Since the Chicago Bulls own a 7-25 record (worst record in the NBA) and apparently bleak future, it’s been slim pickings lately for basketball fans in the Chicago area.
Sure the DePaul University men’s team has refreshingly won eight of 10 games after years in the doldrums; however, last year’s NCAA tourney darling Loyola University Chicago and University of Illinois, collectively, are 11-12.
Thankfully the local high school hoops scene never disappoints, especially during the holidays. Here’s a preview of where the Riverside-Brookfield, Nazareth Academy, Fenwick and Trinity teams will be playing during Christmas break.
The Bulldogs’ opening game at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic constitutes a true road game. RBHS will face tourney host York on Dec. 26. Tip-off is 1 p.m.
Regardless of venue, the Bulldogs (9-2, 4-0 Metro Suburban Conference) should be a tough out at Tosh. RBHS has already beaten teams like Kenwood and Oak Park and River Forest comfortably.
“Overall, we are pretty happy with where we are,” coach Mike Reingruber said. “We got off to a tremendous start. The key is continuing to get better and keep improving in all facets of the game.”
Balance at both ends of the floor has been the key to the Bulldogs’ success. Seniors Zach Vaia (15.5 points per game), Andrew Veon (14.1 ppg) and Patrick Hanley (12 ppg) are all proven scorers. Vaia also dishes out five assists and Veon grabs 7.7 boards per outing. Swingmen Charles Terry and Reggie Loury are effective, versatile players as well.
“Charles Terry has been really good all-around,” Reingruber said. “He guards our opponents’ best players and contributes in so many ways on the offensive end.”
Featuring a deep field of teams with assorted playing styles over a handful of days, the Bulldogs will be tested at Tosh. That suits Reingruber just fine.
“The Tosh may not have some of the top echelon teams like at Pontiac or Proviso West,” said Reingruber, “but with 32 quality teams, the depth at Tosh is second to none. There are no easy games and it will definitely help our team become battle tested. It’s the only tournament where you need to win five games over six days in order to win. This tournament can eat you up and spit you out if you aren’t ready to go each day.”
The Bulldogs (10-5, 6-0 Metro Suburban) always look forward to hosting a tournament over the Christmas break. This year is no exception.
“The RB Christmas Tournament will include top teams from the area,” assistant coach Mark Ruge said. “We enjoy playing against good competition. If you look at our losses against Kankakee, Dundee-Crown, Zion-Benton and two we lost at the buzzer, those games helped us regarding different ways to close out games.”
Head coach Dallas Till typically calls on contributions from multiple players. Brenna Loftus, Sara JnoBaptiste, Angelina Ocampo, Leah Rettke and Mary Maloney have led the team well with lots of playing time, but the Bulldogs also call on their reserves in numerous situations.
The team has also been effectively employing its multi-faceted attack on offense.
“We are very impressed with our new concept of attacking the basket which is always option one,” Ruge said. “Then, completing our secondary fast break by emphasizing a good open look is option two. Lastly, our bigs have been running the floor to secure the offensive rebound as option three.”
RBHS hosts its tournament on Dec. 26-29. The Bulldogs will face Shepard, Glenbard East, Morton and a team to be announced in the four-day event. RBHS opens against Shepard on Dec. 26 in the main gym. Tip-off is 11 a.m.
Nazareth Academy girls
With victories over Montini, St. Ignatius, Phillips and Marshall, the undefeated Roadrunners have already proven they are more than capable of beating very good teams.
The team’s 11-game winning streak will be put to the test again at the Montini Christmas Tournament. The event features 16 teams and 32 games in four days. The host Broncos edged Geneva 52-50 in the 2017 final.
“Montini is the best Christmas tournament in Illinois,” coach Ed Stritzel said. “It features many of the team in the state, which will get us ready for February. We have beaten four of the top 20 teams in the state, but we’re still a work in process. We are transitioning to becoming a high-pace team.”
Senior Annie Stritzel leads the Roadrunners. The Harvard-bound Stritzel is averaging 25 points, six rebounds, five steals per game, while shooting 65 percent on two-point baskets and 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
Kaylen Evans, Jovanna Martinucci, Francesca Metz and Sophia Cullotta average between 11 and 6 points. Freshman Caroline Workman (4 points, 4 rebounds per game) looks like a future star.
Montini’s Tatiana Thomas and Zoe Zacker, OPRF’s Ahsha Spencer and Darse Sanchez, and Mother McAuley’s Grace Hynes will be other players to watch at Montini. Batavia’s Geddy Rerko, Ava Sergio and Erin Golden comprise an excellent trio of players for the Bulldogs.
Aside from a bevy of college prospects, an equally impressive component of the tourney other is the elite quality of the field. Montini, Fremd, Nazareth, Benet Academy, Mother McAuley, Marian Catholic, Geneva and Hersey are all threats to go deep in the bracket.
