NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- When she said back in April that her team would be ready come Nike Nationals, Ariel Massengale of the Tennessee Flight had no way of knowing that she'd arrive at in Augusta already sporting a gold medal.
Massengale, the 5-foot-6 point guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., who is the No. 3 prospect in the 2011 class, made the statement shortly after the Flight lost to Boo Williams at the Boo Williams Invitational in April. Massengale had shrugged off the loss, convinced the Flight would be just fine in Augusta when it came time for what many consider the "national championship" of the girls' basketball summer circuit.
But between then and now, Massengale hasn't spent much time with the Flight. Instead, she and her Flight teammate, No. 2 2011 prospect Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, have been overseas with the U17 national team, helping the U.S. to the gold medal at the FIBA world championships. This week, they made their return to American soil, and were immediately re-inserted into the starting lineup.
The result: Massengale fed Mosqueda-Lewis, and Mosqueda-Lewis fed the basket, turning in 23 points Saturday afternoon in the final against DFW, and staging off a late run from the Texas-based club for a 65-62 win.
"I told Ariel and Kaleena back in May, 'When you get back to Nike I'll have the younger kids ready,' " Flight coach Tom Insell said. "Our team knew from the start they were coming back and they were going to start. I told my young kids, 'Carry us until then.' "
Carry them they did. The Flight won four tournaments before Augusta, largely on the back of Rebecca Greenwell, a 2013 prospect. On Saturday Greenwell showed she could play even if the stars were back in town, knocking down a key three that gave the Flight a 62-54 edge and providing an extra burst of energy during the final two minutes.
"Becca played good before but at this tournament she was killing," Mosqueda-Lewis said, noting that she and Massengale didn't sense a hint of jealousy from teammates who might be frustrated at a loss of playing time. "No one seemed to be offended. We won now, so we're all happy."
Mosqueda-Lewis and Massengale arrived in Augusta from France at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday and went straight to sleep. They stayed in bed most of the day, rising later in the evening for one practice -- their first in weeks with the Flight -- before opening pool play Wednesday morning with a win over the Illinois Hustle.
"My legs were tired and I took a couple ice baths to make it through the week, but this is our last AAU game," Massengale said. "We wanted it."
It didn't come easily. The Flight had to claw their way to the title, surviving a gutsy performance from DFW, who lost one player Friday to an injury (De'Amber Wilhite) and another player Saturday for long stretches due to foul trouble (Moriah Jefferson).
In fact, overtime looked like a decent possibility with four seconds to go when sharpshooter Mosqueda-Lewis missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving DFW a chance to tie should they hit a three. Amber Orrange's attempt fell short though, and the Flight -- led by Massengale -- sprinted to the bench in celebration.
The win capped an incredible -- and incredibly exhausting -- month for Massengale and Mosqueda-Lewis, who completed a rare double with a gold medal and a national championship.
"The way we gelled was incredible, especially because a lot of other teams weren't able to do it," Massengale said, noting that other clubs struggled to reintegrate their former leading scorers after a summer without them. "Our teammates carried us this week."
So what's next on the to-do list for two of the 2011 superstars?
After a deep sigh, Massengale answered.
"A long nap."
Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.