At the start of the season, Trinity basketball head coach Mike Valente talked about how everything his Blazers do during the regular season is geared towards making a deep run in the IHSA girls state basketball tournament.
How does Valente feel about his team – which is seeded fourth in the 4A Maine East Sectional?
“I was very happy with the regular season,” said Valente of the Blazers, who enter the state tournament with a 18-7 record. “We got better as the year went on. We played a tough schedule that helped us get ready for the playoffs. We had several young players gain good experience this year, and we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish during the regular season.
“We break the season into parts, and the playoffs are the last part. Everything has gone the way we thought it would, now let’s see if we can finish up strong.”
In order to meet its goal of going Downstate, Trinity knows it will need to bring 32 (or more) minutes of intensity every game.
“Every possession is so important in the playoffs,” Valente said. “We know that there are going to be upsets, that’s just the nature of the beast. We need to make we beat teams we’re supposed to beat. We’re prepared for teams with better records than us; we can play with any of them. We’re excited to get going, there’s a different tone in practices and games because it’s one-and-done.”
The Blazers feel that their schedule has helped them get ready for the state tournament, both defensively and offensively.
“We’re going to have to play good lockdown defense,” Valente said. “We’re all about being the best defensive team we can be. Offense is for show, defense is for go.
“We played teams with different styles of play – we can slow it down and play a half-court game or we can run. We can play any style and that’s the biggest positive heading into the playoffs. It’s all about adjustments and matchups and you have to do what you need to do in order to win games.
“We have to limit our turnovers offensively and be mentally focused. We can’t pass up good shots. Everyone has to be on the same page.”
Trinity appreciates having the No. 4 seed at Maine East, but also realizes that it is just one of several teams that could win the sectional according to Valente.
“Being a top-four seed in any sectional is a great accomplishment. There are six, maybe seven teams that could make a legitimate case for winning ours,” he said. “We can’t take anyone for granted, but we feel we’re the toughest #4 seed in the state. We’re in a loaded sectional, and it’s going to be a tough out for any of the top seven or eight seeds.”
“We realize having to potentially play New Trier on its own court for the regional title is tough, but at the same time we’re not scared to play anybody – whenever and wherever.”
One reason for the Blazers’ confidence is that they have two players who have experienced going Downstate in 2015 – Alex Fanning and Lauren Lee. Valente does not hesitate to speak of their value.
“Alex and Lauren have played in a lot of big games and know what’s it like to get there,” he said. “It’s huge, their experience. Last time, I think they were just happy to be there, but this time I don’t think that’s going to be enough for them. They not only expect to get downstate, they expect to win. Their focus will give us an extra edge against teams who have never been there.”
Trinity opens up 4A play Tuesday, Feb. 13 at the New Trier Regional versus the Lincoln Park/Maine East winner. Should the Blazers advance, there is a very good chance the host Trevians will be awaiting in the title game on Thursday, Feb. 15. But Valente likes him team’s postseason chances.
“This is why we do it,” he said. “We’re built for the postseason. This is where we earn our paychecks as coaches.
“We feel no matter what comes at us, we’re going to be prepared. If we play good defense, we’re going to be ecstatic.”