GymRat CHALLENGE Director of Communications/Talent Evaluation Coordinator

ALBANY, NY-The tournament that prides itself for being a place where reputations are made more than lived up to that billing as the 6th annual GIRL’S GymRat CHALLENGE AAU tournament, held at Siena College and the University at Albany, attracted its traditional high level of talented players and teams to compete on June 19 and 20.

Some reputations were upheld, particularly in the case of the New York Gauchos’ program. The Gauchos almost always send strong teams here, and that was most definitely the case again.

The Gauchos sent teams to the championship game in all three age brackets, and came close to becoming just the second AAU program to win team titles in each of the three divisions. Only the Gauchos’ boys’ teams of 2000 swept all three age divisions.

This year the girls’ teams had the opportunity to duplicate that rare feat, but came up just short in the 14-under level. But, its 15-under and 16-under teams dominated the competition to capture GymRat CHALLENGE championships.

As for creating a new reputation, the Saratoga Sparks did that in grand fashion, knocking off the Gauchos for the team title in the 14-under division. Not only did some strong team play by a team of girls playing in their home area find success, but their young interim coach, Serita Holland, put the first strong line on a resume she hopes eventually results in a full-time career as a coach. Holland filled in for the Father’s Day series of championship-bracket games because the team’s usual head coach, Tony Mingione, missed the event due to family obligations.

The GymRat CHALLENGE is a place where individuals either establish, reveal, or grow reputations, too. Age division MVGs (Most Valuable GymRats) Briyona Canty of the Gauchos’ 16 under team, Danaejah Grant of the Gauchos 15-under team and Sydnie Rosales of the Saratoga Sparks’ 14-under team all flashed the individual excellence within a team framework to help bring championships to their respective teams.

And, they weren’t alone. A full field of 156 teams came to New York’s Capital Region for the annual event, bringing more than 1,700 players to compete.

The 2009 field included multiple players who have moved on to high-major level Division I programs in every large conference nationally and hundreds of others who will eventually be college standouts. And, the 2010 event looked to have a similarly high level of talent throughout its divisions.

As always, the 2010 version of the GymRat CHALLENGE was a place where reputations were earned … and where seeds have been planted for even greater growth.
16:U Age Bracket: Gauchos’ Talent, Willpower Earn GymRat Title

Betnijah Laney, a talented 6-foot forward, became what is believed to be the first player to capture a GymRat CHALLENGE championship for two different teams as she helped lead the

N.Y. Gauchos to the 16-under age bracket title in the 6th annual GymRat event,.

Two years ago she was the MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) at the 14-under level as her Philadelphia Triple Threat team earned the tournament hardware.

But Laney suited up for a late AAU season tournament with the Gauchos a year ago, and liked the experience enough to stay with that program. The result was the Gauchos added another very talented piece to an already strong team and the GymRat CHALLENGE became the second major tournament the program has won in recent weeks.

This year, though, it was Briyona Canty, a multi-talented 5-9 guard, who earned the Most Valuable GymRat, the event’s top individual award. Canty was consistently next to unstoppable throughout the Gauchos’ run here, and her basket midway through the second half of the championship game, when her team trailed by three points, might have been the biggest bucket of the entire tournament.

After that Canty assisted on two baskets, sank a pair of clutch free throws and played some smothering defense that enabled the Gauchos to rally from their 3-point second-half deficit to eventually earn a 58-43 victory over New Heights-White in the division’s championship game.

Laney did her share, too, finishing with a game-high 23 points.

“Winning here was definitely a goal of ours,” said Canty, who has received strong interest from UConn, Rutgers and many other top-level college programs. “When we fell behind, we realized we had to keep on pushing. I kept running hard and tried to pick up the team, particularly by playing hard on defense.”

It might have been a mid-second half defensive adjustment, though, that helped the team’s tired legs find just enough to pull away down the stretch.

“The championship game was our fourth game of the day and the girls were tired,” admitted coach Ed Fontno. “To that point all we played was man-to-man defense. We decided, then, to switch to a 3-2 zone, which put a little less stress on the legs, and the game changed completely. It enabled us to clamp down on them defensively and we wound up with some good possessions on the offensive end.”

Seven different players chipped in to produce the Gauchos’ final 26 points after their 35-32 deficit midway through the second half.

“We just have a lot of talent,” added Laney. “We not only have strong post play, but terrific perimeter players. A lot of teams have one or the other, but not a lot of teams have both.”

The Gauchos definitely had both and, now, have a GymRat CHALLENGE championship to prove it.
16:U GymRat CHALLENGE MVG – Most Valuable GymRat

Briyona Canty 5-9 guard (N.Y. Gauchos/Trenton Catholic H.S.): An extremely athletic true two-guard who runs the court well. She can also play inside and knows how to seal off a defender and work in the post. Plays hard at both ends of the court. Very good leaper who uses that to be a good rebounder. Once she gets her hands on the ball, it’s hers. Smart player who can drive past defenders, get to the basket or create for others. Standout defender, whose work on that end helped lift her team to a GymRat championship.
16:U All GymRat CHALLENGE Team

Andreanna Thomas, 5-6 point guard (Ct. Lady Blazers/james Hillhouse H.S.): A true point guard. She sees the floor extremely well and makes passes at the most opportune time. She can score when she has to, as well, but seems to enjoy feeding the “bigs” on her team a lot better. Good handle, good ball moves.

Kaylin O’Keefe 5-9 guard (Crystal City Stars/Pittsford Sutherland): A high school freshman playing up two levels, and still was able to stand out here. Very good ball handler. Showed the ability to shoot well from the perimeter, even with range out to beyond the 3-point line. Looks like she’ll be a natural shooting guard, and a good one.

Shelby Forarty 6-1 center (Crystal City Stars/Pittsford Mendon H.S.): Very good finisher around the basket. Very active on the boards at both ends. An athletic player who runs the floor well in transition. Showed the ability to shoot well from the perimeter, even out to the 3-point line. A mobile center who can also play forward. Has committed to Hartford.

Bria Holmes 6-2 center (Ct. Lady Blazers/James Hillhouse H.S.): Give this legit center any space to operate inside and she is gliding to the basket. Teams begin to respect her driving ability and, then, she will go out and hit a three-pointer. A big girl with very good perimeter skills, too. She is also adept at converting with either hand.

