Excitement Flows As Women’s U19 World Cup Team Trials Begin
USA Basketball and the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, welcomed 33 of the nation’s top 19-and-under women’s basketball athletes on Thursday for the first day of the 2017 USA U19 World Cup Team trials.
Invitees arrived in the early afternoon ahead of orientation and the first trials session Thursday evening, which included 3x3 instructions and drills led by USA U19 World Cup Team and University of Pittsburgh head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio.
McConnell-Serio knows about representing the USA, having played on five USA teams including two Olympic teams and one World Championship squad, in addition to coaching the 2016 U18 National Team to a 5-0 record, a gold medal and a qualifying berth for the 2017 FIBA Women’s U19 World Cup.
“It’s exciting. We’re preparing to win a gold medal with these U19 girls. It’s great to be back, to be at trials and get a taste of what the team may look like. It marks the first step in our journey to winning a gold medal,” said McConnell-Serio, ahead of the team’s orientation.
The night was capped with a 3x3 tournament inside Sports Center 2. For McConnell-Serio, the 3x3 demonstration served as a valuable session from a coach’s perspective.
“I think with 3x3, before we even get into five-on-five, you have to play with instincts. It’s a 12-second shot clock. As a player, you have to read and react quickly on when it’s a live ball or when it’s a dead ball. You’re looking for players that can score, players that can shoot it and players that can create, because it’s such a short amount of time. These are different rules they are not used to. Just to get them started and get their feet wet, this is a great way for us to evaluate what they can do and see who can make plays.”
Megan Walker (Monacan H.S./Chesterfield, Va.), who is one of eight athletes returning from the gold medal-winning 2016 U18 National Team, also claimed a silver medal alongside trials participant Sidney Cooks (Saint Joseph H.S./Kenosha, Wis.) at the 2016 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup. Walker appreciates what the 3x3 game has brought to her skill-set, and now that she’s back in Colorado Springs, she’s hopeful of another busy summer.
“It helps you a lot in five-on-five. You have to learn to move without the ball with only three players on the court. It expands your game,” said Walker, who has signed to play collegiately at the University of Connecticut. “We’ve been here before, so it is kind of normal to see the familiar faces. But, we really are excited to get back on the court because this is a different level of play at U19.”
A total of 23 players at trials boast USA Basketball experience, with one of those athletes being 5-foot-6 guard Crystal Dangerfield (Connecticut/Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Dangerfield won gold medals with the 2015 USA U19 World Championship Team and 2013 USA U16 National Team. She was also named to the 2016 U18 National Team before withdrawing due to injury.
“I’m excited for another opportunity to be here and to compete with some great players. Last year was pretty frustrating, because I really wanted to be a part of that team, but I’m happy to be here and hopefully I can make it this time around,” said Dangerfield, who is making her fourth trials appearance.
For others, such as Stephanie Jones (Maryland/Havre de Grace, Md.), the return to the USOTC feels overdue, but she is ready for a competitive weekend. Jones is one of four athletes with experience dating back to the 2013 USA U16 National Team Trials, while this year’s U19 trials will be her first with USA Basketball since the 2014 USA U17 World Championship trials.
“It feels great to come back for a third time, and hopefully make a team this time around,” said the 6-foot-2 Jones.
“I don’t think it will be any different this time. It’s going to be physical, and you know that coming in. Playing in college for a year, you get used to that part of the game. And, I think it’s really helpful having been here. You just know what it’s going to be like. You know what to expect as a player and that goes a long ways.”
Of the 23 athletes who recently completed their freshman season in college, 18 earned conference honors, including Bella Alarie (Princeton/Bethesda, Md.) (Ivy League) Tamara Henshaw (South Florida/Palm Coast, Fla.) (American), Becca Hittner (Drake/Urbandale, Iowa) (Missouri Valley) and Amber Smith (Missouri/Shreveport, La.) (Southeastern), who were all named 2017 Freshman of the Year in their respective leagues.
Hittner, whose collegiate coach Jennie Baranczyk is serving as a court coach, enters her first trials with USA Basketball.
“It’s really cool that coach Baranczyk is able to be out here this weekend, too, to experience this with me. I’m definitely excited to be here. I’m pretty nervous, too, but I’m just excited to get out there to compete with some of the best players in the country,” said Hittner. “I’m not so sure what to expect. I’m just looking to get better and really compete to make this team.”
And for the 10 athletes yet to step foot on their respective college campuses, the trials experience isn’t something to shy away from. Just having spent time in a USA Basketball jersey is enough for Charli Collier (Barbers Hill H.S./Baytown, Texas), a bronze medalist with the 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team, to know she has what it takes to compete for a U19 roster spot.
“I’m one of the youngest here, so being able to have this experience to play against college players and just come here to show my potential is a big deal to me,” said Collier.
“It’s not intimidating. I’ve played with some of these girls already, but at the same time, it’s cool to pick up from what they do. They have that year of college ball under their belt and offer things that I haven’t seen, so I like to learn and take advice from them.”
Trials continue Friday, May 19 through Sunday, May 21 at the USOTC, when the 2017 USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team is expected to be announced. Training camp is set for July 7-21 in Colorado Springs ahead of the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup, which will be played July 22-30 in Udine and Cividale Del Friuli, Italy.