A Bay Area basketball team, including four girls from St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley, is on its way to the national basketball championship next month in Tennessee if the players can raise enough money to get there.
The East Bay Xplosion team of 14 year olds--one of seven age brackets in the Xplosion program--has won four of their six tournaments this year, with the two defeats coming against teams of older girls. They are ranked 13th in the country heading into nationals, which will be held in Clarksville, Tenn., on July 10.
But while Xplosion teams have been successful nationally, the program still has financial needs. A sponsorship deal with Adidas provides equipment and apparel, but money for travel comes mostly from parents and fund-raising. Coach Sean Dulan estimates the team needs to raise $10,000 to make the national tournament trip.
Players are planning a soft-cloth hand car wash at Rossmoor Chevron in Walnut Creek on over the next two weekends.
Now in its sixth year, the Xplosion is an Amateur Athletic Union program. This year’s team of 14 year old girls has some imposing shoes to fill after their predecessors, now in an older bracket, won the national title last year.
Last year’s championship team featured Piedmont’s Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, as well as St. Mary’s Shantrell Sneed and several other players who are now attracting national recruiting attention. Xplosion’s best shot at a national title this year will be the current group of 14-year-old girls—a group that may not be as heralded as last year’s, but has played some outstanding basketball.
“This is a different type of team. We like to get into the transition game, a real tendency to go out and get it,” said Dulan, who also coached last year’s championship team. “This is a great group of kids. They’ll scrape and fight to win every game.”
And if following in the footsteps of national champions wasn’t hard enough, this year’s 14-year-olds face those reigning champions in practice every week. While it can often be frustrating, players said, the full-speed scrimmages provide valuable experience for the younger group.
“t’s a privilege to play them, a chance to help our games,” says St. Mary’s freshman Christina Johnson. “They’re so good already, it gives us something to shoot for and help reach our goals.”
Fifty girls tried out for this summer’s 14-year-old team, the biggest tryout ever for the program.
“We have the most elite group of kids in the area,” said Dulan, who is also the co-coach of the girls varsity team at St. Mary’s. The St. Mary’s-Xplosion connection is strong, with three coaches and 13 players from the Berkeley school among the various Xplosion age-bracket teams.
St. Mary’s freshman Courtney Dunn is a good example of the Xplosion’s success. Dunn was playing for another team two years ago and impressed the Xplosion coaches who invited her to switch programs.
Playing against the other talented players in the program, such as the Paris twins, on a regular basis has done wonders for the 6-foot-2 Dunn, her coaches said. Her improvement over the past year has been nothing short of remarkable. She is now an aggressive force on the court.
“Even (Xplosion) practices are way more physical than high school games,” Dunn says. “You have to play hard all the time just to get on the floor here.”
Dunn’s mother, Monika, sees a difference in her daughter that extends beyond the playing floor.
“There’s most definitely a difference in Courtney,” she says. “She’s more confident and sure of herself. I don’t have to hold her hand all the time anymore.”
Nathan Fripp, Xplosion assistant coach and the junior varsity boys’ coach at St. Mary’s, said the girls play an aggressive brand of basketball. His sister Nateanah, a St. Mary’s sophomore, is a member of the 14-year-old girls’ team.
“I didn’t know it was going to be like this,” Nathan said. “We’ve got some egos out there just like the boys, but these girls are more competitive than the boys I coach. I see girls crying when we lose, just angry.”
Despite the program’s success, finding enough money for travel and team expenses remains a challenge, said Mark Anger, founder and director of Xplosion. A former coach at Miramonte High and Holy Names College, Anger oversees all seven teams in the program.
“The ideal is for each team to compete at a national level,” Anger said. “That was my whole vision when I started this thing, and we’re finally reaching that point.”
For information about sponsorship or donations, call Mark Anger at (209) 579-0151.