When you are expected to be among the marquee teams in America, good things come your way.
That is the case for the Rock Island girls basketball team.
A year after finishing 31-2, the Rocks return Texas Tech-bound senior point guard Chrislyn Carr and Class of 2019 prized national recruit Brea Beal.
And largely because of that pair, the Rocks find themselves playing a bit of a national schedule this winter.
Besides their usual Western Big Six slate and the IHMVCU Iowa-Illinois Shootout, the Rocks have stops planned in Indianapolis, Washington, D.C. and Louisville.
That’s in addition to the Lake Zurich tournament to open the season and the DeKalb tournament on Martin Luther King Day, both of which feature quality Illinois competition.
The decision to take the trips was an easy one, Rock Island coach Thad Hoover said.
“These are invite-only things that are once-in-a-lifetime of a coach or a program type deals,” Hoover said. "We are blessed with the kind of kids that are getting that kind of recognition.
“The opportunity is there, and we just felt that it’s something that we should follow and embrace.”
The decisions were made before Rocky athletic director Michelle Lillis took over this past summer, but she was supportive for two reasons — the cost easily fit in the Rock Island budget and the experience.
“Comparison price-wise was the same, and the experience was an elevated experience that you are not going to get all the time,” she said.
It’s certainly fine with the Rocky stars, who don’t really need additional publicity to get them scholarships.
“It’s a good level to get out there and compete at,” said Carr, who recently signed a letter of intent with Texas Tech. “There’s not going to be any easy games.”
“I like the fact that we are getting out of Illinois and surrounding states and we are actually traveling somewhere,” Beal said. “When we go to those places, we are advertising ourselves. And everybody is going to look into our program when they see us play. All the other players will get looked at, too. It’s just a good thing to have.”
The timing is right, Hoover said.
“We just feel with the senior class that we have, along with the obvious Brea Beal and a couple of younger kids that have some of the size that we have, that this is the year to do something like that,” Hoover said.
The cost is not what people might think, too.
“A lot of these invite type things, accommodations are taken care of by the tournament committee or the shootout committee,” Hoover said. “Wherever we happen to be going, they know how far we are coming.”
Hotels and meals are covered in the four-day Title IX Holiday Invite in Washington, D.C. after Christmas. Lillis said even some plane tickets are being provided.
“The trade-off here is it really wasn’t costing us any more money than going down to Bloomington (for the State Farm Classic),” she said. “We paid for all the travel, rooms and food over the three or four days.”
Hotels are also covered for the one-day, one-night trips to Indianapolis and Kentucky, she said.
That leaves transportation and meals.
Lillis’ support has been a big help, Hoover said. So have private donations from outside individuals and groups.
With national competition, the Rocks could suffer a loss or two that they might not otherwise have. According to Hoover, the gains, though, outweigh any losses.
“We may get exposed on some things,” Hoover said. “But that’s what you need to do. We are not afraid to lose some games this year if that’s what happens.”
It will obviously benefit the Big Six in terms of prestige, especially if the Rocks perform well in the national spotlight.
It also will benefit some of the younger players on Rock Island's roster such as 6-foot-5 sophomore Anne Awour.
The Shavoqte Zellow Holiday Jam in Indianpolis is Dec. 22, followed by the Washington, D.C. trip from Dec. 27-30. The Louisville trek is Jan. 20.
School won’t be missed for more than one day on the latter two.
The trips are a reward, Hoover said, for years of hard work by the players.
“They have worked hard from future Rocks basketball to get to this point,” he said.
After the trip on Jan. 20, the focus will be on finishing the regular season and prepping for the postseason.
The Rocks, eyeing another Big Six title, lost to Edwardsville last year in the sectional final.
Hoover cautions that the Rocks are replacing four-year starter Justice Edell along with shooting guard and key reserve Mariah Anderson. Both are playing college basketball.
"So the way we do things will be a little different on the court,” Hoover said. “It will take time for all of that to mesh. So like any team we are just trying to progress throughout the season and get better.”
In addition to Beal and Carr, the Rocks also return 5-9 senior Lauren Hall.
Carr doesn’t hesitate on what the goal is this winter -- a state title.
“It’s not a lot of years where you can say that winning the state title is one of those goals,” Hoover agreed. “Obviously, it is.”
For now, though, Hoover wants the Rocks to focus on the process.
“If we do that and set goals for ourselves in how we practice, how we prepare, how we improve throughout the season, those goals take care of themselves," he said.
The season will be quite a ride, to places near and far.
“Now that we are getting close, it’s actually exciting to see it come to fruition,” Hoover said of the national slate. “The hotel reservations have been made. We’ve talked to the tournaments that we are going to and have the matchups.
“It’s pretty neat.”