Marika Gurin 5-4 point guard (Lady hoopsters/Fernand-Lefebvre H.S.): She hands the ball extremely well, without any difficulty. Sees the floor well. A legitimate point guard. She creates opportunities for teammates and delivers good, crisp passes. She can also score when she has to, and also showed the ability to be a defensive force.

Maripier Courchesne 6-2 center (Lady Hoopsters/Fernand Lefebvre H.S.): Very good post player who is always fighting to get the upper hand on the opposition. Showed an inclination to move well without the basketball. Very mobile player. She establishes position quickly and keeps it with her strength. Also showed off a solid baseline jumper. Great on-the-ball defender. All-out hustle all the time.

Irene Nguene 5-10 forward (Lady Hoopsters/Jeanne Mance H.S.): A rugged inside player not afraid to initiate contact inside. She is always working hard on the court. Runs the floor well in transition and can finish. In the half court she is always working hard to get good position, and knows what to do with it.

Mariah Lesure 6-0 forward (Mass Frenzy/Amherst H.S.): Strong, yet athletic post player. Runs the floor fairly well and has good court vision. A lefty who finishes with both hands around the basket. Draws contact inside and gets to the foul line. Conditioning seemed to be an issue here, though. Getting interest from mid-major level D-I schools.

Elizabeth Sharlow 6-2 forward (Central Jersey Cardinals-Shellhammer/Bishop George Ahr H.S.): A very mobile front-court player capable of scoring or defending in the post, or on the perimeter. Scored 17 points in a half of one game here, hitting four 3’s. Also has good post moves, particularly an up-and-under. Uses either hand around the hoop. Sees court well. Played up an age level. Definite D-I prospect.

Lauren Nuss 5-9 guard (LI Lightning-Lawniczak/Christ The King H.S.): A very athletic guard with versatile skills. She played smart here and exhibited outstanding court vision. Good handle for a prototypical off-guard. Showed off a nice shooting touch that included rante out to the 3point stripe.

Damika Martinez 5-7 guard (Ct. Starters/Platt H.S.): A very good defender, extremely active on that end of the court. Very aggressive player on both ends of the court. Uses that trait, combined with strength, to be effective on both ends. Goes hard to the basket and can finish with either hand.

Keri Soppe 5-9 guard (WNY Lady Titans/Irondequoit H.S.): Plays shooting guard primarily, but good enough handle, court vision and passing ability to perform like a second point guard in an offense. Slender upper body, yet still can get to the rim and finish quickly. Worked give-and-go effectively here. Good rebounder for her physique. Has a nice shooting touch, but didn’t need it much here. Mid-major are involved, including Siena.

Kelsey Booth, 6-2 forward (Ct. Storm-Ryczek/East Hampton H.S.): An extremely versatile forward who can play the post, yet is athletic enough to go out on the perimeter, even hitting shots from 3-point land. Long and lanky player with good defensive anticipation. Good passer with above-average court vision. Runs the floor every possession. Passes well out of double teams. Siena and St. Bona’s top two schools showing interest.

Jade Howard 5-11 forward (Philly Triple Threat-Bass/St. Joseph’s H.S.): Very fast, athletic player. Runs the floor well. Standout rebounder, gets off her feet well. Strong team didn’t look to her on offense, yet she still found ways to score. Excellent offensive rebounder. Great ball pressure and anticipation on defense. Should be an above-average mid-major D-I forward.

Brittany Hrynko 5-7 point guard (Philly Triple Threat/Engineering $ Sciences H.S.): One of the top true point guards here. Off-the-charts quicknness, ball-handling skills and passing ability. Really knows how to run a team and keep everything composed. Nice shooting stroke, out to 3point lane. Needs to add a little bulk and strength, but still finishes in traffic. Being recruited by some high-major D-I programs.

Betnijah Laney 6-0 forward (NY Gauchos/Smyrna H.S.): MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) here two years ago in the 14-under division, and she just continues to improve. A powerful yet athletic forward who also has small-forward skills. Very versatile. Dribbles well with either hand. Terrific rebounder and rebounds very well in traffic.Nice touch on her shot. UConn, Rutgers, Louisville, Kentucky, Virginia among serious suitors.

Jeanne Gaumont 6-0 forward (Lady Hoopsters/International McMasterville H.S.): A long, athletic and very mobile player who can drop back and play guard as well as forward. Overall, strong small-forward skills including an ability to go out to the perimeter and make 3’s. Yet, she can also finish around the basket. Good, conscientious defender.

Tehresa Coles 5-9 guard (Albany Capitals 16N/Colonie H.S.): Very possibly the fastest/quickest player here at any level. Uses that physical skill most effectively on the defensive end. If she’s near the ball, she’s causing problems for an opponent. Strong rebounder from the guard spot, and a one-person fast break after getting a rebound. Runs the floor extremely well. Passes well and has good court vision. Needs only a better jumper to complete the package. Has committed to Siena.

Liz Wood, 5-10 guard (Lessons Learned/Liberty H.S.): Prototypical off-guard. Strong, yet athletic. Showed good court vision here, but at her best with the ball in her hands. Outstanding shooter, including out to 3-point range. Good pull-up jumper. Got to the rim with regularity and finishes strong. Hustles all the time. Looks like a good mid-major D-I prospect.

Taneka Whittaker 5-8 guard (WBA Lady Knicks-Black/Our Lady of Lourdes H.S.): A very fast, athletic guard who uses those physical skills go get to the basket and has the ability to finish there. Very tough, aggressive player. Has a good handle for an off-guard.

Brittany Horne 6-1 forward (WBA Lady Knicks-Black/Carmel H.S.): Good-sized forward who showed a good deal of athleticism. Has excellent shooting range, very mobile small/forward skills, but also a good rebounder. Gets off her feet well and has good timing to get blocked shots. Good around the basket and finishes strong. Runs the court well.

Stephanie Spoto 6-0 forward (Crystal City Stars/Pittsford Sutherland H.S.): A strong inside player who is very active inside and is very effective. Finishes well. Good rebounder and standout defender, particularly on the interior. Aways on the move on both ends of the court.

