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Herron: Things looking up for area girls basketball teams

Minooka's Cierra Bachmann takes a shot during a game against Lincoln-Way Central in the Medirval Classic on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in Frankfort, IL.
Minooka's Cierra Bachmann takes a shot during a game against Lincoln-Way Central in the Medirval Classic on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in Frankfort, IL.

Although it makes up a small portion of the girls basketball teams’ schedules, the week that’s devoted to holiday tournaments often proves to be crucial in determining which direction a program is headed for the latter part of its season.

A good showing in a tournament can be the ideal springboard that a team needs to finish on a strong note, or it can help turn the tide on a season that wasn’t going very well.

That’s why it’s a pretty good bet that most of the area’s large-school coaches are excited about their teams’ futures after their efforts in the holiday tournaments.

Leading the way was Lincoln-Way East, who capped a 15-1 start to its season by repeating as champions of its own Medieval Classic.

Coach Jim Martin, who has led the Griffins throughout their history, is retiring at the end of the season. He’s had nine 20-win seasons and captured eight regional titles in his years at the school, and the 15-1 record is one of the best starts that he’s had.

For the second year in a row, East defeated Minooka for the title, this time by a 62-50 score. Among the Griffins’ leaders in the tournament were Most Valuable Player Carolyn Waleski and their other All-Tournament selection, Delani Grayer.

But East wasn’t the only Lincoln-Way program to win a tournament title last week. Coach Ryan White’s Lincoln-Way West squad improved to 16-3 on the season after beating Downers Grove South, 52-50, to capture top honors at the Oswego East Holiday Classic.

Tara Hastings, who made the all-tournament team, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Warriors the win. Taylor Gugliuzza, who averaged about 20 points during the four games, was selected as the event’s most valuable player.

Minooka, which entered the Medieval Classic with a 5-5 record, started to play some of its best ball of the season, as it won three in a row before falling to the hosts in the finals.

Coach Ray Liberatore’s Indians were led throughout the tournament by Cierra Bachmann. A positive for Minooka was that although All-Tournament pick Savannah Johnson missed the last two games because of illness, several other players stepped up in her absence.

Bolingbrook headed to Florida for its holiday tournament. The Raiders lost to Benet Academy in finals of the recent Benet/Naperville North Invite for their only previous defeat. After winning their first two games in the Junior Orange Bowl Classic, they fell, 52-45, to Miami Ferguson in the title game. Gabriella and Jahari Smith both were all-tournament selections.

Peotone defeated a pair of much bigger programs to claim top honors at its own Blue Devil Holiday Classic, which made its debut this year. After dropping its opener, coach Steve Strough’s Blue Devils beat Joliet West to capture its pool, and then Kankakee, 51-50, in the championship game to continue their successful season.

Twelve of the area’s large teams at least split their tournament games, while eight of those won more games than they lost. Plainfield North was third at Saint Viator, Plainfield South placed third at Peotone, Lincoln-Way Central was fourth at the Medieval Classic and Joliet West took fourth at Peotone.

Also at the Oswego East Classic, Lockport placed sixth, Lemont was seventh and Joliet Central took consolation honors. After losing to defending Michigan champion, Detroit Edison, Plainfield East posted a 2-1 record at Bishop Noll in Indiana.

The strong showings in tournament play have created positive won-loss totals for the vast majority of the area’s large teams heading into the 2018 portion of their schedules.

While many teams’ postseason paths figure to be very challenging because of the presence of so many quality teams in both the Class 4A Neuqua Valley and Mother McAuley sectionals, January should be an interesting month in local conferences.

The Southwest Prairie Conference looks quite compelling with all four Plainfield teams, Minooka and Oswego East all figuring to be formidable on any given night.

Not that long ago, the area seemed to have a few really good teams and more that weren’t that good. But because there’s so many talented young players who are ready for varsity ball, it’s been a real positive for the sport and should only help with its future development.

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