GIRL’s GymRat CHALLENGE Proves To Be A Royal Success
Among Nation’s Elite
Prince leads EXODUS to title in top Age Division of inaugural event
ALBANY, N.Y. — The GymRat CHALLENGE boys basketball AAU event, held each Memorial Day Weekend in New York State’s Capital Region, is established as one of the most anticipated tournaments on the national AAU basketball circuit. After what unfolded at the 2005 GIRL’S GymRat CHALLENGE on April 9-10 at the University at Albany and Union College, the same can now be said of the girl’s event.
While the weather outside was positively gorgeous, the basketball played indoors over the two days at the inaugural girls GymRat CHALLENGE also proved to be a sight to behold. Approximately 1,000 of the best girls basketball players on the East Coast fought to earn championships at the 16, 15 and 14-year-old and under levels.
Amidst all the superlative individual accomplishments achieved by members of the 96 teams competing over the two-day event, three quality squads secured titles — and there was even a Royal sighting.
In the 16-year-old and under division, New Heights Exodus of New York City survived a serious challenge by the Long Island Lightning-Gold in the championship contest to emerge with a hard-fought 59-58 title triumph for head coach Apache Paschall. You just had a feeling, well, actually more of an EPIPHANNY. New Heights Exodus found a way to prevail as Epiphanny Prince capped an effort earning the 5-foot-9 Murray Bertraum standout guard Most Valuable Player honors by scoring 25 points points and delivering several crucial steals to ultimately foil the Lightning’s title aspirations. Exodus breezed through pool play before receiving a scare against the Albany Capitals in the quarterfinals. After a quiet outing in the semifinals, Prince produced countless clutch plays — including five 3-pointers, plus an incredible pass deflection as the Lightning tried to score a game-winning basket in the final five seconds of the title game.
The championship game of the 15-year-old and under event turned out to be nothing more than a microcosm of the previous five games turned in by the Albany Capitals under the tutelage of head coach Stephen Lombard — well-balanced offensive and defensive contributions from the entire 12-player roster. The Capitals, behind the all-around exploits of 15-U MVP Logan Pintka, emerged from a defensive struggle to register a 36-29 title victory over of the Elmira Lady Express. The Capitals proved to be the epitome of the word “team”, as no one on the team even averaged 10 points per game and five different players led the team in scoring. Pinkta punished opponents with versatile all-around game and produced vital plays at both ends of the floor to fuel the Capitals’ title run.
The New England Explosion overcame a halftime deficit in the championship game of the 14-year-old and under tournament to secure a 42-39 victory over the Bay State Magic Elite. Brighid Courtney, a 5-10 standout from Northhampton (MA), saved her two best games of the tournament for the semifinals and championship game to help the Explosion complete a solid 6-0 run at 2005 GymRat CHALLENGE.
Here is a more in-depth appraisal of each age group, along with the listings of MVP, All-GymRat CHALLENGE and Honorable Mention All-GymRat CHALLENGE selections.
16-U Age Division
16U Quarterfinal New Heights Exodus arrived at the 2005 GymRat CHALLENGE with plenty of fanfare, and the team from New York City did not disappoint by producing six victories to lay claim to the inaugural title. Epiphany Prince, the 2005 GymRat CHALLENGE 16-U Most Valuable GymRat, poured in 25 points and added several impeccable steals to propel New Heights Exodus to a thrilling 59-58 victory over the Long Island Lightning-Gold in the championship game.
“They’re a very good team,” Prince said of the Lightning. “We play them all the time in New York City. We wanted to come out and play hard so we could go back to the City and say we won here.”
