ROSEVILLE, CA – With most of the nation’s top girls club basketball teams and the top players at the Nike Nationals in South Carolina, the opportunity to uncover some blossoming young underclass talent took center stage at the July 20-22 (EOT) End of the Trail Ultimate Challenge at the new 12-court Roebblen Center in Roseville.
This year’s Ultimate Challenge had three divisions and a total of 109 with most from Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.
The top teams were in the 50-team Division 1 with the best of that division in the 5-team A and B brackets. Other top Division 1 teams were in the 4-team C and D brackets.
Representing Northern California as the top finisher was the San Jose Cagers Blue comprised of a 10-girl roster all from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose. The Cagers did not go undefeated, and finished second in the A bracket and with a 3-1 record, but their only loss came in a 67-62 defeat at the hands of a Northwest Select Black team comprised of an all star group of girls from seven different high schools in the greater Portland, Oregon area. The five-point margin was the closest of any of the four teams 4-0 Northwest Select faced.
According to Cagers and Mitty head coach Sue Phillips, who in June led the USA U16 team to a Gold Medal at the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup in Puerto Rico, her girls led for a good portion of the game but just could not seal the deal.
On Thursday and in their final game of the Ultimate Challenge the Cagers almost led it get away from them again but took over down the stretch to score the game’s final nine points in a 64-55 victory over Upper Left, an all star group of girls from the Portland and Vancouver, Washington metro area.
The Cagers bolted out to a 21-11 lead and led 29-20 but the girls from the Pacific Northwest went on a 17-4 run to take a 37-33 lead at halftime. The Cagers had their largest deficit at 44-37 but from there they turned up the defense and clawed their way back for the win.
“This is a young team so they had to adjust to the flow of the game,” Phillips remarked. “At halftime we did a good job at adjusting and the girls answered the bell by attacking the basket and getting to the rim, and they turned up the defense.”
Several Cagers girls turned the heads of the college coaches assembled for the NCAA Certified Viewing event, but none more than incoming Mitty sophomore Morgan Chelli. The 6-foot point guard had 15 of her game-high 21 points (two three-pointers) in the second half. Chelli also had nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Another Cagers star that played very well was Maya Hernandez. The 6-foot incoming junior forward had 14 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks, and was a real presence in the paint with her size and strength. Cagers point guard Siena Guttadauro got the job done, and although she only had seven points, the incoming senior added seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. Incoming junior guard Elle Hanson had two early three-pointers and finished with 10 points.
Chelli was the top rated player we saw in Roseville and earned 2.35 stars. Hernandez and Guttadauro each earned 2.0 stars.
The top player for Upper Left was Abby Graham. The incoming senior combo guard had a team-high 11 points with eight rebounds and three assists, but the Cagers defense clamped down on her in the second half and held her to two points, two rebounds and an assist.
We were only able to observe the Cagers in one of their four games, but we did catch the Cal Stars 15 in two games. The young Stars, all incoming sophomores, were playing up against older girls and did very well, winning the J bracket in Division 1,
In the first game we saw that clinched the J bracket, the Stars posted a 56-34 blowout of Lightning Basketball of Hawaii. That advanced them to the crossover championship where they were a bit overmatched physically against a Sacramento Stars 17U team with seven incoming seniors on its nine-girl roster. The youngsters held their own for most of the game, and only trailed 51-47 with just over two minutes to play, but the older girls took over down the stretch and closed with a 7-2 run for a 58-49 victory.
The Sac Stars were led by the 16 points (two 3-pointers) by incoming Argonaut senior point guard Gabrielle Gascon. Local star Keleighana Scott, an incoming Rocklin senior wing, added nine points, 11 rebounds and five steals.
Even in defeat a bright new face emerged on the scene for the Cal Stars 15 in Natalia Martinez. The incoming Piedmont sophomore combo guard poured in 30 points (three 3-pointers) along with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Natalia brought it today, and really, she brings it every game,” said Cal Stars 15 and Acalanes-Lafayette head coach Margaret Gartner.
Besides Martinez, who had a good outing in the rout of Lightning, two other Stars 15 girls had already made a solid impression on the analysts and college coaches in the win over the Hawaiian girls, Gabriella Kelley and Madalyn Kanazawa. Kelley, a 6-foot-1 wing from University-San Francisco, showed she can play inside and out. Against the Sac Stars Kelley had seven points, including a 3-pointer, eight rebounds and three blocks. Kanazawa, a true point guard, did not score against the Sac Stars, but she dished out five assists and had four steals plus three rebounds.
Based on the level of competition, Martinez, Kelley and Kanazawa all earned 2.0 stars for their Ultimate Challenge performances.
The next stop during the second half of the July NCAA Certified Viewing Period for most of the teams at the EOT Ultimate Challenge will be at the July 23-26 EOT Summer Swoosh in Orange County.
Additional California players observed in Division 1 that made a mark but based on competition and graduating year fell short of 2.0 stars
Name/Club Team/High School/Class
Jasmine Ackerman, 3D Elite, Aptos, 2022
Donnelli Allen, Sac Stars 17U, Capital Christian-Sacramento, 2022
Gabrielle Gascon, Sac Stars 17U, Argonaut, 2022
Gianna Ghio, 3D Elite, Amador Valley-Pleasanton, 2023
Elle Hanson, San Jose Cagers Blue, Archbishop Mitty-San Jose, 2023
Haley Hernandez, San Jose Cagers Blue, Archbishop Mitty-San Jose, 2023
Kaitlyn Imai, West Valley Elite, Scotts Valley, 2022
Makayla Jackson, Sac Stars 17U, Folsom, 2022
Milan Jackson, Cal Stars 15, St. Mary’s-Berkeley, 2024
Lauren Marsh, Sac Stars 17U, Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills, 2023
Keleighana Scott, Sac Stars 17U, Rocklin, 2022
Sophia Williams, 3D Elite, Evergreen Valley-San Jose, 2022