PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis. – If the Tennessee Flight could only win one championship during the 2012 season, it picked the right one.
The Flight carted off the title in the top bracket at USJN’s eighth annual Battle of the Programs, topping the Nebraska Cornhuskers Shooting Stars Bison 64-53 on Saturday. It was the Flight’s first title at the Battle of the Programs, and they became the eighth different club to claim the top prize at the prestigious event, following the MoKan Eclipse (2011), Nebraska CSS Bison (2010), Midwest Elite (2009), Chicago Hoops Express (2008), Illinois Hustle (2007), Full Package (2006) and The Family (2005).
The tourney, designed for juniors in high school and younger, annually attracts a wide array of college coaches during the Division I fall evaluation period, and this event was no different. More than 210 coaches made their way to the RecPlex in Pleasant Prairie to watch the Battle of the Programs and the accompanying Elite Oktoberfest.
Follow the link to see what college coaches made the trip to Wisconsin.
For the Flight, it was a fitting end to the season. The Tennessee club had been runners-up at the Boo Williams tournament, a Memorial Day tournament in Lexington, Ky., and another event in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
“Winning this title is a compliment for the girls,” said Flight first-year head coach Rodney Monie. “We’ve been in several championship games and came up short. We had to find a way to dig down. We did it as a team.
“When we’re in exposure events, you know as well as I do, that the coaches want to see what they do on the floor, as well as what they do off the floor. I’m trying to build character with the girls, and also build a winning attitude.”
The Flight dispatched the Colorado Mile Hi Rockies 41-34 in the first round, and then knocked off defending champ MoKan Eclipse in a 61-59 thriller in the semifinals.
Several players improved their stock with strong play throughout the day. Jamasha Jackson (Hermitage, Tenn.), an athletic 5-foot-10 wing from the Class of 2015, is headed to the No. 12 spot on Blue Star’s list of sophomores. Paris Lawson (5-7, Murfreesboro, Tenn.) used her agility to pester opponents into numerous turnovers. She’s at No. 64 on Blue Star’s Class of 2015 list. And then there’s jet-quick guard Crystal Dangerfield (5-3, Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who’ll zoom in the top 20 on the Class of 2016 compilation. Dangerfield was dangerous in the final, burying long jumpers and slashing to the basket with impunity, serving as the catalyst for the offense.
“We haven’t played together for about two months, and for me it’s been about four months because I was up with the other team,” Dangerfield said. “But we actually played better than I thought we would.”
Dangerfield played with a different group from the club during some summer tournaments, and she’s no doubt a difference-maker with this particular group of girls.
“When she wasn’t playing with the Silver team, she loved playing with these girls because it’s a camaraderie that they have,” Monie said. “At the beginning of the year I gave each of the girls a card with a word or phrase on it. With her, I wrote ‘phenomenal.’ She’s not just an average – at that time – eighth-grader. She’s special. So that means she has to have character, and be able to take the ups and downs.”
On Saturday, there were far more “ups” than “downs” for Dangerfield and the Flight.
Keep your eyes on the Wisconsin Playground Elite. If nothing else, they announced their arrival with authority during the Battle of the Programs.
Coach Jeffery Smith’s squad blitzed the competition in the event’s second bracket, taking down three opponents by an average of 19 points a game. The Elite beat the Michigan Monarchs 61-49 in the first-place game.
“The Battle of the Programs is always what you want to shoot for,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter what bracket you’re in, all the teams are going to be good. This is our first time winning it. We’ve been here a couple years but haven’t won it. It was good to win it this year.”
Most impressive: The Elite played its first two games without the squad’s best player, Class of 2015 guard Arike Ogunbowale (Milwaukee), who had a soccer tournament and made it in time only to compete in the finale.
“It always helps to have your big fish back in the bowl,” Smith said of Ogunbowale, ranked the No. 44 prospect in the sophomore class by Blue Star.
“She’s got a lot of schools looking at her. It’s well-deserved and includes the Big Ten, SEC, and Big East. She has offers already from Marquette and Wisconsin. A lot of schools were coming out to see her today. Hopefully they liked what they saw.”
FIRE OF THE FURY
Size matters. Especially for the Minnesota Fury.
The Fury captured the third bracket at the Battle of the Programs with a 64-57 victory against the Wisconsin WBA Prestige. The Prestige’s 57 points were the most scored by a Fury opponent in three games.
The Fury’s formula: Height. With a roster that includes 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 and 6-4 frontliners, getting through that treacherous lineup is – ahem – a tall task for opponents.
“What I’ve found is that it really helps on the defensive end,” Fury coach Nick Storm said. “Not in terms of blocking shots, but in terms of people having a hard time scoring quickly against us. It really limits the number of possessions in the game. I think that favors us a lot. With our length, we switch everything and people have a hard time getting to the basket and scoring against us. If they do get to the basket, there’s always a 6-3 or 6-4 kid waiting for them.”
The all-junior squad is headed by South Dakota State commit Ellie Thompson (6-1, Chaska, Minn.) but includes a number of intriguing prospects like 6-3 Kendall Baab (Chaska, Minn.).
“We have seven kids who are coming back from our team last year, and we added new kids who have stepped up for us,” Storm said. “I don’t think a lot of teams have that same continuity in this fall event that we do, with no volleyball players or stuff like that. We have all 10 kids who will be running on our top team next summer.
“Winning down here is really good (especially with) the amount of college coaches watching us. When we played, they kind of congregated towards whatever (court) we were at. It’s an important time for the kids, especially in that 2014 class, because by April it really heats up for them.”
Take a look at the entire bracket and results by following the link.