Vikings open play on Dec. 27th against Oak Park-River Forest. A win would advance Geneva into the quarterfinals against Batavia or Hersey.
Hart is joined in Geneva's starting lineup by fellow three-year starter Margaret Whitley and four-year starter Grace Loberg.
The Vikings improved to 8-0 last Friday beating Batavia. Loberg, a Wisconsin volleyball recruit, missed that game while playing at the Under Armour all-American game in Columbus, Ohio, but she will be back for the Montini tournament.
"We love it," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said of playing at Montini. "It's a great gauge for us. It's great competition. Our kids like to play in that gym. We're excited, it's going to be fun."
Huntley, led by Brown-bound Morgan Clausen, also is at Montini. The Red Raiders have a tough opener against Benet.
"Once again, the field this year at Montini is loaded with a lot of really talented teams," Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. "We will have a very tough first round opponent against Benet who is a very talented team and is off to a great start this season."
Of the top seven teams in the latest Daily Herald Top 20, only No. 5 Naperville Central is missing at Montini. No. 1 Montini (11-0), No. 2 Benet (12-1), No. 3 Geneva, No. 4 Hersey (11-1), No. 6 Rolling Meadows (9-3) and No. 7 Fremd (9-2) are among the teams competing for the title.
"What we like about playing in this tournament is that we know we are going to get four really good games against great competition," Raethz said. "It will also provide us with a measuring stick to see where we are as a team at this juncture of the season and what we need to do in the second half of the season to improve and move forward."
Dundee-Crown: As usual, Dundee-Crown also has a top-notch field for its 34th annual Komaromy Classic. Bartlett, St. Charles North, Burlington Central, Hampshire and the host Chargers are among the 16 teams competing.
Fourth-year Chargers coach Sarah Miller said hosting a tournament with such tradition means a lot to the current players.
"I grew up around this tournament," Miller said. "Going to Mundelein High School I used to come and watch the games when the gym used to be sold out. You couldn't get a seat. Just kind of coming into this program and being able to host this tournament and knowing what tradition its had, keeping really competitive teams in it over the years has helped the tradition continue."
Burlington Central and Hampshire open playing against each other at 4 p.m. Monday.
Kathryn Schmidt leads the No. 20 Rockets (7-2) in scoring, off to a sizzling start to her Rocket career as a freshman.
After playing at Lisle the last few years, Hampshire is making its debut at Dundee-Crown.
"We are looking forward to competing in this legendary tournament," Hampshire coach Mike Featherly said. "It is a loaded field that gives us a chance to compete against very good teams. Starting off against Burlington Central will be fun for both programs.
"The goal for us is to get better with every game. If we are a better team after the tournament, it will be a success."
Naperville Central opens against Resurrection. No. 8 Stevenson starts with Bartlett.
St. Charles North's Mike Tomczak will get his first chance as a head coach against New Trier.
"We are very much looking forward to great competition," Tomczak said. "We have had the opportunity to play a few of the teams in Dundee already and are very impressed with the quality of opponents in this year's field. Maine West is an excellent team and, defensively, can cause a lot of confusion. Their girls play extremely hard and teams need to be sharp on both ends to hang with them. We have not seen many of the other top seeds but we look forward to seeing them in action."
Junior Anna Davern leads the North Stars in scoring. After a spat of injuries early this year, the North Stars have won three of four to sit at 7-5.
"We believe we have improved this season and continue to get better game by game," Tomczak said. "We have had to grow up fast this season and players have really stepped up and filled vital roles. We are also beginning to get healthy again, which is a big plus."
Dundee-Crown enters at 4-7 and will play the last game of the opening day at 8:30 p.m. against No. 10 Maine West (11-2).
Paige Gieske injured her knee Monday night against Grant. "We're hoping she's back to full strength by the tournament," Miller said.
Miller said the Chargers are planning on honoring former Maine West coach Derril Kipp, who passed away earlier this year, on the first day of the tournament.