Kaylin O’Keefe 5-7 guard (Crystal City Stars/Pittsford Sutherland H.S.): Just finished her freshman year, so she played up two age levels and did so effectively. Very good handle for an off-guard, almost like having a second effective ball-handler in the backcourt. Very quick player, but her best attribute so far is a terrific shooting ability from both long range an don pull-up jumpers.

Lillian McCabe 6-0 guard (WBA Lady Knicks-Black/Rye H.S.): Very athletic player who uses that physical trait to be an active and effective defensive presence. Good height for a perimeter player. Good outside shooter, but also goes inside to help out on the rebounding duties.

Ashley Gomez 5-8 guard (New Heights-White/Murray Bergtraum H.S.): Very good handle for an off-guard. Drives the lane with regularity and can finish or dish once she gets inside. Controls the team when she has the ball in her hands. Very good defender, as well.

Michelle Impellezeri, 6-3 center (LI Lightning-Lawniczak/ St. Anthony’s): Long and slender, uses length on the boards at both ends. Still needs strength, but will be a factor when that comes. Very tough to shoot over. Nice shooting touch inside. Good passer, sees the court well and hits teammates when double-teamed.

Frederique Potvin 5-11 forward (Montreal Lady Hoopstars/De mortagne H.S.): Good-sized, long lanky wing player. Athletic and has a good handle. Good ball moves to get past defenders, but particularly uses her athleticism and ball-handling ability to get open on the perimeter and has the ability to hit the 3.

Sarah Royals 5-8 guard (Ct. Spirit/Torrington H.S.): Excellent and true point guard with good size for the position. Cool presence under pressure. Runs a team very well, and makes good passes that lead to baskets. Can also keep defenses honest with her 3-point shot, and can drive and score.

Briana Kiesel 5-7 guard (Albany City Rocks/Utica Proctor H.S.): Athletic, explosive combo guard. Extremely quick in the open court. Has nice pull-up jumper, nice hesitation move to get to the rim. Has good body control. Finishes in transition. Gets after it defensively. Constantly working on both ends. Returning all-star. Many high majors are interested.

Dominique Vitalis 6-3 center (Ring City Elite/Gil Saint Bernards H.S.): Slender yet effective inside and outside. Runs the floor very well. Very athletic. Probably needs to add strength to play at the next level, but everything else seems to be there. Just finishing her sophomore year, so she played up an age level. Active defender, and helps on defense.

Kallie Banker 5-9 guard (Crystal City Stars/Grand Island H.S.): Sophomore who played up an age level with no problem. Good height for a player with ability to play the point. Has great control of a team. Excellent handle, but also contributes with scoring ability. Can shoot the 3 effectively. High ceiling for her.

Allie Setter 6-0 forward (Albany Capitals/Shenendehowa H.S.): Showed an ability to drive from the high post to the hoop at will. Not extremely quick, but still very active at both ends. Very good hands that are effective on offense and defense. Showed good rebounding ability here.

Cori Coleman 5-7 guard (New Heights-White/Murry Bergtraum H.S.): Legitimate point guard and good size for the position. She has an excellent handle, and doesn’t get flustered. Not only runs a team but is a good scorer, particularly when getting past defenders and to the hoop.

Shakina Richardson, 5-6 point guard (Ring City Elite/ Neptune H.S.): Strong, slightly stocky point guard who uses strength well. Effective cross-over dribble that often leads to her own 15foot jumper. Good court vision. Drives, draws and dishes on break. Plays quick, but under control. Finds open teammates.

Kate Healy, 6-1 forward (NY Revelution/Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart): Slender, active player who has good foot quickness defensively. Good hands. Played up an age level. Needs some strength, but that should come. Runs floor well. Effective use of dribble. Solid passer. Uses length effectively on both ends.
16:U Honorable Mention all-GymRat CHALLENGE

Nicole Bini, 5-7 guard, Crystal City Stars
Starr Breedlove, 5-5 point guard, NY Gauchos
Olivia Suhr, 6-1 forward, Crystal City Stars
Adreanna Thomas, 5-6 guard, Ct. Lady Blazers
Brooke Stewart, 5-10 guard, NH Rivals
Maggie Brown, 5-9 guard, Unity Wildcats-Kramer
Kelsey Mattice, 5-5 point guard, Unity Wildcats-Kramer
Ugo Nwaigwe, 6-2 center, L.I. Lightning-Lawniczak
Cherelle Moore, 5-11 forward, Ct. Lady Blazers
Katie Roth, 6-2 forward, City Rocks-Eagles
Taylor Jewett, 5-7 point guard, Cardinal Elite-King
Jatirah Diggs, 5-8 guard, Central Jersey Rebels
Ashley Leblanc, 6-3 center, New England Lady Panthers
Jennifer Bujnowski, 6-1 forward, New England Lady Panthers
Crystal Ross, 6-3 center, NY Gauchos
Alyesha Lovett, 5-11 forward, NY Gauchos
Sarah Halejian, 5-9 guard, Ring City Elite
Alyssa Barrett, 5-7 guard, Ct. Spirit
Michelle Rubino, 5-9 wing, L.I. Xtreme
Lauren Knowles, 5-9 forward, N.Y. Pride-James
Jordan Thomas, 5-11 forward, Central Jersey Rebels
Margot Hetzke, 6-0 forward, WNY Tigans
Monaye Merritt, 5-6 point guard, Philly Triple Threat
Ashley Motrechuk, 6-1 forward, NYC Heat-Flaherty
Ciara McCullagh, 6-1 forward, NYC Heat-Flaherty
Tyler Hansen, 5-7 guard, Lessons Learned
Kara McDuffee, 6-0 forward, STNY Flyers
Felicia DeCruz, 5-7 point guard, WBA Lady Knicks
Brittani Bove. 5-9 forward, Crystal City Stars
Kaylin O’Keefe, 5-7 guard, Crystal City Stars
Stephanie Spoto, 6-0 forward, Crystal City Stars
Taliah Pounds, 6-0 forward, Albany Capitals 16N
Shannon Allen, 6-1 forward, Albany Capitals 16N
Jazmine Garcia, 5-11 forward, Gauchos
Ebony Jennings, 6-0 forward, Gauchos
Kahleah Cooper, 6-0 forward, Gauchos
Savanna Butterfield, 5-10 forward, NH Rivals-White
Krysta Vanacore, 5-7 guard, WBA Lady Knicks-Black
Liz Milner, 5-11 forward, WBA Lady Knicks-Black
Ammanda Adamski, 5-11 forward, Conn. Magic
Deanna Molinelli, 5-5 point guard, Long Island X-treme
Tia Scott, 5-6 guard, New Heights White
Chelsea Baez, 6-1 forward, New Heights White
Tiffany Johnson, 5-7 guard, Higher Ground Warriors
Najah Jacobs, 5-6 guard, Higher Ground Warriors
Tessa Pucello, 5-10 guard, Unity Wildcats McManus
Amanda Adamski, 5-11 forward, Conn. Magic
Dana Gildea, 6-0 forward, NYC Heat Flaherty
Ebonie Ellison, 5-10 guard, Ct. Roughriders
Sarah Benedetti, 5-9 wing, Ct. Starterz
Samantha Milhaven, 6-0 forward, LI Lightning-Lawniczak
Jocelyn Ford, 5-10 guard, Elmira Lady Express
Shantele Brown, 5-5 guard, WNY Lady Titans
Kelly Myers, 6-0 forward, Ct. Magic
Jaci Oskam, 6-1 guard, Albany Capitals 16N
Brooke Brennan, 5-8 guard, Basketball 2The Limit
Nyah Berg, 5-7 guard, Basketball 2The Limit
Troi Melton, 5-10 guard, New Heights White
Monae Adams, 5-10 forward, New Heights White
15:U Age Division: Gauchos Lock Up a GymRat Championship