Prince, sporting blue sneakers to match her blue uniform, netted 14 points in the first half and then staked Exodus to a 52-46 advantage with a 3-pointer from the wing. When 6-foot-5 New Heights center Jessica Clark converted a lay up with 35 seconds remaining, Exodus owned a 59-55 cushion. Brittany Ray, however, would not let the Lightning go quietly as she stole an outlet pass, drove to the basket, converted her shot with contact and completed a three-point play with 14.3 left. The Lightning had a chance to win the game, but Prince spoiled those plans by tipping away an inbounds pass with 5.7 seconds remaining, and sending the ball rolling to the other end of the court. The Lightning inbounded the ball again, this time under the Exodus basket with 1.2 seconds remaining, but never got off a shot.
Asked way she is so adept at coming up with big plays at critical junctures, Prince repsonded, “I guess I always step up in the big games. I just love playing basketball. It is a good feeling (winning the MVG award), especially after beating one of our rivals.”
Led by the Murray Bertraum guard combination of Prince and Erica Morrow, the Exodus faced little resistance in pool play — notching victories by margins of 25, 27 and 20 points — before running into a determined Albany Capitals’ contingent in the quarterfinals. New Heights led just 43-42 with 2:30 left before Prince drained an 18-foot jumper and added a three-point play. Clark later contributed two crucial blocked shots as Exodus emerged with a 50-46 triumph.
16-U GymRat CHALLENGE Most Valuable GymRat
Epiphany Prince (5-foot-9 guard, New Heights Exodus): The smooth standout junior from New York City Public School Athletic League powerhouse Murray Bertraum dazzled the competition with a potent combination of three-point proficiency, unique sensibility to finish off foes around the basket, and her uncanny ability to steal the ball at any time with the quickness of a thief removing hub caps from a moving car. Prince, who owns the single-game Class AA scoring record of 38 points vs. Christ The King in the 2004 New York State Federation Tournament, drained five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25 points in the championship victory over the Long Island Lightning-Gold. Elite Division I college programs crave players with the ability to take over a game. Prince possesses such attributes, and she can seize control of a game offensively AND defensively — likely two reasons why teams such as the U. Conn, Tennessee, Rutgers and North Carolina are heavily recruiting the junior.
16-U All-GymRat CHALLENGE Team
Shenise Johnson (5-10 G/F, Empire Dragons): Although her team failed to advance out of pool play despite a 2-1 record, Johnson still managed to make a colossal impression at the 2005 GymRat CHALLENGE. Johnson is blessed with superlative ball-handling skills and a knack for knowing when to abuse the opposition with drives to the basket or the proper time to unleash her quality outside shooting skills. A star at Rochester’s Rush Henrietta, Johnson rebounds exceptionally well and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty at the defensive end. A dynamic player who is decisive in everything she does on the court.
Danielle Browne (5-7 PG, Long Island Lightning-Gold): This quality point guard not only understands how to get her teammates involved in the offense, she also possesses a lethal ability to slice through congestion around the basket and finish with authority. Browne’s crossover and adept ability to change gears with her dribble to shed defenders, leaves opponents looking for extra ankle tape. Browne is a performer who will only get better throughout the summer. Major college coaches will take notice.
Vionca Murray (6-1 PF/C, Long Island Lightning-Gold): Displaying a solid array of post moves to go with excellent leaping ability and overall hustle, Murray led the stacked Lightning roster in scoring at 12.2 points per game — including 16 points in the title game. Runs the floor extremely well and uses her body properly to get position to score or when securing rebounds.
Brittany Ray (5-9 SG/PG, Long Island Lightning-Gold): Exceptional handle, limitless shooting range and court saavy define Ray’s appearance at the 2005 GymRat CHALLENGE. A well-rounded performer, Ray makes pinpoint passes in transition and converts her drives. Versatile enough to play the point, shooting guard or small forward spots.
Caila Desroches (6-2 C/PF, Long Island-Lightning Gold): If opponents leave anything around the basket, don’t expect to find it with Desroches around. A tencious rebounder and shot-blocker, Desroches is an intimidating presence in the post and an emerging offensive force. Her combination of size, speed, leaping ability, quality hands and thirst for the game will make Desroches a highly-sought college recruit.