"He's had such a big part in the tradition there and the game of basketball as a whole," Miller said.
Other top teams to watch include Fenwick and New Trier.
The host Chargers went 2-2 last year for the first time recently. They hope to have similar success.
"We're looking forward to competing and getting some wins," Miller said. "We always play good competition and I believe we have what it takes to get some wins. Opening up with Maine West is going to be tough but that's the kind of teams we want to play and compete with."
Wheaton North: Four area teams are playing at Wheaton North's Bill Neibch Falcon Classic.
First round action on Dec. 26 includes West Aurora against Elk Grove at 10:30 a.m., Jacobs against Wheaton North at noon, St. Charles East plays Glenbard North at 3 p.m., and Elgin faces Palatine at 4:30 p.m.
The Saints are the highest seed among area teams at No. 4 behind Glenbrook South, Hinsdale Central and Lyons.
No. 9 St. Charles East is on a 7-game winning streak and 10-2 overall. Despite Emily Vitkus (ACL) being out for the year and Ashley DiOrio sidelined with a back injury, the Saints enter playing an exciting style of up-tempo basketball.
Besides 6-foot junior Sara Rosenfeldt, the Saints have a small starting lineup including 5-2 Marissa Urso and 5-6 Sam Munroe.
"My mantra has been it's not how big you are it's how big you play," said Saints coach Lori Drumtra, who is retiring after this year.
"I like this tournament, I think it's good competition. I give kudos to Wheaton North, I think they run a great tournament. You see some nice teams."
Riverside-Brookfield: No. 17 South Elgin (7-2) is playing at the Riverside-Brookfield tournament and opens against Chicago Taft at 2 p.m. on Dec. 26.
This is the Storm's second year at Riverside-Brookfield after previously playing at Montini.
South Elgin coach Dan Mandernack lists his own squad along with York, Morton, Glenbard West and Riverside-Brookfield as the teams to beat.
"I've been telling the team to prepare like we are the hunted ones and you need to bring your 'A' game every game," Mandernack said. "Depth will be tested with five games in five days. We have been overcoming adversity with all the injuries we have had."
Those injuries include Kennedy Wells, who hit a game-winning shot against Huntley but in the celebration tore her ACL and is out for the season. Teagan Pompa reinjured her ACL tear from last year; Mandernack is hoping she will be back in two weeks. The Storm is getting Emmy McIntosh back from a high ankle sprain.
Mandernack said sophomore Casey Brennan and freshman Megan McClure have been key in offsetting the injuries.
"I want us to keep improving and get our bench players some more time because they have been really good in practice and we need not to run our starters into the ground with so many games in only a few days," Mandernack said. "We will see all different types of players and styles over the five days. The team needs to be mentally prepared. I want them to have to embrace the challenge and improve game to game."
Storm senior Mackie Kelleher is coming off a career-high 24 point game in a win over Bartlett. She will soon become just the second player in school history to reach 1,000 points.
Mandernack said a 71-68 loss to Fenwick when the Storm led in the fourth quarter was a confidence boost.
"I'm really proud how the team has stayed together during the injuries, kept that sense of urgency in practice and games, and young players are really stepping up -- it's been fun to watch them mature on and off the court," Mandernack said.
In other action: Elsewhere next week, Cary-Grove opens against Conant and Streamwood plays Libertyville at the Libertyville tournament.
Larkin is playing at the Warren Holiday Tournament and faces the hosts in its first game.
St. Edward and Rosary are both competing at the Lisle Holiday Classic. Led by Maddie Spagnola, St. Edward rides a 6-game winning streak with an 8-3 overall record.
Rosary also has a winning record at 6-4 and opens with an 8 p.m. game against Wheaton Academy.
Aurora Central Catholic will continue battling bigger schools when the Chargers head to the Oswego East Tournament.
Aurora Christian and Harvest Christian are both in the field at the Alden-Hebron tournament.