AAU play has a reputation for run and gun offense and lackluster defense. But, that’s far from how the New York Gauchos play on the spring/summer circuit.

So, when Gauchos’ coach Sabrina Allen starts shouting “Lock it up,” a direction heard often and right from the opening tap, her team recognizes it not just as a reminder but a demand to play defense.

Lock it up? The Gauchos didn’t allow a point for the first five minutes of their 15-under age division championship game with the Albany Capitals Sunday night at Siena College, running out to a 17-0 early lead and, then, coasting home … although there was no coasting on the defensive end … to a 51-19 victory and a GymRat CHALLENGE age bracket title.

“That’s what she preaches even in our practices … to lock it up,’ said Danaejah Grant, a 5-foot-9 guard whose work as a lock-up defender helped bring her the division’s MVG award (Most Valuable GymRat). “We realize that it’s very important to play defense, and that it’s defense that leads to our offense.”

It doesn’t hurt that the Gauchos have a deep bench that allowed Coach Allen to substitute liberally and keep her players fresh enough to apply the in-your-face defensive pressure that smothers opposing offenses.

Still, that wasn’t enough to keep Grant from nearly passing out midway through the Gauchos’ semifinal round contest here.

“I just got dehydrated,” explained Grant, who was cleared both by the tournament’s medical staff and her mother to continue to play later in the game. “I just didn’t eat anything during the day, and wasn’t drinking enough liquids. It’s a lesson learned, an experience to help me from now on.

The Gauchos, though, already know, from experience, how beneficial it is to play the type defense they use.

“It’s real hard because our players come from all areas (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey), so it’s tough to get them together,” added Allen. “But I just stress defense right from the start. I tell them that I don’t care if you don’t score a point but if you can’t play defense then you’re no good to me.”

The Gauchos use a full-court press and, then, a man-to-man style in the half court that combines quickness and tenacity that never seems to allow opponents to get into a comfort zone.

In the championship game, they defeated a team coached by Audra DiBacco, a former player at Siena College who experienced plenty of success on the court in her own playing career and was a member of that program’s only women’s team to play in an NCAA tournament.

But after winning six straight games with a team-oriented style of play her team couldn’t find a way to overcome the Gauchos’ defensive pressure in the championship contest.

Sunday it didn’t matter who was on the floor for the Gauchos, the result never changed.

“A lot of teams don’t substitute too much because they don’t trust their bench players,” added Allen. “But when I put in five new players I feel secure about what they can do.”

They do what Allen demands from them, to lock it up on the defensive end.

And, in the GymRat CHALLENGE this year her team used defense to lock up a tournament championship.
15:U GymRat CHALLENGE MVG – Most Valuable GymRat

Danaejah Grant 5-9 guard (NY Gauchos/Piscataway H.S.): A strong physical guard with enough strength to get off shots in the lane. She can get into the lane at any time, and did so often in the championship game to get off shots or draw defenders and pass to open teammates. Has a great mid-range game. She thrives in transition and really makes plays when needed. Tough to guard once she gets past a defender. Great court vision. A high-major prospect who is being looked at by Maryland, Syracuse, North Carolina and Rutgers, among many others.
15:U All GymRat CHALLENGE Team

Shequana Harris 5-8 shooting guard (New Heights/Bergtraum H.S.): A very athletic, long wing player who can really score. Plays with great energy and has an extra gear in transition. Really good defender with active hands who makes more than her share of deflections. Rebounds well for her size and can get to the hoop at will.

Asia Tachson 5-7 point guard (NY Gauchos/Peekskill H.S.): Very quick, water-bug type guard that gets to the hoop at will. Plays great defense that leads to many steals and deflections. Not a great 3-point shooter, but really finishes well closer to the hoop and even in traffic. Good point guard skills, very good passer and gets teammates involved.

Zaire Oneal 5-11 forward (NY Gauchos/Shabazz H.S.): A crafty left-handed post player that scores well in the paint. Has really good foot moves and uses the spin move well. Plays very tough around the rim, but seemed to lack intensity at times. Strong on both the offensive and defensive boards.

Jill Ritrosky 5-10 forward (Mass Frenzy/Pittsfield H.S.): A tenacious player who never stops working hard. Runs the floor very well and can rebound in traffic. Finishes with either hand and does most of her scoring in the paint. She kept her team competitive here with her inside ability at both ends of the court.

