Girls basketball notes: Nazareth heading to Florida for holidays

Roadrunners at elite Tampa Bay Christmas Invite; Montini’s Matulevicius closing in on milestone

Nazareth's Olivia Austin (middle) protects the ball from Benet's Shannon Earley and Bridget Rifenburg (22) during a game on Dec. 13, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

Eddie Stritzel said his Nazareth seniors have been asking him since they were freshmen if they could travel south for Christmas.

It’s happening this year.

Nazareth is one of a group of elite teams from Illinois who will be participating in the Tampa Bay Christmas Invite Dec. 27-30. Hundreds of teams are down there with Nazareth in an eight-team bracket. The Roadrunners’ first game is Dec. 27 against Miami Country Day, an eight-time state champion from Florida that features Baylor recruit Kayla Nelms, a top 50 prospect nationally.

“It’s a pretty big tournament. We got invited to it last year, and the girls have been asking me to go since they were freshmen,” Stritzel said “It finally became a reality and we are really excited. We are excited, but we have done our homework. It will be one hell of a challenge.”

Whitney Young and Bolingbrook, the latter in Nazareth’s bracket, are also participating in the event. Stritzel’s assistant looked into the event last year, made contact in March and got approval to travel out of state.

“We are at a point where this team has so much experience, we always play the best teams from out of state – the girls wanted a different challenge and to see how they stack up with other teams,” Stritzel said. “I told the girls any time we play we’re in there to win it, but to be real we’ll see different styles. We’ll get to the state playoffs ready for top teams. There is a shot clock and we think that is to our advantage.”

Nazareth will leave Dec. 26 and come back Dec. 31.

“It’s something really different that we’ve never done, even when I was at Trinity,” Stritzel said. “The girls are pumped.”

Joe Lewnard/
Montini’s Victoria Matulevicius drives to the basket for a layup against Hersey’s Ava Harwood, left, and KiKi Craft during the Lake Zurich girls basketball shootout Tuesday.

Montini’s Matulevicius chasing milestone

Victoria Matulevicius is one of three girls who were freshmen when Shannon Spanos took over as Montini head coach three seasons ago, part of a young core. The Lady Broncos also have nine juniors, many of whom have played up on varsity and are in their third varsity season.

Matulevicius, for one, has a significant milestone in sight.

At 1,242 points for her career, Matulevicius has a realistic shot at reaching 1,500 career points. She is averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game this season. With a deep postseason run, Matulevicius could pass Whitney Holloway (1,594) as Montini’s all-time leading scorer. Matulevicius right now is third behind Holloway and Michala Johnson (1,591).

“All those kids at the time when I took over were young,” Spanos said. “To develop and give back to the program and play meaningful minutes, it’s great to see.”

This Montini team has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride the season’s first month. The Lady Broncos started 6-0, but then lost their next four games. They got back on track Wednesday with a 69-42 win over Trinity. Shea Carver scored 17 points, Matulevicius 14, Nikki Kerstein 13 and Alyssa Epps 11 in the win.

“We know we play a very hard schedule – we’re not trying to schedule games where we’re going to walk through teams,” Spanos said. “Our goal hopefully is to make a run to make it downstate and hopefully our schedule will help us put in position to get there.

“I like this group. I think we play very well together and we have two very good scoring threats.”

That second big-time scoring threat, alongside Matulevicius, is Kerstein, a transfer from Deerfield. The highly-regarded junior guard reached the 1,000-point career milestone earlier this season.

“She is a true point guard,” Spanos said. “She can handle pressure, she sets up the offense, and she is an unbelievable passer – she makes everyone better because she sees things on the court, sees things not many girls are able to see. She makes everybody better and is a great teammate. We are lucky to have her, she has fit in perfectly. It has been truly seamless.”

Hinsdale South’s dynamic duo

Amerie “Mimi” Flowers and Amelia Lavorato both took their bumps and bruises as freshmen on Hinsdale South’s varsity three years ago.

But they stuck with it. And now they’re reaping their rewards.

The two seniors, starters since their freshman year, are the catalysts to Hinsdale South’s 9-3 start. Flowers, who will play collegiately at Benedictine, is putting up monster numbers, it seems, on a nightly basis, averaging 16.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. Lavorato is averaging 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

They are the backbone of what Hinsdale South coach Scott Tanaka has tried to build since arriving in Darien in 2017.

“They have worked very hard and bought into what we are trying to do, and now they’re reaping the rewards with their success,” Tanaka said. “It is their buy in, their resiliency, it is their want to be the best possible players and people they can be on and off the court.”

Hinsdale South went 19-11 last season with the then-junior captains leading the way for a team that played four freshmen.

“They were able to get those freshman girls to buy in; the freshmen were lucky, they got to buy in and have success. With Mia and Mimi they had to buy in and have no success,” Tanaka said. “To go through the lumps of losses and be really successful as juniors that went to speak of how our young kids became great leaders.”

Lavorato on Wednesday posted a triple double of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and did so despite sitting the majority of the fourth quarter.

“And we played a good Glenbard South team,” Tanaka said. “It’s insane. In 25 years of high school coaching it’s only the third time I’ve had a kid get a triple double.”

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.