Athletes Mount Final Push At USA Women's U16 Trials
A transformation is a bit of an understatement, but it is accurate in regards to the roster at the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team Trials, which has been whittled down from the initial 133 athletes that saw action on Thursday and Friday.
At 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, 64 hopefuls hurried to the doors of Sports Center 2 at the United States Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to check if their number appeared on the most updated list.
After that reduction, only 37 women remain at the trials, including 27 invited athletes to go with 10 applicant participants. The class of 2019 is represented by 22 athletes, while 14 still in contention are from the 2020 class and one participant remains from the class of 2021.
A total of 19 states are represented on Sunday, with California leading the way with seven athletes, and Texas close behind with six participants.
Cailyn Crocker (Los Alamitos H.S./Cypress, Calif.), who sprinted to the doors from the USOTC dining hall, said it was a nervous morning.
“We all woke up, and we were all so scared that we couldn’t eat breakfast,” said Crocker, a 5-foot-8 point guard in her first trials with USA Basketball.
“It’s an amazing feeling to still be here,” Crocker said. “Meeting this new group of girls that have made it this far, and so many that haven’t, it’s been amazing building relationships and friendships that I would have never had the chance to if I wasn’t here. So, I’m really happy to still be here and competing.”
Less than 15 minutes after learning their status, the remaining 37 players took the court for Sunday morning’s session, which included shooting drills followed by a lengthy scrimmage period.
With three sessions Saturday and the day before, and the evening practices ending at 8 p.m. each of the last three days, the wear and tear is becoming more evident. Throw in Colorado Springs’ altitude (6,035 feet) and fatigue challenges all of the participants.
“What’s been challenging is the amount of sessions we have had. Your body is tired, because you play, then you rest, then you play and rest, but you still have to push. You have to run the court, you have to make shots and you have to communicate. I think that’s been the most challenging thing.”
Rylee Langerman (Christian Heritage Academy/Norman, Okla.), a 5-foot-9 guard, is in her first trials and soaking up every moment.
“I was definitely really nervous before the cut was made this morning, but making it to 37 gave me a bunch of confidence to come out and play even harder than previous sessions,” said Langerman. “The intensity of the games have been really high. It’s very fast paced, but it’s a lot of fun to play with all the other girls and use the teamwork they have taught us,” she added.
Six-foot-3 center and applicant athlete Ramani Parker (Central H.S./Fresno, Calif.) is among the highly competitive mix of post players looking to claim a roster spot.
“I’m blessed,” Parker began. “There are a lot of girls that want to be here, where I am today in the final 37. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing to try to make this team.
“The trials experience has been amazing,” Parker added, mentioning she hopes to turn up her aggressive play to make a push for a place as a finalist. “It’s been a great opportunity for me to make some new friends and compete against high-level girls from all around the country. Once I heard I was selected to come, I was so excited, so to still be here is truly amazing.”
Celeste Taylor (Long Island Lutheran H.S./Valley Stream, N.Y.) flips the script from many of the athletes as she is one of 13 still playing with previous USA Basketball experience. Three others, in addition to Taylor, are carryovers from the 2015 USA U16 trials.
“I came here two years ago, and I was cut after the second round, so just to be able to see my number on that list and to come back is a big opportunity,” Taylor said. “I just knew that I had to come back and show my maturity level had increased and my body build is bigger. Now, I’m seeing that I can be one of the top people here, and I have to show and still prove that I belong and it was a good decision to invite me.”
The trials roster features athletes who applied and are attending on their own and athletes who accepted invitations issued by the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee. While the 12 roster spots are up for grabs by all of the remaining athletes, Taylor is in an exclusive club of those that have seen both sides of the experience – having attended the 2016 USA U17 trials as an applicant and then accepting an invitation this year.
“I think now that I’ve been invited, I still haven’t taken it as I’m automatically going to make the next cut,” Taylor said. “It’s really great that they tell us that even though you’re invited, it’s just because someone told us you were good. So now, you have to go prove it to them, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
At this level, the trials serve as a learning process through and through. Whether it’s about comparing your own game to others, as Langerman noted, building cross-state friendships or the leadership takeaways in the off-court sessions from Thursday and Friday, the trials bring plenty to the table.
“This really is a crazy feeling. It was a surprise to me that I got invited,” said Crocker. “I was extremely happy, and I just wanted to come here and compete and learn from these coaches and players. I knew it was going to be challenging, because this is the best of the best, but I wanted to come out here and show what my talent and what I can do.”
Crocker, Langerman, Parker and Taylor aren’t finished quite yet. A push Sunday evening could help them earn a finalist roster spot, and Taylor knows what it will take for her to secure one.
“It’s about hustling, rebounding, following your shot, picking up your teammates, being encouraging, setting good screens – it’s everything you can do,” she said. “That’s what it’s going to take.”
The 15-18 finalists for the 2017 USA Women’s U16 National Team are expected to be announced Monday morning, with the team’s training camp to begin immediately after.