With Team Selection Complete, USA U16 Women Eyeing FIBA Americas Title
On the morning of May 31, 12 of the 18 finalists for the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team let out a sigh of relief followed by sheer joy.
Some text messages were sent, calls home were made, and tweets broke the news.
May 31 marked the end of a lengthy trials period for the USA women’s U16 athletes, who began competing for one of 12 roster spots alongside 133 athletes on the evening of May 25. Fourteen trials sessions had taken place in the lead-up to the selection of the 12-member team, which will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to compete in the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship on June 7-11.
But, the morning also marked the beginning in many ways. The USA will look to collect gold at the biennial U16 competition for the first time since 2013, after the 2015 USA Women’s U16 National Team settled for bronze in 2015.
This year’s squad brings together athletes from nine different states. Eight athletes are set to graduate high school in 2019, while three are from the class of 2020 and Azzi Fudd (Potomac School/Falls Church, Va.), who is the youngest U.S. women’s player to take part in a U16 competition, will finish her prep campaign in 2021.
Fudd and company will look for leadership from six-foot-3 forward Samantha Brunelle (William Monroe H.S./Ruckersville, Va.), who is a member of the 2019 class and is the lone athlete with previous international experience. This past summer, Brunelle helped the USA to a bronze medal as a member of the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team.
Coming out on top of another run at trials, Brunelle knows the task at hand and is ready to step into a different role this time around.
“It’s just an honor that I could play up last year, and then I was able to make this team and play at our age group this year,” Brunelle began.
“I definitely want to bring a lot of positive energy. I’m about keeping my teammates up and making sure they know if they make a small mistake, I’m going to be there to pick them up. I think that’s important as a leader, and I think it is a good role for me. I had experience last year with it, and I got to learn from the leaders on that U17 team, and I think I can bring that to this team this year.”
More than anything, Brunelle is eager to claim her first gold medal, especially after the disappointment of falling short in 2016.
“It makes me want to work even harder to shoot for that gold,” Brunelle explained. “We weren’t happy with the bronze last summer. We’re happy we medaled, but this time, we’re going to try to get that gold medal.”
Jordyn Oliver (Prosper H.S./Prosper, Texas), who was a 2016 U17 trials participant, is ready for her first shot at international competition.
“It’s surreal, especially after getting cut last year all the way to making the team this year,” said Oliver, who is verbally committed to Baylor University and is the only rostered athlete to have made a college decision.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Oliver. “I just love being able to put Prosper, Texas, on the map. It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m ready for this chance to play.”
Oliver noted the team has bonded quickly following the announcement of 18 finalists on Monday. A 5-foot-10 guard, she hopes to bring a defensive voice as well as help as a facilitator on the offensive end. Scoring, she said, should be the team’s strong suit.
“We’re really fast,” Oliver noted. “We’re quick, and I feel like we can put a lot of points on the scoreboard. Our chemistry is coming together, so I think we can be a great team.
“This is going to be a great learning experience, and it already has been, learning from the coaches and the other girls,” she added.
“Everybody has something they bring that I’ve never seen before. It’s been great to meet new people and play with new people.”
Carla Berube, head coach at Tufts University and the 2017 USA Women’s U16 National Team head coach, is excited about the amount of athleticism this team holds. Six athletes are taller than six feet and four others are listed at 5-foot-11.
Brunelle and Oliver, and the rest of the U16 team, are thrilled at the chance to wear the USA colors and to play for Berube, along with assistant coaches Steve Gomez (Lubbock Christian University) and Vanessa Nygaard (Windward School, Calif.).
“All three of them, they really know their stuff, and I trust them fully with our team,” said Brunelle. “They bring a lot of energy to practice and the things that we do. I think they are going to take us really far.”
The women’s U16 team continues with practice at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, until Sunday, June 4. The USA opens up 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship preliminary round play on Wednesday, June 7, against Colombia before taking on Mexico on June 8, and concluding Group B competition on June 9 against Puerto Rico.
Following the preliminary round, the teams will be seeded, and the top two finishing nations from each group will advance to the semifinals on June 10. The gold and bronze medal games will be played on June 11.