Erica Morrow (5-9 SG/SF, New Heights Exodus): Teams with Murray Bertraum teammate Epiphany Prince in the Exodus backcourt. Morrow loves to burst to the basket and showed off the ability to limit opposing scoring standouts. Understands her role in the team structure and exactly how to be effective individually while making her teammates better.
Anjale Barrett (5-8 SG/PG, New Heights Exodus): The ultra-talented lefty can score points in bunches with deadly jumpers and lightning-quick trips to the rim. Barrett is extremely slick with the ball and understands how to shed defenders to free herself and create her own scoring opportunities.
Jessica Clark (6-5 C, New Heights Exodus): Flourished as the games became more difficult, Clark uses her size extremely well rebounding, scoring and blocking shots. Moves well and displayed a couple of quality low-post moves. Offense rarely ran through her, yet still managed to produce 11 points and four blocked shots in the title victory over the Long Island Lightning. Teams tried to get physical with her, and that only made Clark more determined. Clark is going to make a Division I coach happy in the very near future.
Amanda Burnette (5-8 PG, Real Christian Athletes): Put on a second-half dribbling exhibition that left opponents waving at air during a victory over Syracuse Rochester RAP; Burnette torched defenders with superlative quickness and an ability to get off her shot at any time. First step is unbelievable and Burnette loves to lock down anyone she guards. Extraordinary anticipation led to countless steals in her team’s pressing style, as Burnette played a vital role to help Real Christian Athletes advance to the semifinals.
Priscilla Mbjandja (5-7 PG/SG, Real Christian Athletes): Durable performer with a multitude of skills, Mbjandja attacked the hoop and showed she can finish the play even with contact. Takes extreme pride in her defense, Mbjandja does a number of things well and finds multiple ways to contribute.
Sheylani Peddy (5-8 PG/SG, Boston Sharks): Produced double-digit scoring totals in all five games, leading the Sharks each time with efforts of 16, 12, 18, 19 and 22 points. Peddy thrives when the game is uptempo and attacks the basket with ferocity. A relentless competitor, Peddy has legitimate three-point range.
Tahtianna Tate (6-0 C/PF, Boston Sharks): Extremely athletic and energized, Tate runs the floor and helps her team run with her ability to rebound quickly and outlet the ball. Stays grounded, waits for opponents to commit and THEN blocks their shot. Even at times when she wasn’t involved in the offense, Tate never let it effect her play at the defensive end.
Taysha Pye (5-8 SG/SF, New Heights NYC): Long and lean, Pye displayed physical toughness and a passion around the basket. Possesses a superlative jump-stop move and a tough fadeaway jumper. Pye’s powerful 26-point performance against the Albany Capitals proved to be one of the finest of the tournament.
Tiffany Wilson (5-6 SG/PG, Team ROC Rochester): Remarkably consistent scorer — producing games of 18, 20 and 18 points with her potent long-range exploits. Leave this sharpshooter any space and you simply pay the price for such foolishness.
Kelly VanValkenburgh (5-10 SG, Albany Capitals): Three-point shooting is her strongest attribute, yet VanValkenburgh showed there are many more layers to her improving overall game. A gritty defender and solid passer, VanValkenburgh came up with several clutch baskets to help the Capitals advance to the quarterfinals.
Jessica Chapin (5-7 PG/SG, Crystal City Stars): Displayed a solid skill set and is blessed with impeccable instincts, Chapin doesn’t make mistakes and finds a way to get herself open for 3-pointers. With a style based more in consistency than flash, Chapin is a winner and is someone other players enjoy playing with.
