POULSBO — After finishing second out of 18 teams in the Pacific Northwest qualifying AAU Tournament in mid-April, members of the Puget Sound Elite girls basketball team (14-16 year olds) have been preparing for the most prestigious tournament of their basketball lives — the AAU National Tournament in Orlando, Fla. from July 8-14.
The Elite is one of 36 teams in the United States advancing to nationals in their specific age division. The team consists of four sophomores, eight freshman and one eighth grader, representing a mixture of Poulsbo and Kingston hoopsters.
While the young group is experienced on the hardwood, Puget Sound Elite head coach Yvonne Brittain said nationals will be an eye-opener for the girls.
“Our team has no idea how the game is played on the other side of the Mississippi (River),” she said. “The teams there are going to be there play hard and fast-paced.
“A lot of the kids we’ll be playing against in this tournament will be playing at major colleges in a few years. Essentially, this is a college recruiting tournament. There will be over 100 college coaches sitting in the stands.”
Brittain said she’s confident her team will perform well at nationals.
“The nucleus of the team has been playing together for a while,” she said. “We’re going to be the only team from Washington there so we want to represent. We have a great group of kids with positive attitudes. They’re tremendously talented.”
To continue honing its skills, the Elite has competed in nine weekend tournaments since March.
“We have played 47 games since the middle of March,” Brittain said. “In the first three weeks of June we had a tournament every weekend. We practice on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays. We only practice on Sundays if we don’t have a game.”
Brittain said competing in a multitude of spring and summer tournaments (March through July) wouldn’t be possible without support from dedicated parents.
“Our parents have been excellent and have been very supportive. They have been to tournaments in Yakima, Seattle, Auburn and Tacoma,” she said. “Ninety percent of the people in the stands are our parents. It takes a commitment from players and parents to play in all of these tournaments throughout the summer.”
Practice sessions have focused on improving each individual players skills.
“The program I’ve set up is geared towards challenging them,” Brittain said. “Every kid on our team is different. Some of them see themselves playing at the college level someday while others just want to be an effective player for their high school basketball team.”
Elite co-captain Taylor Wall said her squad is gelling at the right time.
“Most of us have been playing together since we were fourth graders,” she said. “Every player on our team has a role and they know their role very well. We work well together as a team and that’s a big key to our success. We’re continually getting better.”
Fellow co-captain Kelle Taplin is thrilled her team will be competing at nationals in Orlando, Fla.
“I am very excited about the trip,” she said. “We’re actually going down there. Our team will play well. We possess teamwork whether or not we’re losing a game or winning a game. That’s probably the strength of our team right there.”