Marley Giddins 5-11 forward (WBA Lady Knicks-Black/Irvington H.S.): Very skilled wing player with great size for her position. She has the ability to score from both inside and from outside. She also exhibited an ability to rebound well, and often grabbed defensive rebounds, dribbled the length of the court and finished.

Shayna Erickson 6-0 forward/center (N.J. Northstars/West Morris Central): Very skilled inside player who can bang down low. Has the ability to score inside with either hand, yet can also come out to hit mid-range jumpers. Rebounds very well in space and has great timing for shot-blocking. Getting low D-I level interest for now, but improved ball-handling skill could attract a higher level.

Katie Reese 5-9 point guard (N.J. Northstars/Mountain Lakes): Very quick and crafty point guard who really pushes the ball up court. She can score, too, often taking the ball to the basket and finishes. Has great court vision to find open teammates and deliver a pass. She played despite flu-like symptoms here and still showcased above-average skills.

Tiahana Mills 5-8 point guard (Team BX/Binghamton H.S.): An athletic, tough-minded player who has an ability to push the ball quickly in transition. Very good at keeping defenses honest with a solid jumper. True point guard who can pass the ball well and run a team in transition, yet also adept at working in transition situations. Some A-10 schools have expressed interest.

Makenzie Burud 5-9 small forward (Kingston Vipers/Red Hook H.S.): Very crafty scoring forward. Has the ability to both score inside and go out to knock down 3’s. Drove the ball past defenders here with regularity, and finished well at the bucket. Had a big 23-point effort in her final pool-round contest here.

Brooke O’Shea 6-1 guard (Albany Capitals-DiBacco/Averill Park H.S.): A good scoring guard with an ability to bury open 3-po0inters. She led her team in scoring in two games during its run to the championship contest. Also showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and get past defenders. Scored well in transition, either finishing or hitting pull-up jumpers.

Hannah Kutny 6-0 small forward (Albany Capitals-DiBacco/Catholic Central H.S.): A tough, versatile forward that scored both off the dribble and on open jumpers. Played here with great energy all over the court. She also rebounded well here and made big plays at key points during her team’s run to the championship game.

Bernie Jordan 5-4 point guard (Albany Capitals-DiBacco/Holy Names): A quick little true point guard who was the engine that drove her team to the championship game. Played with great pace in the open court and was never flustered by pressure defense. Ensured her teammates got the ball in the right places to score, and pushed the tempo at all times.

Kelsey Glanzman 5-11 forward (LI Lightning-Eve/Center Moriches H.S.): Great feel around the basket and showed a terrific knack for getting the ball. She played extremely hard here, and draws fouls around the basket because of her aggressive play. Always seems to find a way to get offensive rebound and a put-back. Good rebounder and also a good interior passer.

Christa Scognamiglio 5-11 guard (New Heights/Pearl River H.S.): High-scoring guard with a lightning-quick release. Has the ability to score from deep and can go past defenders to get to the rim with regularity. Plays with great energy and can really cause havoc with her defense. Excels in transition and loves to take and make transition 3’s.

Sade King 5-4 point guard (New Heights/Mt. Vernon H.S.): A lightning-quick guard who makes up for her diminutive size with speed. Very good at getting past defenders, into the paint and finding teammates. Scores off the dribble with a high-arcing floater in the lane. Shoots the 3, but looks like she needs to develop her jumper a little more.

Alexkiss Rusk 6-5 center (New England Shooting Stars/Phillips Andover): Strong, although not a dominent rebounder who still seems to find the ball. Unstoppable at times when she gets the ball on the block. Makes layups with either hand. Able to make short drives to beat a defender and score. Her mom is from Canada, and Alexkiss still plays hockey, even at 6-5. Has heard from Stanford, Boston College and others.

Mackenzie Rowland 6-0 forward (Saratoga Sparks/Shaker H.S.): Has a knack for hitting the big shot, including from long range. Takes the ball to the hoop aggressively. Nice touch on the foul line. Strong rebounder who can lead the break and even go coast to coast, regardless of how much traffic. Sees the court well and is a nice passer.

Brehenda Stratton 5-11 forward (Saratoga Sparks/Albany H.S.): Uses leaping ability and perfect timing to be a strong shot blocker. Scores well inside and out with a soft touch from the arc and around the hoop. Extremely active on both ends of the floor. Follows shot well, including after taking a 3. Very solid rebounder/passer. Just a complete player. Has gotten early letters from high-major level.

Africa Williams 5-7 guard (N.J. Sparks/Bishop Ford H.S.): Uses quickness and anticipation defensively to be a “steals machine.” Tenacious one-on-one defender. Very skilled ball-handler, uses both hands well. Great use of hesitation dribble. Goes to the hoop hard and finishes. Consistent and cool player. Not a pure shooter, but hits her share. Already getting high-major level interest.

Erica Brown 5-7 guard (N.J. Sparks/Kennedy H.S.): Has ability to take over a game in a big spot. Team features her in isolation. Great open-court passer and effective and feeding the post. Is most comfortable penetrating, but is a consistent outside shooter with 3-point range. Wants the blal in big situations. Superior defensive ability. Rutgers, Maryland, Kentucky, George Washington have shown early interest.

Teana Muldrow 6-1 center/forward (N.J. Sparks/East Orange Campus): A complete package, a lean 6-footer with above-average jumping ability and speed. Powerful around the basket and driving to the hoop. Gets out on the break, including as a ball handler. Very soft shot, mainly from 15 feet and in, but can also hit the 3. Capable ball handler. UConn, Rutgers have shown early interest.

Shakirah Negron 5-7 guard (N.J. Sparks/Immaculate Conception): Deadly 3-point shooter with flawless delivery. Also takes the ball to the basket well. Tenacious one-on-one defender; often asked to take other team’s point guard out of the offense and does it well. Excellent free-throw shooter. Solid, but not spectacular ball handler. Projects as a D-I mid-major level player.

Alissa Tarsi 6-1 forward (United New Jersey/North Hunterdon H.S.): A bull on the board, getting the job done with athleticism and determination. A force inside on defense, changing or blocking shots. Nice mid-range jumper, and fakes and drives to hoop well. Plays the point on her team’s pressing defensive. Aggressive play forces turnovers. Second effort nets her many rebounds and put-backs. Put her team on her shoulders for long stretches.

