The Trinity High School basketball team has set its sights on winning a state championship. Oak Park and River Forest High School is focused on eventually becoming a team like the highly regarded Blazers.
The area rivals squared off on Friday, Nov. 28, with Trinity cruising to a 63-37 win over OPRF in the inaugural Trinity Thanksgiving Tournament.
After the Huskies led 11-7 late in the first quarter, Trinity went on a 16-0 run to seize control of the game at 23-11. The Blazers’ full-court pressure caused numerous turnovers by OPRF.
“We are a high-intensity, high-pressure, defensive team,” Trinity coach Ed Stritzel said. “We made every trip difficult for Oak Park. We forced 25 turnovers. You have to be careful with a neighborhood game like Oak Park because a lot of emotion is involved. We stress to our players that every game is equally important, and I think they really buy into that belief.”
Annie McKenna paced the Blazers with a game-high 20 points and Kaitlin Aylward contributed 18 points. Freshmen Alisa Fallon (9 points) and Daliyah Brown (7 points) also contributed.
6-2 forward/center Blair Ripley led OPRF with 11 points.
“We got off to a great start against Trinity and then they kind of woke up and dominated,” OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin said. “We didn’t play our best down the stretch, but at some point you have to applaud the other locker room.
“Trinity is great and we’re not great yet. They are one of the best teams in the state for a reason. I really think Trinity could win the state tournament. This might be [Ed Stritzel’s] strongest team.”
In addition to their lopsided victory against the Huskies, the Blazers routed the rest of the competition at their tournament: 95-30 over Christ the King, 68-54 over Proviso East, 64-41 over Batavia and 81-46 over North Lawndale.
Brown and McKenna scored 17 apiece in the Blazers’ impressive win over North Lawndale, regarded as a Top 15 team in the Chicago area. Patricia Stritzel added 10 points and seven assists. Alex Fanning and Aylward also reached double figures with 10 points each.
“We’re just continuing on what we were last year, which was a Top 5 team,” Stritzel said. “I think we have a really good shot of achieving all our goals this year. We are deep, athletic and versatile. I think we have a great mixture of some very talented and experienced players along with tremendous youth.”
Veterans like Aylward, McKenna and Stritzel (Ed’s daughter) lead the Blazers, while Fallon, Brown, Fanning, Lauren Lee, and Alyssa Geary make up a stellar freshmen class.
“Annie McKenna is one of the best players in the state,” Stritzel said. “My daughter, Patricia, and Kaitlin Aylward are playing really well to give us three great players. I’ve been [at Trinity] nine years and our freshmen are a once-in-a-lifetime class. They are mature beyond their years and the spotlight doesn’t scare them.”
Huskies display depth, balance at Trinity tourney
While Coughlin praised the Blazers’ impressive run to their own title, his team’s performance offered more of a mixed bag.
OPRF opened the season with a 58-44 win against Oswego, which features three Division I recruits. Emily Schreck scored a game-high 19 points and freshman Maeve Nelson had 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals in her varsity debut. Victoria Waters (15 points, six rebounds) and Hailey Hoye (seven assists) also contributed for the Huskies, who also defeated Zion-Benton 67-40 but lost to North Lawndale, Proviso East and Trinity.
“We played really well in some stretches and really bad in other stretches,” Coughlin said. “If somebody told me five games into the season, we would be 2-3 with Hailey Hoye scoring three points and Maria Kent scoring five points total, I’d think we are doing OK.”
Hoye and Kent have been limited by a high ankle sprain and quad strain, respectively, while guard Chardonnay Harris is working her way into game shape after recovering from an injury.
“When Hailey is healthy, she’s one of the Top 50 players in the state,” said Coughlin. “[Maria] Kent is an important player for us as well. Hopefully they can both be at full strength soon.”
Luckily, the Huskies have a deep rotation of players to help offset any injuries, which have been problematic for the team over the past year.
“I’m pleased with our depth,” Coughlin said. “We’re going 11 deep every game and have had 10 different kids start, which is a blessing but also a curse. Last year, we had to play JV players in [varsity] games.”
While the Huskies have been dealing with early-season injuries, several players have stepped up their game.
“[Maeve] Nelson has been terrific,” Coughlin said. “As a freshman, we’re asking her to do a lot. Blair Ripley led us in scoring the past two games and has been playing well. Molly Cullinane has done a great job for us at point guard.”
As the Blazers and Huskies prepare for upcoming conference games, both Stritzel and Coughlin gave the inaugural Trinity Thanksgiving Tournament rave reviews.
“In the past, we have played at other tournaments where we had to travel and the crowds weren’t that big,” Stritzel said. “Our crowds were unbelievable and we have so many local teams in our tournament. I’ve already received numerous calls about teams interested in joining the tournament in the future. I think it’s going to become the elite Thanksgiving tournament in the years to come.”
Added Coughlin: “It’s a terrific tournament and we love the challenge of playing against top teams and players. Our players really want to be good and this tournament shows them tremendous competition. We can reach a high level as a team, but we have a long way to go.”
Trinity (5-0) hosts Marist on Wed., Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.
OPRF (2-3) opens conference play at Hinsdale Central on Thursday, Dec. 4, followed by a home game against Downers Grove North, Dec. 5. Both games tip off at 7:30 p.m.