Honorable Mention Selections
Tasha Harris (5-9 SG, New Heights Exodus)
Shenneika Smith (6-0 PF/SF, New Heights Exodus)
Shakia Leary (6-1 PF, New Heights Exodus)
Naomi Augustine (5-10 SG/SF, Long Island Lightning-Gold)
La’Tasia Lee (5-9 SF, Long Island Lightning-Gold)
Katina Boone (5-11 PF/C, Long Island Lightning-Gold)
Angela Pace (5-11 PG/SG, Real Christian Athletes)
Marquita Massey (5-7 PG, Real Christian Athletes)
Bria Jackson (5-1 PG, Empire Dragons)
Emma Cannon (6-0 C, Empire Dragons)
Quiana Holman (5-10 SF/PF, New Heights NYC)
Georgien Williams (6-0 C/PF, New Heights NYC)
Michele Pacheco (5-7 PG, New Heights NYC)
Kristen Dessingue (5-11 PF, Albany Capitals)
Lindsey Gibson (6-0 PF, Albany Capitals)
Britney White (5-7 PG/SG, Boston Sharks)
Charne Dixon, 5-7 PG, Boston Sharks)
Joelle Connelly (6-1 C, Niagara Rapids)
Kendra Brim (5-11 PF, Niagara Rapids)
Erin Chesnavich (6-2 C, Firm AC)
Betsy Jacobson (5-11 PF, Syracuse Rochester RAP)
Linsey Niles (5-9 SG, Syracuse Rochester RAP)
Tamara Williams (6-1 C, Syracuse Rochester RAP)
Madison Robertson (6-0 C/PF, Long Island Renegades)
Tayrn DiFilippo (5-7 PG/SG, Bay State Demons)
Lauren Yanofsky (5-11 C, Bay State Demons)
Erin Cain (5-7 PG, Bay State Demons)
Nicole Coleman (5-10 PF, Hampton Roads Sparks)
Sharde Brown (G, Hampton Roads Sparks)
Kim Brennan (5-8 SF, Long Island Lightning-Sparacia)
Katelyn Dunn (5-10 PF, Long Island Lightning-Sparacia)
Ashley Carter (5-9 PF, Long Island Lightnin-Sparacia)
Kacey Pratt (6-2 C, Crystal City Stars)
Megan Methven (5-9 SG, Crystal City Stars)
Sara Chrystie (5-8 PG, Crystal City Stars)
Danielle Brown (5-10 PF/C, Somerset Defenders)
Roberta Johnson (5-7 PG, Somerset Defenders)
Colette Josey (5-10 PF/SF, MA Tornadoes)
Chelsea Eggleston (5-9 SF/SG, Elmira Lady Express-Pirozzolo
Michelle Thorpe (5-8 SG/SF, Elmira Lady Express-Wood)
Alexis Keller (5-8 SG, New Jersey Crusaders)
Lauren Jimenez (6-3 C, New Jersey Crusaders)
15-U Age Division
After registering three lopsided victories in pool play and then a 44-point quarterfinal rout, the Albany Capitals faced stern resistance from the CAS Douglass Panthers of New York City in the semifinals and the Elmira Lady Express in the title game. The Capitals, relying on incredible roster depth and supreme team chemistry, fought their way through a pair of defensive tussles to defeat the CAS Panthers (38-34) and the Express (36-29).
How balanced and cohesive was Albany? In their first two games, the Capitals had 11 of 12 players reach the scoring column. In three of the six games Albany won, the leading scorer scored in single digits. But seemingly when the Capitals needed a crucial basket, rebound or defensive stop, 6-foot guard/forward Logan Pintka came through for head coach Stephen Lombard. Pintka led the team in scoring three times, including the semifinals and championship game.
15-U GymRat CHALLENGE Most Valuable GymRat
Logan Pintka (6-0 SF-SG, Albany Capitals-Lombard): Distinctive name, impressive game. Scores in a variety of ways around the basket and effectively uses both hands. Pintka can post up smaller players and take bigger players away from the basket with shooting range stretching to the three-point line. Also uncanny at getting to the foul line, Pintka is just now tapping into her wide array of skills to become even more formidable.