Celeste Robinson 5-9 guard (Firm AC Elite/Jim Thorpe H.S.): Extremely quick and athletic, a nice-sized guard. Penetrates extremely well and uses leaping ability to her advantage. Is fearless going to the hoop, helping her draw fouls frequently. A tenacious defender, who causes problems for opposing PGs. Didn’t show inclination to shoot from the outside, needs that to be a bigger force. Ivy/Patriot league teams have shown interest.

Ruth Sherrill 6-0 center/forward (Cardinal premier/Edison H.S.): Athletic shot-blocker; gets off the floor well. Has a nice drop step move around the basket and scores with either hand. Speed enables her to beat opponent up court and she covers a ton of ground on the press. Good instincts on defense. Extremely strong rebounder. Georgetown has shown early interest.

K.C. Sokolski 5-10 forward (Niagara Rapids/Irouois H.S.): Takes the ball to the hoop aggressively with either hand. Plays hard on both ends and enjoys battling people for the ball. Not intimidated by taller players. Knack for hitting mid-range jumper in traffic. Always on the mark with sharp bounce passes to cutting teammates. Early interest from D-II’s, D-III’s right now.

Deasia Acklin 5-7 guard (CAS Panthers/John F. Kenendy H.S.): Has ability to take over a game in a lot of ways. Can steal ball and beat other team up court on dribble. Able to score in heavy traffic; has knack for drawing fouls and is steady at the line. Sees the court extremely well and creates open shots for teammates. Defensively capable of playing passing lanes well.

Shannon Cullen 6-0 power forward (Bay State Jaguars/Walpole H.S.): Nice touch on short-range jumpers. Difficult to stop if she gets it in the low post and has great spin move. Crashes offensive boards hard and puts it back in Nice mid-range jumper, too. Defensively will challenge bigger players. Provides excellent defensive help. Projects as a D-II or D-III player for now.
Shannon Connelly 5-9 guard/forward (Bay State Jaguars/Lincoln Sudbury Regional): Superb 3-point shooter with a quick release. Relishes taking the big shot. Solid rebounder and defender, especially within the team framework. Excellent at drawing the defense and, then, finding open teammates with a good pass. Projects as D-II or III level for now.

Maia Hood 5-8 forward (Westchester Hoopers/Hamilton H.S.): What she lacks in size for her position she makes up for in hustle and determination. Complete player who is willing to battle bigger players for position and for the ball. Not an explosive scorer, but always seems to be able to deliver 8 or 10 points in a game. Boxes out well and plays strong defense.

Loren Kaiser 5-8 point guard (United New Jersey/Phillipsburg H.S.): A true point guard who lures defenders to her and, then, hits a teammate for an open shot. Does not turn the ball over, even under intense man-to-man pressure. Superior passer. Clutch shooter, both outside and hitting runners. Draws fouls and cashes in on the line. Excellent man-to-man and team defender.

Nicole Viselli 5-7 guard (Bay State Blizzard/Pentucket Regional): Outstanding long-range shooter. Can hit from well beyond the arc and with a hand in her face. Mainly a shooter, but shares in running the offense. A leader, the proverbial coach on the floor. Good defender and rebounds well for a guard. Wants the ball in a big situation.

Sarah Higgins 5-8 guard/forward (Bay State Blizzard/Pentucket Regional): She never stops running; comes out of a game exhausted, recharges, then runs some more. If the ball is loose, it’s a good bet she’ll get to it first. Aggressive defender and rebounder; plays bigger than her size. Scores and passes well on the break. Acrobatic and fast.
15:U Honorable Mention All-GymRAT CHALLENGE

Taylor Vansek 6-1 forward, New England Lightning
Jenna Lovett, 6-1 center, New England Lightning
Taylor Heinold, 5-10 forward, Buffalo Basketball
Cassandra Oursler, 6-4 center, Buffalo Basketball
Tara Flynn, 5-6 guard/forward, United New Jersey
Lisa Kintner, 6-1 forward, Firm A-C Elite
Jennifer DiSanto, 5-6 shooting guard, Lady Lakers
Ana Horowitz, 5-9 forward, Bay State Jaquars
Lauren Woods, 6-2 center, Saratoga Sparks
Emily Weber, 5-7 guard/forward, Saratoga Sparks
Ashley Clough, 5-11 power forward, New England Shooting Stars
Jane White, 5-5 point guard, New England Shooting Stars
Lynda Fields, 5-5 point guard, Baseline NYC
Kylla Champagne, 5-11 forward, New Jersey Sparks
Najah Chambers, 6-1 power forward, New Jersey Sparks
Taylor Potenza, 5-6 point guard, Niagara Rapids
Elizabeth Owasuwaa, 5-7 guard/forward, Carsinal Premier
Shanice Perry, 5-8 forward, Westchester Hoopers
Emani Tilford, 5-4 guard, Westchester Hoopers
Ayana Behagen, 5-6 forward, Westchester Hoopers
Ann Marie Idusuyi, 6-0 center, Bay State Blizzard
Emily Rose, 5-10 forward, New Hampshire Rivals
Allie Hartford, 5-4 guard, New Hampshire Rivals
Liz Schultz, 5-10 forward, NEPA Flames
Leshauna Phinazee, 5-9 forward, CAS Panthers
Dariah Duncan, 5-0 guard, CAS Panthers
Mary Kate Cusack, 5-5 guard, Saratoga Sparks
Clarissa Matias, 55 guard, Buffalo Basketball
Nancy Toth, 5-6 guard, Rhode Island Lady Cyclones
Sam Howe, 6-2 center, Mass Frenzy
Nicole Grossbard, 5-3 guard, WBA Lady Knicks
Jessica Porada, 5-11 forward, J.J. Northstars
Lexi Sells, 5-11 forward, Mass Premier
Gracie Harrigan, 6-0 forward, Mass Premier
Catie Phelan, 5-7 guard, Mass Premier
Bridget Carney, 6-1 forward, Albany Capitals-DiBacco
Ashley Liggins, 5-9 forward, Albany Capitals-DiBacco
Kayla McAvoy, 5-11 forward, CT Storm
Michelle Lagrotteria, 5-8 guard, CT Storm
Sam Stadnick, 5-8 guard, PU Classics
Jennifer Farrell, 5-7 guard, PU Classics
Tara Inman, 5-9 guard, CJ Hawks-Inman
Kathleen Egan, 6-0 forward, CJ Hawks-Inman
Opaul Morris, 5-9 forward, Mass Hoops Jaguars
Monique Cheek, 5-6 guard, Gauchos
Sophia Roman, 5-6 guard, Gauchos
Anjalease White, 6-2 forward, Gauchos
Angelica Hauer, 6-3 center, Team BX
Emily Lewis, 6-0 forward, Team BX
Madison Ward, 6-2 center, Team BX
Lauren Brustein, 5-11 forward, Team BX
Katie Vareika, 5-11 forward, Mt. Elite
Alicia Kutil, 5-11 forward, Mt. Elite
Nicole Anderson, 5-8 guard, CT Lady Blazers
Sadie Edwards, 5-8 guard, CT Lady Blazers
Andrea Crute, 5-11 forward, New Heights
Janicha Diaz, 5-11 forward, New Heights
Donovan Driscoll, 6-2 center, New England Lady Panthers
Colleen Ames, 5-9 forward, LI Lightning-Eve
Shannon Duer, 5-9 forward, LI Lightning-Eve
Diana Malanga, 5-4 guard, N.J. Sting
Kelly VanEpps, 5-8 guard, Albany Capitals-Matthews
Arielle Ward, 6-0 forward, CT Spirit
Dana Theobald, 5-7 guard, CT Spirit
Caroline Jadovich, 5-11 forward, CT Spirit
Alexa Menard, 5-6 guard, CT Spirit
Oliva Murphy, 6-0 forward, Ring City Elite
Samantha Tabakman, 6-2 center, Ring City Elite
14:U Age Division: Strong Team Play Lifts Saratoga Sparks To Title

