WASHINGTON, D.C. - Thursday at the USJN 17u Girls National Championships was moving day.
Play well, and you would put yourself in a great position to win your pool, lose though and there was a good chance you were going home. In the top 3 divisions there were 13 local New York teams, but only 1 played up to the way they needed from start to finish and will be playing for a title on Friday, while some others struggled early on Wednesday, but played much better later on Thursday only to fall just short. Here is a recap of the day's action.
The Lady Choz 16u EYBL team which looked so good in Wednesday, continued their strong play into Thursday, finishing pool play 5-0 to advance to the Diamond Division quarterfinals on Friday.
They started the day facing off with FBC Southeast Black from Georgia, and it was the play of Ashanae McLaughlin (Murry Bergtraum '15) that allowed the Choz to get out to a quick lead. The 5'6" guard was aggressive attacking the defense, and was solid in the mid-range showing a good mid-range jumper that led her to having one of her best games of the tournament as the Gauchos went to 4-0 with one game to go.
The Cincinnati Angels were the only thing that held them from going unbeaten and while they seemed fatigued on offense with rushed shots and tough shots against doubles inside, it was the stifling defense inside from Brianna Fraser (South Shore '15) and Theresa Ekhelar (Life Center Academy '15) that controlled the play in the paint, while point guard Jade Vega (Cardinal Spellman '15) was fantastic on the ball, pressuring and creating turnovers in the backcourt as it truly was the intensity and activity that the Lady Choz put on their Ohio opponents that led them to finishing 5-0 and heading into Friday's Diamond quarterfinals with a chance to take the crown. They will need to get by a tough Team Xpress of Texas on Friday morning though if they want to keep their dream of a title alive.
No one else from New York in the Diamond, Platinum, or Gold Divisions advanced to the playoffs on Friday for a chance to take home a championship, but a few had great 2-0 days on Thursday to at least give themselves a chance to make it.
The Albany Capitals started the tournament 0-2 before winning their last game on Wednesday, and maybe that gave them momentum, but they came out flying on Thursday to finish pool play 3-2, only to not advance to the Platinum quarterfinals on a tiebreaker.
Jenna Giacone (Bethlehem '16) played like a high major player on Thursday, shining with the ball in her hands and at 5'11" showing she has the potential to be a big point guard who sees the floor extremely well. She helped the Capitals blow out the NJ Cardinals to start the morning, being a playmaker who made everyone on the floor better, including Carly Boland (Shenendehowa '16) who knocked down three 3's from the wings, while Giacone also found her sister, Gabby Giacone (Bethlehem '15) in the paint where she was just as successful.
They kept up the impressive play with a top rate defensive effort holding the PSPA Rams from Virginia to just 27 points in winning by 17 with Giacone once again being solid offensively, but also being a good defender on the wing. They didn't get to advance to the winner bracket, but after a slow start, they proved to be a high quality team.
Another team that proved to be of high quality on Thursday was the Albany Lady Stars. Dejanaire Deas (Holy Names '16) seemed much more comfortable in the paint than she was on Wednesday, finding more room to operate when she got the ball inside, finding a good groove and dominating the glass, while also having her way offensively finishing with a good touch on the inside. They eased past Three Rivers Diablos of Canada in the morning after being tight early on, and then blew out a good Houston Showtyme team to finish out there tournament before also failing to advance on a tiebreaker.
The hard luck team of the week though had to be iExcel. Playing in the top level Diamond Division, they finished the tournament 2-3 and didn't advance, but their three losses were by a combined 10 points, hanging in against some of the best teams in the country, and they could've easily won each game, leading each one at the half.
Some of the teams in the lower divisions also played well this week. Hudson Valley Elite "B" are proving to be one of the top teams in the Bronze Division with Jaide Clarke (Westwood, NJ '16) having a great Thursday, playing more aggressive and demanding the ball more than she did on Wednesday where she was a bit too passive. A 2-0 finish on Thursday though, including 20 points in a one point win over the Massachusetts Huskies in the morning though really had Clarke's stock, and the teams play looking up.
Hudson River Breeze, which is Ossining H.S. also had a great day with Jalay Knowles (Ossining '15) dominating the play scoring 32 against a fellow New York team, WNY Lady Lakers, to take a high scoring 77-71 win. Knowles was able to show off her overall abilities to score going to the rim, shooting from the outside off the dribble, while also finishing on putbacks on the inside. Abby Squirrell (Ossining '15) seems stronger in the paint, doing a fine job on the glass, while Shadeen Samuels (Ossining '16) seems as healthy as ever as she was another versatile wing who dominated on many different spots on the floor.
The Unity Warriors led by McKayla Roberts (Cicero-North Syracuse '16) once again proved to be the consummate leader on the floor, using her quick burst to offensively control the game, McKenna Brooks (Oswego '15) was a solid post presence for a team whose guards all seemed to be able to attack and finish strong.
Lastly, while Long Island Lightning (Slater) didn't advance in the Diamond Division, another Lightning team, this one the Lightning (Lavey) group did extremely well in the Silver a Division with Melanie Hingher (Massapequa '16) proving to be an inside/outside force, scoring 37 points in two games on Thursday to pace her team to a 2-0 day and a strong overall showing throughout the tournament.
It was an interesting 2 days of action from D.C. and if they want to win the main Diamond Bracket, the Lady Choz will have to go through some of the best teams not just on the Northeast, but in the country, so it will be tough, but if they play as they have so far this week, they have a good chance to make a big statement. Overall it was a great chance to see them, along with the many other fine local teams and players, and it's great to see that the depth in NY is as strong as ever, with many leaving strong impressions on those college coaches who were watching after a great Thursday of play.
It was a good chance to see some of the other teams who may not get as much attention, thrive.