Hinsdale South Tournament Saturday Notebook: Nazareth hyper-prepared; Neuqua Valley’s Washington has Wildcats running

By Kaleb Carter

The Sandburg girls basketball team rolled to the championship game of Hinsdale South’s Brenda Whitesell Thanksgiving Tournament undefeated on the heels of wins over Addison Trail, Hinsdale Central and St. Francis. 

Then they ran into the brick wall that is Nazareth.

The Roadrunners soared to a huge lead, led 33-7 at half, and the game was never in doubt as Nazareth claimed the title game 50-21 to finish 4-0 run at the Whitesell tourney. 

“We’ve been really prepared,” Nazareth 6-1 sophomore Danielle Scully said. “We watched all of their film, we scouted them, we’ve just been really prepared as a team.”

Scully scored 16 points, all in the first half, as Nazareth’s defense fed into transition buckets and frequent looks in the paint for the undefeated Roadrunners. Between feeding teammates the rock, stepping out from the perimeter to sink a shot, driving to the hole and using her big frame to back down overmatched defenders, Scully looked nearly unstoppable in the first half. 

Between a talented 2024 class that features Scully, strong 6-1 forward Olivia Austin and 5-8 guard Amalia Dray (12 points vs. Sandburg), as well as six other sophomores on the varsity roster, there’s a lot of reason to be feeling high about the Roadrunners’ future. 

Senior Caroline Workman brings a steadiness and versatility to the floor that would be crucial in the postseason, and Grace Carstensen sank three three-pointers in the victory over Sandburg. Carstensen also scored 22 points vs. St. Edward and 17 vs. Neuqua Valley. 

“Our routine at Nazareth is we stay quiet, we just play on the court,” coach Ed Stritzel said. “We feel we have an amazing group of 2024s. They’re just sensational. Grace Carstensen, our junior, can shoot the hell out of it. We can spread the floor, we have great shooters that spread it and then we have a really strong inside game with Scully, (Caroline) Workman and Olivia Austin. So I feel we have a lot of different pieces and we can play a lot of different styles.”

The defense jump-started it all, and between playing a pressuring man-to-man, an extended zone, a laid-back zone and other deviations from those looks, the Roadrunners seek to make defensive success their identity. Between the four games, the Roadrunners yielded just 73 points (final scores: 66-9 vs. St. Edward; 43-11 vs. Neuqua Valley; 66-32 vs. Stagg; 21 50-21 vs.Sandburg).  

“We’re a really dynamic team,” Stritzel said. “We can put people a lot of difficult spots with multiple defenses. Our defense is our calling card. We’re fast, athletic and long. We knew Sandburg had some shooters … We thought our girls did a really good job of knowing where they were on the court all the time.

“We’re a very fast, athletic team, and we like to play up style,” he added. “We don’t have to press in the full court, we do a lot of stuff in the half court and it causes teams a lot of problems.”

Sandburg

The Eagles, fresh off single-digit victories over Hinsdale Central (41-37) and St. Francis (43-39), started their season with a 67-25 win over Addison Trail. 

Josie Cannellis, Charlotte Trunk and Erin O’Connor have been providing steady play this season but didn’t find their footing against Nazareth. The Eagles found a spark in 5-8 senior guard Danielle Antoine, who created off the dribble and kept the energy up in the second half for Sandburg against Nazareth.

Neuqua Valley

Neuqua Valley has had to adjust on the fly and change gears early this season.

An injury to 6-0 junior forward Tia Poulakidas forced the Wildcats to get out in transition over the next few games of the Whitesell tournament.

“We started off on a great note the first game, and then our big center Tia went down, so playing Nazareth was a tough call,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “Really no time to prepare for them. But after that I thought our guard play was phenomenal, our defense has been phenomenal. We’ve just got to figure out ways to (score) and we’ve been doing a lot of that on transition buckets.”

Sophomore guards Caitin Washington and Zoe Navarro got the Wildcats moving, as forcing missed shots and turning Hinsdale Central over paid big dividends in an eventual 60-48 win over the Red Devils Saturday. The Wildcats are now 3-2 with wins over the Red Devils, Plainfield South (64-35) andOrr (57-35), and losses to Nazareth (43-11) and Batavia (63-56, not in tournament).