15-U All-GymRat CHALLENGE
Michelle Kirk (6-0 C/ PF, Elmira Lady Express): Intelligent player who hurts opponents in several ways — scoring, rebounding and hustling. The Corning West star runs the floor and converts with her right or left hand while displaying a solid mid-range jumper.
Katelyn Agan (6-0 PF/C, Elmira Lady Express): Showed unique skills by handling the ball when opponents pressed, Agan used her size effectively around the basket and scored a team-high 16 points during a 47-34 semifinal victory over the Bay State Magic Elite. A solid post player with vast potential to improve.
Chelsea Davis (6-0 PF, CAS Douglass Panthers): Intimidating inside force who alters shots, blocks others, and uses her wingspan to rebound anything close. Although her offensive game needs a bit of work, Dixon displayed plenty of signs that she can become a two-way impact force for years to come.
Crystal Lofton (5-6 PG/SG, CAS Douglass Panthers): A point guard with the ability to score 25 points or record 10 assists at any time. Terrific with the ball and excellent at finding teammates in traffic, Lofton is an extremely difficult matchup.
Teryn Johnson (5-10 C/PF, Bay State Magic Elite): Blessed with gigantic overall potential, the sky is the limit for Johnson. Loves to run the floor, rebound and takes added pleasure in blocking shots.
Taylor Amarando (5-10 PF/SF, Albany Capitals-Lombard): Relentless competitor plays bigger than her body. Amarando doesn’t shy away from contact and is especially skilled at finishing with her left hand. A quality defender and rebounder, this sophomore standout has a bright future ahead.
Alexis Gray (6-2 C, Queen City Classics): Gray features exceptional size, strength and soft hands, proving to be a difficult problem for opponents to solve. A post player with plenty of room to improve, Gray needs only to polish her offensive skills to become a highly sought-after recruit. Plenty of up-side in this game.
Sarah Benischick (5-10 SG/SF, Westchester Hawks): Intelligent performer with the ability to score, distribute and defend. Good decision maker with an excellent understanding of proper shot selection. Solid range from the perimeter, yet Benischick is sneaky-good getting to the basket.
Kim Confrey (PG, Rockland Royals): Superior vision, clever decision-making and exceptional ball-handling skills highlight Confrey’s showing at the 2005 GymRat CHALLENGE. Not afraid to exploit a defense playing off her, Confrey still thinks pass-first and score-second. Skilled at penetrating and kicking the ball out to the wings for quality three-point opportunities.
Jessica Thomas (5-6 PG, Bay State Elite Magic): Potent three-point sniper, Thomas played a key role in the Magic’s run to the semifinals. Speedy making transition from defense to offense, Thomas has the unique ability to find open space in order to spot up from the perimeter.
Casey Wright (6-2 C, New York Scorpians): A player beginning to realize how good she can be. Wright doesn’t attempt to do too much, yet still manages to get plenty done by playing within her abilities. An extremely hard worker, Wright has vastly improved her low-post game and keeps the ball up high to thwart double-teaming tactics.
Honorable Mention Selections
Stephanie McBride (5-6 SG, Albany Capitals-Lombard)
Amelia Horton (5-9 F, CAS Douglass Panthers)
Jade Santos (5-10 PF, Bay State Magic Elite)
Alexis Scott (5-9 PF, Franklin Defenders)
Janay Barnett (5-3 PG, Franklin Defenders)
Maria Picone (5-6 PG, CT Breeze)
Cait Scudder (6-0 C/PF, CT Spirit — 89 White)
Chelsea Cracco (6-0 PF/C, CT Spirit — 89 White)
Laura Burdick (5-11 PF/SF, CT Spirit — 89 White)
Patricia Zillas (5-7 SG/PG, New York Rage)
Stephanie Prall (5-7 SG/PG, New Jersey Panthers)
14-U Age Division
Defense proved to be the name of the game for the New England Explosion, as the squad from Northhampton, MA held five of its six opponents under 30 points to secure the title. New England held the Rochester Warriors to just eight points during pool play. Paced by the two-way exploits of Brighid Courtney, Genn Roy and Patty Stefanelli, the Explosion shook off a six-point halftime deficit by limiting Bay State Magic Elite to 13 points in the second half for a 36-28 championship victory.
