When this season’s schedule came out the Trinity High School basketball team knew that last week would be a tough one with games against last’s year Class 3A third-place finisher Montini and perennial power Marshall.
But little could the Blazers imagine how tough a week it turned out to be.
The week began when head coach Eddie Stritzel resigned under pressure and three varsity assistant coaches quit or were fired, depending on who you believe, the evening before the game against top-ranked Montini.
Stritzel’s abrupt and surprising departure came as Stritzel was about to come back from a 30-day suspension for violating a rule against recruiting. His departure left the Trinity players shocked and confused and tears were shed. The reasons for Stritzel’s departure have not been explained by either Stritzel or school officials.
Mike Valente, who had been serving as interim head coach when Stritzel was suspended, took over the head coach position.
24 hours after they learned that their coach was not coming back the Blazers took Montini, the top-ranked team in the Chicago area, down to wire losing 43-41 when Sheahen Dowling’s potential game-winning three-pointer was partially blocked at the buzzer.
But on Saturday the effect of losing of losing not only their head coach but also three varsity assistants may have been more apparent when the sluggish Blazers lost to Marshall 56-45 at the Crete Monee shootout.
Against Marshall (7-1), the Blazers looked a little out of sorts for much of the game. Two quick fouls sent point guard Annie McKenna to the bench less than two minutes into the game and the Blazers lost their rhythm on offense and struggled against the quick Marshall post players defensively.
The Blazers (4-3) could only make 12 of 48 shots and committed 25 turnovers. They often settled for three pointers and only hit seven of 25 three point attempts. Kaitlin Aylward led the Blazers with 15 points, but McKenna could only score three points hitting just one of her six three point shots.
“We didn’t make shots,” Valente said. “We’re just not getting to the foul line. It seems like it’s either a three or nothing. The three point shot is great when you’re making it, but you can’t rely on that.”
Valente came to Trinity last year as an assistant and was a head coach at Queen of Peace for two years. He was a varsity assistant coach at Fenwick from 2000 until 2006. Valente said that departure of Stritzel and the other coaches was tough on the team and caused a lot of turmoil and confusion.
“We’ve had a tough month,” Valente said. “It’s a roller coaster with these girls. The best part of this whole thing is that it’s early enough where we’re going to fix it. It’s definitely there so we will definitely get back on track.”
The Blazers came into the season with high expectations and were ranked second in the Chicago area behind Montini in the Chicago Tribune’s preseason rankings. But losing Stritzel and the assistants took its toll.
“You’re dealing with teenage girls so there’s mood swings,” Valente said. “I think right now when something goes wrong they all tend to hold their heads down and not understand that it’s just part of the ebb and flow.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just staying positive and try to push forward. Every day it’s going to get better.”
Former Regina Dominican head coach Jim Russo came on board Saturday as a new varsity assistant to help replenish the depleted coaching ranks