Playing tough opponents is nothing new for teams in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. But as DeMatha, Gonzaga and O’Connell prepare for this week’s Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament at Frostburg State, each respective coach admits that this year’s field presents a daunting task.
Joining the perennial WCAC contenders in the eight-team bracket will be La Lumiere (Ind.), the No. 9 team in the ESPN high school rankings, VISAA Division I champ Benedictine and Maryland powers St. Frances and Mount Saint Joseph.
“It’s a very strong field and you’ve got league champions going up against each other,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said. “This is one of the tournaments where if you’re a ball player, it’ll definitely get your competitive juices flowing.”
At stake for the Eagles is a chance to redeem themselves after being upset by Bishop Ireton in the quarterfinals of the WCAC tournament. Following an almost three-week layoff, Gonzaga will open up against host school Bishop Walsh in Thursday’s first round. But the Eagles are confident that their hunger for a postseason title will override any rust.
“We have four guys who will never put on a Gonzaga uniform after this tournament,” Gonzaga senior Kris Jenkins said. “We just have to play hard, smart and together and we will be fine.”
For O’Connell, rest has been a welcome notion during the past week. The day after winning the WCAC tournament on Feb. 26, the Knights were back on the court competing for the VISAA Division I crown. Their string of six games in eight days ended with a 62-56 championship loss to Benedictine on March 2.
Should the Knights reach Saturday’s title game, they hope to have a chance to avenge that defeat.
“It’s very important that we finish the year strong, and hopefully we get a chance to play Benedictine again,” O’Connell guard Melo Trimble said. “We didn’t have our legs then, but you can tell we’ve got more energy in our practices this past week. We just need to get back to that winning attitude we had in the WCAC tournament where we refused to lose.”
O’Connell Coach Joe Wootten, whose team opens play Thursday against Mount Saint Joseph, said the Knights will look to create matchup problems with their inside-outside ability, anchored by the sharpshooting Trimble and post stalwarts Leroy Butts and Junior Etou.
Meantime, DeMatha enters as the reigning champs after beating Paul VI in last year’s title game. It’s been a tough go for the Stags since then, as a 13-14 campaign has been peppered with four losses on buzzer-beating shots.
The three-week layoff has been a change for DeMatha Coach Mike Jones, whose team played in eight of the last 12 Abe Pollin City Title Games until the format was changed this year. To compensate, the Stags mixed a scrimmage against Team Takeover into their practice schedule this past week.
“I like what we’ve been doing and hopefully the game situations that come from a scrimmage will help us bridge the gap of not playing for so long,” said Jones, whose team faces La Lumiere in the quarterfinals. “It’s different because there’s no City Title Game, but it also gave us a chance to step away. Now I’m anxious to see what we do when we take the floor on Thursday.”