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Waubonsie Valley's Jordan Masiak hit a game-winner to upset Metea Valley last week. | Sean King/For Sun-Times Media
Neuqua Valley already has more losses than it did last season.
Believe it or not, the Wildcats believe that is a good thing.
Neuqua Valley went 27-4 last year and reached the sectional championship game. In their quest to go farther in the postseason this season, the Wildcats have beefed up their schedule, playing in two Christmas tournaments instead of one.
For the first time, the Wildcats entered the Montini Christmas Tournament. Now in its fourth season, the 16-team tournament has quickly morphed into the most prestigious in the Chicago area.
“This is definitely a great experience because it’s going to get us a lot more experience against really good teams,” Neuqua Valley senior guard Najee Smith said after the Wildcats defeated DeKalb in the opening round. “We’re definitely going to have to take it to the next level. We’re playing tough right now but I think these teams are definitely going to force us to step it up.”
That will only help the Wildcats when the state tournament rolls around. They realize that beating up on lesser teams will do them little good, so if given the choice between winning an easier tournament or taking a loss or two at Montini, the answer is a no-brainer.
“Oh, we’ll take a loss or two,” Smith said. “I definitely want to say we’re going up against the best.”
In the end, Neuqua lost three times over the holidays, with two of the losses coming to the teams that played in the state title game last year. Trying to defend their title at the Oswego Tournament in 2012, the Wildcats
fell 59-51 to reigning state champion Marian Catholic in the title game two days before beginning the Montini tournament.
After beating DeKalb, the Wildcats (13-5) lost to 2013 state runner-up Rolling Meadows 78-74 in a quarterfinal thriller before rebounding to knock off Batavia 71-57 and dropping a 54-52 decision to another ranked opponent, Fremd, in the fifth place game.
“I think it’s going to help us down the line,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “I was really excited about Marian Catholic being at Oswego and I think that helped the field. It jump-started us into coming into [Montini]
“We want the tough games, whatever happens. Right now a loss doesn’t matter, but it does in February when you’re done.”
BEATING THE BUZZER
There is nothing more exciting for a basketball player than making a game-winning shot as time expires. Two junior guards, Benet’s Emily Eshoo and Waubonsie Valley’s Jordan Masiak, pulled off the feat recently.
Eshoo drained a three-pointer to beat Providence 61-58 on Dec. 20 at the Benet-Naperville North Tournament. That allowed the Redwings (10-6) to avenge a 73-56 loss to the Celtics on Nov. 29 at Naperville Central Tip-Off Tournament. The two teams will meet for a third time in East Suburban Catholic Conference action on Feb. 1 in New Lenox.
One day after Eshoo’s game-winner, Masiak scored on a layup to upset rival Metea Valley 41-39. It was the second straight victory for Waubonsie Valley (3-13), which began the season with 10 straight losses.