Winter break can't come soon enough for most people.

It's a time to relax, get ready for the holidays and recharge a bit.

The high school sports teams take that approach the first week, but the intensity cranks up in between Christmas and the new year when just about all of the teams are going to be thoroughly tested either in state or out.

Tournament time is a great chance, especially for those who travel out of state, to work on the team structure and improve level of play.

Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista are taking two different approaches.

The Thunder are racking up travel miles, while the Pride are keeping it local.

"We have been doing this for a handful of years," Desert Vista wrestling coach David Gonzalez said. "For someone like (senior) Ace Martinez this is his third trip, and he can see how each year he has done better and better."

The Thunder wrestling team is heading to the North Torrance Tournament of Champions Dec. 29 and 30. California has developed into one of the better wrestling states in the country.

Desert Vista's top wrestlers - Robbie Mathers, Alex Bambic and Martinez - get to test themselves against some great competition with the opportunity to enhance their names nationally if they happen to come back individual champions.

"I don't know much about it, but it's a chance to see where you are at," state champion Mathers said. "You want to face the best, and I want to be the best."

Other wrestlers like Kendall Love, Cooper Gardner, Matt Mathers and Sam Schoepf can get huge confidence boosts by placing at a tournament of this nature.

The trip, funded by the booster club and offseason freestyle tournaments, is one of several taken by Desert Vista teams.

While the Thunder girls basketball team (Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler) and soccer team (Dobson Tournament) are staying local their male counterparts are hitting the road.

The boys soccer team is heading to Oceanside, Calif., for the Southern California High School Cup Dec. 27-30. The boys basketball team is in the Las Vegas Prep Championships, a 32-team event that guarantees the Thunder four games starting on Dec. 27 for the first time.

For a new coach like Dave Williams, who has the Thunder basketball team playing well, it's essential to get the team away for a couple of days, not worry about the wins and losses and what they mean in power point rankings and work on getting his system down pat.

"There is just something about being on the road together that tightens your bond as a team," Williams said. "Plus it will give us a chance to lengthen our bench by playing more players."

Mountain Pointe teams will try to gain the same type of experience by playing in local events.

The boys basketball team is playing in the highest-profile event as the Pride enters the Basketball Challenge, Dec. 27-30, once again.

The 16-team showcase is filled with mostly top Arizona programs but there are teams from California, Utah and Ohio mixed in as well. The Pride takes on Phoenix Westwind Prep and Scottsdale Horizon before facing Serra of Gardena, Calif., which is 1-2 after going 35-2 last season. The fourth game is to be announced.

"Last year, three of our eight losses came in this tournament," Pride coach Brian Fleming said. "After that we won 15 of 16 games. I think it was because of the level of competition we faced in the tournament. After that we were able to play with anyone."

The Mountain Pointe girls basketball team is playing in the Scottsdale Holiday tournament, starting Dec. 27 and running through Dec. 30 at Horizon High.

The Pride soccer teams are playing in the Dobson Tournament from Dec. 27-31 at Red Mountain Soccer Park in Mesa.

"Even though the tournaments do not count in power points they do allow coaches to develop some team chemistry and cohesion," Mountain Pointe coach Bryan Sabato said. "It gives coaches a chance to see multiple players in different roles to see how and where they fit into the scope of the team. If you have some success it also allows for teams to develop a sense of confidence."

Horizon Honors basketball teams are keeping sharp by playing in the Valley Christian Invitational (girls) and the Phoenix Country Day Invitational (boys) starting on Dec. 28.

It is pretty clear that each program approaches this extra time differently. There is no right or wrong. Just two weeks of trying to get better.

"There is a lot of one-on-one time that you can't get while school is in session," Fleming said. "This is a critical time when it comes to the development of your team."

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