The Holy Spirit High School girls basketball team has a lot of work to do this weekend.
The Spartans will play state power Point Pleasant Beach in the final game of the highly anticipated two-day Prime Events Shootout, which begins Saturday at Holy Spirit. Before they can do that, the tournament hosts have other business to attend.
"We're there all weekend long helping out, whether it's cutting oranges or handing out pamphlets or running around for our coaches," Holy Spirit senior forward Annie Wenz said.
The biggest chore comes at 7 p.m. Sunday, however. The Holy Spirit (8-2) and Point Pleasant Beach (10-0) game will cap off a weekend of great girls basketball matchups. The 18th annual Shootout features nine games, several of which will pit some of the Cape-Atlantic League's best against the best programs from around the state.
The Spartans face their toughest matchup so far this season in unbeaten Point Pleasant Beach. The Garnet Gulls have outscored opponents by an average of 32.1 points. Holy Spirit is led by Wenz, who averages 13.7 points.
"It's a great challenge for us. There's a different type of play outside of South Jersey. We like to see competition we're not used to," Wenz said.
Seven teams in The Press Elite 11 will play, including No. 11 Spirit. Highlighting the showcase is Saturday's 5:15 p.m. game between No. 2 Rancocas Valley (11-0) and No. 3 Ocean City (11-1), followed by No. 5 Cedar Creek (9-2) vs. No. 8 Lenape (12-1). Middle Township (8-3), ranked 10th, plays Malcolm X. Shabazz (14-0), ranked 14th in the nation by USA Today.
Local schools look forward to seeing how they match up with the state's top athletes.
"It's a measuring stick to see where we stand against those state powers," Spartans coach Dennis Smith said. "(Teams) can kind of get a read out of the area for teams they'd possibly see in the playoffs, and how teams from other areas play."
The Shootout was moved from its traditional President's Day weekend schedule. Smith suggested to move the tournament up one month to give teams some rest between it and the Cape-Atlantic League playoffs, which begin in late February. Last year, the Spartans wound up playing five games in seven nights.
The switch also cleared up scheduling conflicts with teams that might play in the Shore Conference Tournament or other county tournaments. The new dates have enticed other teams to make the trip down the Garden State Parkway or Atlantic City Expressway.
The teams traveling south have just as much incentive to play.
"It's a marquee matchup that will have them battle tested," Smith said.
Players are aware how important games like these are to prepare them for the state playoffs. The Shootout provides games that build character and confidence along with skill.
Holy Spirit lost to perennial power St. Rose 52-23 in last year's South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals. Smith said the Spartans, who return all of their key players from last year, didn't believe they belonged on the floor with such a strong program.
Not anymore. Holy Spirit is playing with tenacity. Even in a 52-36 loss Saturday to Rumson Fair-Haven in a Hoop Group Girls Boardwalk Showcase, the Spartans played with intensity and trailed the state Group II contender by just seven points in the final five minutes.
Along with the other local teams, Holy Spirit hopes to continue to make a name for itself and the Cape-Atlantic League this weekend.
"These teams are making statements for South Jersey. We're not just anybody. We can compete at this level," Wenz said.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
All games at Holy Spirit
1:45 p.m.: Mainland vs. Central Regional
3:30 p.m.: Sacred Heart vs. Egg Harbor Township
5:15 p.m.: No. 3 Ocean City vs. No. 2 Rancocas Valley
7 p.m.: No. 5 Cedar Creek vs. No. 8 Lenape
Noon: Millville vs Buena
1:45 p.m.: St. Joseph vs. No. 7 Gloucester Catholic
3:30 p.m.: Atlantic City vs. Trenton Central
5:15 p.m.: No. 10 Middle Township vs. Shabazz
7 p.m.: No. 11 Holy Spirit vs. Point Pleasant Beach