The Friars return to the 58th Annual Proviso West Holiday Basketball Tournament, which will be held Dec. 26 through Dec. 29 in Hillside.
“This tournament has the most tradition of any holiday tournament in Illinois and we are honored to be part of it,” coach Staunton Peck said. “We are matched up against an undefeated Dunbar team in the first round [Dec. 26 at 4 p.m.].
“The tournament also has eight ranked teams in its field. Our goal is always to get to play in the last day and at night of any tournament we enter. That will mean winning two games at Proviso which is always a challenge.”
This year’s field of teams includes Whitney Young, Bogan, Uplift, Hillcrest, Morton and the Friars. Throw in St. Joseph and the Proviso schools (East and West), and it’s a stacked bracket.
Led by the terrific trio of guards DJ Steward, Tyler Beard and Myles Baker, Young is the favorite but the competition will be ready. Bogan is led by 5-foot-9 guards Jordan Booker and Jeremiah Washington and 6-8 senior Rashaun Agee, while Uplift guard Markese Jacobs (DePaul commit) is a great playmaker and scorer.
Led by sophomore Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick’s (6-3, 2-2 Chicago Catholic League) signature win came against OPRF at the Chicago Elite Classic. Hopkins, who finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds against the Huskies, scored the game-winning basket in overtime as the Fenwick prevailed 66-65. The 6-5 forward is averaging 24 points, seven rebounds and two steals per game.
Fellow Friars Solomon Oraegbu (15 points, 6 rebounds per game), Lucas Kolovitz, and Trey Pettigrew have also led the team. The bench is solid with senior Charlie Westerman, juniors Sean Walsh and Ryan Planek, plus freshman Kaden Cobb.
“Offensively we are playing and sharing the ball well,” Peck said. “Defense and rebounding are areas that we need to improve. We are young so we are getting better every day.”
Competing at Proviso West 35 times, Fenwick has a 45-57 record at the tourney with a pair of runner-up showings in 2015 and 1977. Regardless of how the Friars fare this year, they always benefit from facing long, athletic teams with standout players in a pressure environment.
This group has created probably the best story on the hardwood this winter. Fresh off a season in which the team graduated a pair of 1,000-point career scorers in Kate Moore and MacKenzie Blaze, the Friars have somewhat surprisingly not skipped a beat at 12-3.
After dropping two of three games to open the season, Fenwick reeled off 11 wins in a row highlighted by a 33-point victory against Trinity.
The Friars are winning with balance, depth and chemistry. Senior Maggie Van Ermen and freshman Audrey Hinrichs exemplify the team’s talent that spreads out over all four classes. Lily Reardon, Lauren Hall, Audrey Hetzer, Sheila Hogan, Elise Heneghan, Gianni Ortiz, Gianna Amundsen, MK Kapsch and Katie Schneider are all playing well for Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Power.
The girls will also play in a high-profile tourney at the Komaromy Classic Dundee-Crown. The prohibitive favorite in the 16-team field is two-time defending tourney champ Maine West. The host Chargers, New Trier, Prospect and Fenwick, among others, could be in the mix as notable contenders.
Under new head coach Kim Coleman, Trinity is learning on the fly with a relatively young team. The loss of Dayjah Chmielewski to injury (ACL) was a costly blow for the Blazers. However, 5-11 sophomore Makiyah Williams has stepped up as one of the best players in the 2021 Class. She’s averaging 16.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Junior captains Zyerra Stafford (7.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.7spg) and Claire Hanley stabilize the backcourt and Lauren Saleh provides a presence in the paint. Savanna Childress (8.3 ppg) adds scoring punch.
“Makiyah has been huge for us to start the season,” Coleman said. “Zee Stafford is our floor general. She is a key component in keeping the flow of our offense, and she has the ability to shoot the ball at a high level. Savanna Childress is our high energy player who has the ability to attack the basket and set other players up.”
Trinity (7-6) has placed an emphasis on rebounding in order to improve. Despite a lopsided loss against OPRF, the team won the battle on the boards which pleased Coleman.
“We learned a few games back that we had to rebound,” Coleman said after the OPRF game. “Moving forward, that’s the number one responsibility. Everyone needs to rebound. You can’t win games if you don’t. I was proud with how we handled ourselves on the boards (against OPRF), and I’m sure we’ll continue to do that as the season goes along.
Moving forward, I’d like to see our kids play more consistent,” she added. “This team has some nice pieces. When at the top of their game, I think our players challenge some experienced teams.”
The Blazers will join Fenwick at Dundee-Crown tourney.
“The tournament is a good challenge for us,” Coleman said. “It will force us to rise to the occasion.”