The Saratoga Sparks 14-under division team came to Sunday’s games at the GymRat Challenge tournament without its head coach as Tony Mingione missed the event for a family function, and without one of its better players, whose opts not to play in Sunday games due to religious reasons.

But those seeming handicaps did nothing to derail the championship run of the Saratoga Sparks, who used strong overall team play and a well-designed strategy to advance to Sunday night’s championship contest of the 6th annual GymRat CHALLENGE for girls where it earned a 56-40 victory over the New York Gauchos.

Sydnie Rosales, who just finished her freshman year at Colonie High School, was named the age bracket’s MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) for her strong overall game, her composure at the guard spot against difficult pressure defense, and for coming up big down the stretch by scoring five of her team’s final nine points as the Sparks held off the Gauchos.

“This was a big deal for us to win in our home area,” said Rosales. “A lot of people think there aren’t good teams locally, but we wanted to prove we were a good team.”

The Sparks showed just that with a strong display of team-oriented play throughout the event as 20-year old Serita Holland, who aspires to a career in coaching, took over the coaching reins on Sunday’s second day of the tournament.

The team also overcame the loss of Cassie Broadhead of Scotia-Glenville H.S., who skips Sunday games for religious reasons.

“We’ve played other tournaments this year without her on Sundays … we know she’s not going to play on that day,” said Holland. “It’s not a big deal for us.”

It probably didn’t hurt the champions to see a relatively familiar foe in the championship game.

The Sparks matched up with the Gauchos in another tournament on the AAU circuit earlier this spring and knocked them off there too.

Sunday’s play made it appear like the Sparks had a solid strategy for success again in the return meeting. They packed the lane defensively against a taller and more-athletic Gauchos team and, then, pushed the ball offensively at every opportunity. The result was that the Gauchos had to foul to stop the Sparks’ fast-break drives to the basket, and the Gauchos wound up shooting 21 free throws (to 10 for the Gauchos). The Saratoga team made 16 of its 21 free-throw attempts.

“We felt pretty confident coming in because we had beaten them before,” added Rosales. “And the way we played is the way we like to play. We like to run and push the ball, and that worked tonight.”

Rosales said the tournament title was a little extra special coming on its home turf.

“It definitely is nice to win when you play in your home area,” she added. “We love it when people we know can come out and watch us have success.”
14:U: GymRat CHALLENGE MVG (Most Valuable GymRat)

Sydnie Rosales 5-9 guard (Saratoga Sparks/Colonie High School): She brought calm to the court, particularly against a pressing defense applied by the New York Gauchos in the event’s championship game. Her smooth play was on display here. She is good in transition, advancing the ball very well. Has exceptional range, even beyond the 3-point stripe. Coming off an injury plagued season at Colonie, but looks to be back to full health. Showed an ability to dominate games when she plays with intensity. Her size and ability she exhibits marks her a potential future Division I recruit.
14:U All GymRat CHALLENGE Team

Kayla Feairheller 5-11 forward (Sparks Pa./Henderson H.S.): A tough, physical player. She finishes nicely around the rim, using her aggressiveness inside to her advantage. She carried her team through early pool-round games here. Extremely tough on the boards, going after every rebound.

Bridget Murphy 5-8 guard/forward (Albany Capitals/Bethlehem H.S.): A throw-back player who gets the job done in today’s game. Does many things well. She goes hard to the hoop with an ability to pull up for medium-range jump shots. plays the game under control at all times.

Anna Ross 5-9 guard (Unity Wildcats/Mannion H.S.); A quick, athletic guard who is at her best slashing to the basket. She gets to the hoop and, then, dishes the ball nicely. Primarily a slasher right now, but her game will progress significantly as her jump shot improves.

Christina Graziadzi 6-0 forward (Unity Wildcats/Mannion H.S): A long and physical player who ranked as one of the top forwards at this age bracket. She posts up well and can also go out and hit the corner jump shot. Has good hands and rebounds well. Also made some clutch shots here.

Johana Impellizeri 6-0 forward (LI Lightning-Lawniczak/St. Anthony’s H.S.): A versatile forward who makes contributions in a variety of ways. She defends and rebounds very well. A smart, complete player who was a strong cog on a very good team here. Also showed good scoring ability.

