With a 9:45 a.m. starting time Tuesday, senior guard Ali Kramer and her Benet girls basketball teammates had the perfect remedy for possible early-morning blahs.
How about unleashing full-court pressure defense?
"I think it's a lot of fun when we get to play (that). It's fun to get steals and stuff. It's my favorite defense," Kramer said. "(And) we had to get to school at 7:30 for a shootaround and to wake ourselves up. It worked out."
The two-time defending Class 4A champions quickly found their stride and defeated Huntley 65-37 in the opening round of the eighth annual Montini Christmas Tournament in Lombard.
Benet (14-1) advanced to Wednesday's 4:45 p.m. quarterfinal against Fremd (11-3), a 59-36 winner over St. Joseph that has lost to Benet in the past two state finals. Huntley (4-5) plays St. Joseph at 9:45 a.m. in the consolation bracket.
Senior and Truman State recruit Katie Jaseckas led the Redwings' balanced attack with 13 points and 5 rebounds. Sophomore Lauren Stack had 10 points, Kramer had 8, and junior Kendal Schramek and freshman Brooke Schramek each had 7.
Huntley senior and Brown recruit Morgan Clausen had 11 points and 9 rebounds. Senior Grace Gajewski added 11 points with two 3-pointers.
"One of the good problems I have this year is we do have a lot of legitimately good depth," Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. "I'm willing to go 10 in most games, especially with this group. If they're all healthy, I might go 12. It's kind of trying to figure out which ones are having the day that you want to go with."
Kramer missed the first six games of the season with an ankle injury. On Tuesday she led six Benet reserves used in the first half.
In all, 15 Redwings played. Sophomore Clara Prasse, a former starter, returned for the first time in two weeks after an injury, and freshman Lindsey Rogers and sophomore Quin Earley also had been sidelined. Their absences contributed to the recent promotion of Kendall Holmes, the third freshman on varsity.
"We've been changing up who's starting lately," Kramer said. "I think we have a lot of unselfish people. It doesn't matter if you start. Everyone is happy to play and it helps out a lot to have fresh legs to always come in for our (press) and stuff like that."
Benet had 7 of its 12 steals in the first half, 3 by Kramer and 2 by Tsimba Malonga. The Red Raiders had 7 turnovers on their first 13 possessions and Benet led 19-6 after one quarter. The Redwings began the second quarter with a 12-2 run en route to a 39-19 halftime advantage.
"We've been working on that (pressure) for a while so I think we've come a long way with that from the beginning of the season," Stack said.
"We haven't really faced that kind of pressure before. We just have to work on our press break a little bit more and our passing," Gajewski said. "We've played some tough teams. We haven't really played together before so our team chemistry, once we figure that out we'll be good."
Huntley also played its first game without injured senior Maddy Moffett, the other returning starter besides Clausen from last year's team that lost to Fremd in the supersectional.
Moffett most likely will miss the rest of the tournament. Her sophomore sister Melissa, a varsity reserve, was playing at a club soccer tournament in Florida.
"I think the biggest thing you take out of a game like this against a team like that is you've got to be able to compete for 32 minutes," Huntley coach Steve Raethz said.
"I thought in certain segments we competed well but other moments, obviously, they exposed us. They do a great job with their pressure defense in creating turnovers, they're well-coached and they have balance on their team, a lot of kids that can score."
Before the game Kilbride told Raethz he wasn't sure how the Redwings would play after an early practice Monday trying to acclimate for Tuesday.
"We were horrible so it made me think, 'Maybe we can't play in the morning,'" Kilbride said. "But today they woke up a little better. It seemed like we got it going early."