14-U GymRat CHALLENGE MVG: Most Valuable GymRat
Brighid Courtney (5-10, C/PF, New England Explosion): Armed with a potent baseline turnaround jumper, plus an unwavering desire to score, defend and rebound in the post, Courtney has a number of attributes at her disposal that make her special. Moves well without the ball and establishes position with confidence. Courtney takes her defensive assignments seriously and is also diligent on the glass.
14-U All-GymRat CHALLENGE Team
Reilly Poirier (5-10 C/PF, Bay State Magic Elite): Rugged post presence at both ends of the floor, Poirier is impressive establishing quaility position in the paint AND equally potent preventing opposing players from gaining post access against her. Uses both hands to complete a wide array of moves in the lane and when finishing on the break. Once Poirier has sealed her defender, it often means two points (or more) for the Magic Elite.
Courtney Finn (SG, Bay State Magic Elite): It’s hard to imagine what Finn enjoys more: draining 3-pointers from anywhere, finding one of her teammates with deliciously devious passes, or deceptively waiting for the right instance to pounce to secure a steal. Outside shooting, passing skills and defensive wizardary all are attributes sealing Finn’s spot on the All-GymRat CHALLENGE team.
Manassa Bunce (PG, Western New York Lakers-Bunce): Creative with the ball and a menace attempting to pry it away, Bunce provides plenty of highlights every time she takes the court. Smooth with the way she shoots the ball or finds teammates for easy baskets, Bunce seems to get to every loose ball.
Katherine Woods (5-3 PG, CT Shamrocks): Years ahead of her counterparts fundamentally, Woods brings saavy, limitless shooting range and an understanding of how to make things easier on her teammates. Just a top notch decision-maker who foils opponents with a multitude of skills.
China Crosby (5-1 PG, CAS Douglass Panthers): Diminutive floor general proved to be the premier ball-handler in this age group. Uses a hesitation crossover move to lull defenders to sleep before proceeding to bust ankles and shred knee ligaments advancing the ball toward the basket. Exceptional footwork allows Crosby to lock down opposition point guards. A joy to watch, and the best is yet to come.
Jennifer Shinall (PG, CT Breeze): The quintessential point guard, Shinall understands tempo and how to lead teammates perfectly for the best-possible scoring opportunities. Equally dangerous spotting up for 3-pointers or driving past helpless defenders for two points. Shinall isn’t afraid to mix it up inside and crashes the offensive glass exceedingly well. While Shinall is an exciting offensive player, her ability to shut down opposing guards set her apart as the elite defender of the 14-year-old and under event.
Honorable Mention Selections
Genn Roy (5-9 SF/PF, New England Explosion)
Patty Stefanelli (5-10 PF, New England Explosion)
Barbara Shea (5-4 PG, Saratoga Sparks)
Kara Tancredi (5-7 SF/PF, Hudson Valley Knights)
Allyson Biordi (5-5 PG, Hudson Valley Knights)
Julia Moorehead (5-5 PG, New Jersey Panthers)
Jordan Brown (5-0 PG, Richmond Surge)
Shannon Seager (PF/C, Elmira Express-Gavich)
Kelsey Kerr (5-4 PG, West Carroll FSK Eagles)
Sarah Robinson (5-4 PG, Twin State Titans)
Taylor Kucharski (5-2 PG, STNY Flyers)
Alyssa Fenyn (PG/SG, Western New York Lakers-Bunce)
Carissa Reed (5-11 PF/C, Unity Wildcats)
Carly Cooper (5-6 PG, Unity Wildcats)