Sade Gibbons 6-1 forward/center (LI Lightning-Lawniczal/Long Island Lutheran): A long, lanky lefthander who was equally adept at either front-court position. She showed an aggressive style of play, particularly in the paint. Exhibited a strong ability as one of the top rebounders here.

Chelsea Woods 5-11 forward (Philly Freedom Stars/World Comm. Middle School): An extremely strong player who draws many fouls with her offensive aggressiveness. She proved to be a difficult matchup for opponents here. Right now, her strength and how she uses it is her greatest asset.

Erin Garner 6-3 center (Philly Freedom Stars/Maternity BVM Elem. School): Best overall size in the 14-under division. She is an imposing player with a great deal of potential. She forces opponents to alter shots with her defense, and showed an ability to score around the basket.

Shanice Johnson 6-0 forward (N.Y. Gauchos/Dougherty H.S.: An extremely talented forward with size and athletic ability. Capable of taking over a game. Very difficult matchup. She goes to the hoop hard, but also showed a nice jump shot. Looks to have great potential to play at the college level.

Alexis Martins 5-11 forward (WBA Lady Knicks 14 Black/Irvington H.S.): A player with size who can also step out and hit the three-pointer. A very complete player who showed an ability to score around the basket with either hand. She also handles the ball well and will only continue to improve.

Brittni Lai 5-5 point guard (WBA Lady Knicks 14 Black/Edgemont H.S.): A fundamentally sound point guard who truly runs the show. Good ball-handler and passer. She can create space to get off her jump shot, too, and exhibited a nice shooting tough. A real tough, hard-nosed player.

BriHockwater 5-6 point guard (Mt. Elite/Attleboro H.S.): A competitive point guard who showed a strong ability to run an offense. She is extremely tough at both ends, and willing to take charges on defense. She is a real leader who plays with court intelligence and moves well without the ball, too.

Cassie Broadhead 5-8 guard (Saratoga Sparks.Scotia-Glenville H.S.): A clever, fundamentally sound player. She has the ability to create space and make a pull-up jumper. Able to draw fouls. She wants the ball in clutch situations. The more one watches the greater the appreciation of her understated style.

Kelly Hughes 5-10 guard (N.J. Riptide/Point Pleasant Boro H.S.): A guard who can do it all. Sees the court extremely well and makes quick, accurate passes. A go-to player who makes others better. Also finishes around the hoop with either hand. Great court IQ. Anticipates and plays passing lanes on defense. Capable of hitting 3’s, but could be more selective in shot selection.

Kerri Moran 5-6 guard (Central Jersey Cardinals-Coyle/Oak Knoll Academy): A lefty guard who showed an ability to penetrate and dish with crisp, accurate passes. When she keeps the ball she finishes well at the rim. Part of an excellent backcourt here.

Lyndsay Rowe 5-8 point guard (Central Jersey Cardinals-Coyle/St. John Vianney H.S.): Other half of a superb guard tandem here, and also a lefty. She can get to the hoop and make nice passes in transitions. Showed a nice stroke on her jumper. Played varsity level on a good high school team as a freshman.

DeAsia Jones 5-11 forward/center (N.Y. Gauchos/JHS): A major impact player here. Strong build with quick feet for her size. Nice touch on her shot. Handles the ball in the open court and while going to the hoop. A very active and strong rebounder, and she showed an ability to make short jumpers.

Rebcca Gordon 6-4 center (Suffolk Blitz/Patchogue Medford): A legit “big” player with long arms and good, strong post-up ability. Gets in good position for rebounds. Passes well. Uses size to intimidate and discourage shots. Passes out of double-teams well. Strong player, but not athletic.

Jordan Agustus 5-9 guard (CAS Panthers): Already a developed big-guard physique as a 12year old, one of the youngest players here. Very quick, gets by defenders to get to the basket or pull up for smooth mid-range jumpers. Good ball fakes and great moves off first step. Very bright future.

Mariah Ruff 5-4 point guard (Catskill Mountain/Andes School): A true floor general who also has a nice outside shooting touch. A very creative and accurate passer. Has all the requisite ball and dribble skills. Plays with fire and determination. Dedicated player who aspires to play at a high level.
14:U Honorable Mention All GymRat CHALLENGE

Christian Roberts, 5-8 forward, Cardinal Junior Elite
Sheila Sherrill, 6-0 center, Cardinal Junior Elite
Taylor Dunham, 5-6 guard, Cardinal Junior Elite
Daisy Brown, 6-0 center, Game On Lady Lions
Brittany Molkenthin, 5-8 forward, Conn. Storm-Bousquet
Kesi Goree 5-11 forward/center, L.I. Lightning-Flynn
Ariel Etheridge 5-6 guard, R.I. Cyclones
Taylor Rooks, 6-0 forward, Ring City Elite
Ashley Lutz, 6-1 center, Bay State Jaguars
Shannon Ryan, 6-3 center, Lake Champlain Lakers
Rebecca Musgrove, 5-8 point guard, L.I. Lightning-Lawniozak
Jordan Maxwell, 5-8 guard, Maine Icebreakers
Ara Talkov, 6-0 forward, Visionary Basketball Club
Morgan Lamb, 5-8 guard, Visionary Basketball Club
Maria Greene, 5-11 forward, Gauchos
Saharah Lopez, 5-5 point guard, Gauchos
Maria Weselyj, 5-4 point guard, Conn. Cobras
Katcia Perryman, 6-0 center, Westchester Hoopers
McKenzie Brown, 5-11 forward, New England Crusaders-Black
Deja Rawls, 5-4 point guard, Philly Triple Threat
Breanna Cavanaugh, 5-7 guard, Ring City Elite-Gratch
Morgan O’Brien, 5-9 guard, Mass Lady Warriors
Marcia Senatus, 5-3 point guard, Team Freckles
Dominique Ward, 5-9 forward, Philadelphia Triple Threat
Mikayla DeGuire 5-11 center, Albany Capitals
Jess Macchie, 5-10 forward, N.J. Riptide
Caroline Barberi, 6-0 forward, Central Jersey Cardinals
Madison Rowland, 5-10 forward, Saratoga Sparks
Ailayia Demand, 5-5 guard, Saratoga Sparks
Jariah Johnson, 5-7 guard, CAS Panthers