Washington scored 21 points, showing a comfortability with the ball in her hands, getting downhill with quickness and finding open shooters. Navarro sank three triples and got the Wildcats moving.

“Zoe made a couple of threes, she made some good timely plays for us,” Washington said. “Shannon Gillispie (a 5-11 senior forward) got some steals, Kylie got some layups and overall we just fed off each other’s energy.”

Changing up defenses has proven to help the Wildcats get out in transition. Kylee Norkus contributed eight points in the win over the Red Devils and showed some nice ball-handling skills in the half-court and in transition.

Both Washington and Williams stressed how Hoffman and Gillespie have stepped up in during Poulakidas’ absence.

“Our defense has been phenomenal,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to figure out ways to (score) and we’ve been doing a lot of that on transition buckets.

“We’ve had some players like Shannon and Alison (Hoffman, a senior) step up and make some big steals,” Williams added. “It’s been a great team effort. This has been good for us to play without one of our key components and still succeed.”

Washington, who just finds ways to make plays, has a simple attitude about changing up styles and trying different looks on the offensive and defensive end.

“I’m a basketball player man, I just do whatever it takes to win games at the end of the day,” Washington said.

Hinsdale Central

 

Eleanor Monyek said her team showed great improvement at the tail end of last season’s shortened campaign. Now, her squad awaits improved health to see big gains. Some played through pain while others like junior guard Angie Conley missed due to injury.

In the meantime the 6-0 senior forward, who scored 22 points in the loss to the Wildcats, is attempting to push teammates to take advantage of opportunities.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of points where we’ve got younger players that can step up and be big difference-makers,” Monyek said.

She added that there are chances for other players due to injury trouble. Meanwhile, the group of seniors that have largely played together since elementary school will do what they can to lead.

“I think if our younger players want to step up, they can and it’s going to be cool to see what they can do,” Monyek said.

Senior Lanie Randle scored eight points versus Neuqua Valley. Big senior forward Nina Sarros added six points while battling knee trouble.

“I think for us it’s just getting everybody back and healthy seeing where we stand … getting everybody all the pieces back up and running will give us more of a feeling where they’re at,” Hinsdale Central coach Karen Persinger said.

Finding that offensive consistency will be key, as the Red Devils struggled with some turnovers and perimeter shooting. They did find ways to get the ball to Monyek in the post. Movement without the ball in the half-court offense and flying to loose balls aided the Red Devils in a big way. The Red Devils led 42-41 in the fourth quarter before the Neuqua Valley trio of Washington, Navarro and Norkus stepped up.

“We’ve spent a ton of time on working on our press and our rotation and our communication, making sure that we’re in the right spots and we’re helping each other, cutting and moving,” Persinger said.

Hinsdale Central finished 2-2 at the tournament with wins over Metea Valley and St. Ignatius, also losing to Sandburg. Persinger said that her team still has to find an identity. Monyek believes she knows, at least partially, what that identity looks like.

“Overall I think our identity is we’re just a gritty team and we’re going to keep showcasing that,” Monyek said.

Stagg vs. St. Francis

St. Francis’ defense locked down Stagg in the second half of a 40-38 win, with free throws marking the difference in the game’s final minute.

A Laila Barakat and-one take to the rim gave Stagg its largest lead of the game at 31-18 in the third quarter. But St. Francis immediately followed with an 8-0 run. Dolly Smith, a 5-4 sophomore guard, drilled a crucial three-pointer to pull the Spartans within one, 37-36. Smith later sank two free throws to tie the game at 38-38 (she finished with 13 points, including three threes).

Katie Anne De Craene, a 5-9 senior guard, was fouled with 16.1 seconds left and sank the two deciding free throws. She scored 7 of her 15 points at the charity stripe.

Senior Gail Korbitz, a 6-1 forward who played on the perimeter and in the post, scored a game-high 16 points for Stagg.

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