The Avon-based TNBA girls AAU basketball program has won its share of national championships — more than a dozen, in fact — but never in the dramatic fashion this year’s U16 team did last week in Atlanta.
The team with five local players — Josie Carandang and Riley Schill from Elyria Catholic, Allie Bjorn and Sarah Sprecher from Avon and Firelands’ Keely Hall — won its latest title in the select division of the Adidas National Tournament when Magnificat’s Phoebe Sterba hit a 28-foot buzzer-beater to give the team a 46-44 overtime win over Arizona Elite.
The win capped a 5-0 run through the tournament for TNBA, which also defeated teams from Missouri, Texas and New York.
“It was unreal. I don’t think I’ll ever be on a team that wins a game like that again,” said Schill, who started at point guard. “The experience was like no other.”
The win capped a summer of success for the team, which also won regional tournaments in Massillon, Toledo and Indianapolis.
“We have a lot of talented players on our teams,” said TNBA girls director and new Mayfield High varsity coach Kevin McNamara, who coached the team. “We always say it’s not who starts the game, but who’s on the floor at the end. That wasn’t necessarily the play I called, but I have total faith in anybody on the court to shoot the ball. Phoebe could have as many D-I offers as she wants, so we were all comfortable with her taking that shot.”
While McNamara stresses the team effort, he said Schill and Sprecher stood out as keys to the team’s success.
“Riley and Sarah are two girls I really count on,” McNamara said. “They aren’t the flashiest players around but when it comes time, when I need someone to match up with someone defensively, I can match up Sarah with anybody around. She developed herself into that kind of go-to player. Riley has the ball in her hands a lot and she has turned into a real leader on this team.”
While AAU basketball has a reputation for run-and-gun ball, TNBA focuses on defense.
“What I learned about playing defense this summer I’m going to be able to take into the high school season next winter,” Schill said. “Always pressuring people and working hard and never taking a play off. As a point guard, when someone is pressuring me, I hate it. You don’t have time to think and it causes a lot of chaos. I want the opposing point guard to know that feeling of chaos when I’m pressuring her and hopefully causing turnovers.”
Sprecher is also looking forward to taking what she’s learned this summer back to her Avon team, which is returning almost its entire roster from last year’s district semifinal run.
“Playing with TNBA helps me build the confidence I need to carry into the high school season,” Sprecher said. “The skills I learned this summer, especially improving my defense and shooting, will help me a lot in the future.”
TNBA’s success on the court and in the classroom — McNamara said most of the players carry a 3.8 or higher grade-point average — has made the team a magnet for college coaches.
Lorain High grad Alex Harris and Olmsted Falls senior Kerri Gasper are two recent examples of TNBA players who earned Division I scholarships — Harris to Penn State and Gasper to Evansville.
“You see what other people have done and what can be accomplished and it makes you want to work to make a name for yourself and your team,” Sprecher said. “There are always a lot of college coaches watching at these tournaments. You can’t let it make you nervous, you just want to show them how hard you’ve been working.”
Schill said it can be somewhat unnerving playing under the watchful eye of so many college coaches.
“You just kinda have to zone them out and stick to doing what you know how to do,” she said. “Before the game you see them and you’re intimidated. Once you get on the court you just have to know you’ve prepared yourself the best way you can and trust yourself and your team.”
For most members of the team this is the second year in row they’ve brought home a national championship with TNBA. That winning has helped foster a special bond for the players.
“It’s like a big family,” Schill said. “We’re all so close. Everyone’s parents come. Allie’s grandparents are always there. We can all just sit in a hotel lobby and talk for hours. It’s really special to be part of that. The reason we have success is not just because of talent, all the teams at that level have talent, we have a special chemistry.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.