Fundamental Benefits For USA Women’s U17 Trials Participants
With 139 young basketball players taking part in trials for the 2016 USA Women’s U17 World Championship Team this weekend at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the unfortunate reality is that more than 90.0 percent of those in attendance will not be named to the official 12-member roster.
That does not mean, however, they will go home empty-handed. The first day-and-a-half of trials are designed to ensure otherwise. There was no scrimmaging. Instead, three on-court skills sessions focused on improving individual fundamentals, such as footwork and shooting form, while three off-court sessions were designed to help players grow as competitors and teammates.
Coordinating the skills sessions was Nancy Fahey, who in 30 years as the women’s basketball head coach at Washington University in Missouri has compiled an incredible 711-130 all-time record and is the only coach in NCAA Division III history to win five national championships. Fahey returns as the lead clinician for the 2016 USA Women’s U17 World Championship Team Trials after serving in the same capacity at last summer’s 2015 USA Women’s U16 National Team Trials.
“Not a hesitation,” Fahey said of serving as a lead clinician for a second-straight year. “I was very excited to get the opportunity to come back.
“I’m coming in with experience from last year, and I have a better sense of what we are trying to do and of our purpose. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help in the ultimate goal. I know it’s a small part of the big picture, but I take the responsibility very seriously.”
For players such as Jahnna Hajdukovich (Lathrop H.S./Fairbanks, Alaska) last year’s experience was more than enough to encourage her to return to trials as well.
“I love being here, and the people here make it 10 times better, because the competition is amazing compared to Alaska,” Hajdukovich said. “I don’t have a lot (of competition) in Alaska, but coming here makes it worthwhile.
“It was important to come out a second time, because it gives me another chance. I was here last year, and I got my evaluation back, and I took it as I need to grow more. Not height-wise, but grow in my game and get stronger. In perfecting those abilities, I was able to come back and have more confidence to maybe make it past the second cut.”
While Hajdukovich is one of 54 players with at least one USA Basketball experience under their belt, Elle Baker (Saguaro H.S./Scottsdale, Ariz.) is one of 85 players who are first-timers.
A 6-foot-4 center, Baker has had her eyes opened in more than one way – including Colorado's high altitude and weather, which saw hail on the first day of trials and temperatures in the 50s during the day and dropping into the 40s at night.
“Well, it’s very cold,” Baker admitted. “I’m from Arizona. It’s probably about 105, 106 at home. For the most part, it’s really enjoyable. It’s different playing at a higher altitude, but your body adjusts to it. Pretty much like you adjust to everything else. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a great experience.
“I’ve learned I’m not the tallest girl in the world, which was quite a shock to me at first,” Baker added. “But, I also learned a lot about keeping my nerves down, because it is kind of scary walking in here and seeing 6-foot-7, other 6-5 players, 6-4. But, it all just matures you as a player.”
Kennedy Gavin (Petal H.S./Petal, Miss.) arrived with a different familiarity after having taken part in the past two USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournaments, which were held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
“It helps with my confidence a lot,” Gavin explained. “My first time here, I was really nervous, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m at the Olympic Training Center.’ But now since I’ve been here a few times, I still get that chills feeling, but it allows me to be relaxed.”
Gavin also feels comfortable with the content of the skills sessions.
“So far, the drills that we have went through, they are not new drills to me,” said Gavin. “With my coach, we go through those drills all the time in practice. It’s just a faster pace and more intense.”
Faster and more intense was a similar observation made by Isabella Lopez (Northeast H.S./Weston, Fla.), a 5-foot-7 guard who also took part in the 2015 USA U16 trials. She was ready to compete, and she does not think she is the only one.
“Coming back, the mental side of it, I was more prepared for the competition,” Lopez said. “Having my body more ready, because the altitude at first hit me (last year). But this year, I’m completely conditioned and ready to go. I came like two days early and I shot some, so I’m ready.
“The speed of the game,” Lopez said of the difference between 2015 and this weekend. “It’s quicker. It’s picked up. It’s not slow, even during the drills. Everybody is ready to go.
“There obviously are some girls who stand out. I think everybody here, they came for a reason.”
On Friday evening, the focus of trials shifted from skill development to scrimmaging as the task of naming an eventual 12-member roster looms ahead.
“If a kid can pick up a few things to make them a better player and have a better chance to make the team, I think that’s important,” Fahey said. “Learning to compete and learning that you have to do it with each other in a team atmosphere, that’s been my focus -- working with each other. Even though they are skill work outs, it has been based on a team aspect.
“Sometimes, you hope they give you a nod or a look, and all of these kids have been really coachable. I’m not in it for them to have to give me a lot of yesses and nos. It’s just part of the job. You hope you get your message across and that something sticks.”
Each player undoubtedly hopes to hear her name called. Hopefully, Like Gavin and Baker, they also understand the opportunity to get better is independent of that.
“If I don’t make the team, I can use the things that I struggled with, I can go home work on those, and come back and try out again and keep trying out until I get my chance,” Gavin said.
Roster reductions will begin on Saturday, and finalists for the team will be named on Monday morning.
“It kind of gives me a reality check, because in college I’m not going to be the biggest player like I am in high school,” Baker said. “I just have to think they are in the same boat I am. So, as long as I keep my composure and make smart decisions, I will be good.”