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Girls Basketball: Geneva's Margaret Whitley determined to make last Montini memory the best

Vikings' senior guard scores 18 points in 66-44 first-round win over St. Joseph

Geneva guard Margaret Whitley (23) drives to the hoop against St.Charles North guard Leilauni Chanthaboury (1) at Geneva High School in Geneva on Dec. 8.
Geneva guard Margaret Whitley (23) drives to the hoop against St.Charles North guard Leilauni Chanthaboury (1) at Geneva High School in Geneva on Dec. 8.

Margaret Whitley's memories of Christmas at Montini are many.

As a freshman, with teammate Grace Loberg out of town, Whitley was Geneva's catalyst with 13 points in a matchup against eventual state champion Benet.

Last year she was tournament MVP, memorably hitting nine 3-pointers and scoring 27 points in a semifinal loss to Montini. Those big shots foreshadowed Whitley's biggest at Geneva, a game-winner in the state semifinal against Fremd.

"It's flown by so fast," said Whitley, Geneva's senior guard and UAB recruit, of her career. "I think everybody says that but it really has. All those specific moments, I'll always remember."

She wants her last memory at Montini to be her best.

For all of Geneva's successes, Whitley and the Vikings have never won the Montini Christmas Tournament, now in its ninth year. Some might argue navigating the field in Lombard over four days is nearly as difficult as winning state, which the Vikings accomplished last year.

Geneva's off to a good start.

Whitley scored 18 points, Lindsay Blackmore added 10 and Maddy Yelle had nine in the Vikings' 66-44 win over St. Joseph in Wednesday's 8 a.m. first-round game.

Geneva (11-0) has more or less not been tested in the season's first month. Whitley realizes that that will change as this week progresses. The field in Lombard includes Montini, unbeaten against in-state opponents, once-beaten Benet and unbeaten Nazareth.

Geneva's best finish at Montini was last year, third place.

"I think we're looking to make a statement," Whitley said. "This is our first tough games. It's right in the middle of the season, against all these highly-ranked teams. It's good to see where you stand and what you need to work on.

"I'm really trying to make the most of this last time here."

Whitley and Geneva are no strangers to early-morning tip-offs at Montini, and looked right at home. The Vikings arrived at their school by 6 a.m. for pregame work, and it carried over.

She scored on a driving layup to start the scoring, then knocked down her first three 3-point attempts. By the time Yelle scored late in the first quarter, Geneva led 19-1.

"Yesterday coach said 'I don't want to hear you're tired, you have to get to bed early and be ready,'" Whitley said. "That's what it's all about. We got to school at 6, like half the team came."

Whitley had 16 points by halftime. Her coach wasn't surprised to see her ready to go.

"She's a gamer," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "She knows this is a big stage and she needs to step up and play well."

Whitley's played well, and shown that kind of skill since she was young. Still, Meadows has seen her take great strides in less noticeable areas.

"I think Margaret has overall just matured with her understanding of the game," Meadows said. "When you're that skilled it's a natural skill to have, but she's come really far in the mental game.

"That's helped her develop as a well-rounded player. If the shot isn't falling, she can rebound. She's bought into that and done a nice job passing the ball. I thought she did an excellent job passing the ball today. That's where the maturity comes in, sharing with your teammates."

Whitley understands that the target on Geneva's back grew much bigger with that state title last March. She embraces it.

Meadows said she never considered leaving Montini's tournament to travel out of state this Christmas. The Vikings have unfinished business.

"Winning this is for sure a goal," Meadows said. "This is a competitive group. I like this tournament, I like [Montini coach] Jason [Nichols]. And our kids love playing in this gym."

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