Riverdale Baptist will head to Phoenix on Wednesday focused on winning the prestigous Nike Tournament of Champions, a trip the Crusaders have made many times over the years, but one that has never produced a first-place finish for the Upper Marlboro school.
But the Crusaders (4-0) have started their season in a unique fashion this fall and already boast a wealth of experiences that should suit them well out West. The Crusaders’ Coach, Sam Caldwell, took the team to Germany for a week in late November. The girls lived on a military base, visited the Heidelberg Castle, and of course, played a slate of exhibition games against foreign opponents.
“We really got to bond and get to know each other on the trip. I think it was a really good way to start the season,” senior guard Alysha Berry said. “It’s not something that you get to do every day.”
Those on-court experiences in Germany translated in a matchup last week against the Australian national team, which Berry said carried expecations of a brutal, physical affair. But the Crusaders cruised to a 65-50 win and recieved huge offensive performances from guards Chania Ray (26 points) and Chloe Jackson (22 points). The win was the closest margin of victory in four wins this season — moreover, it was a chance for Riverdale Baptist to match up against a different brand of playing style, Berry said.
“That was really interesting too. We got to talk to them after the game. . . . They were older than we thought that they were,” Berry said. “We were able to size up with them and we played just as physical that they did. . . . We put up a good fight.”
Riverdale Baptist’s three ACC-bound guards in Jackson, Ray and Khalia Prather have been productive as expected. Jackson, a North Carolina State signee and first-team All-Met a year ago, is averaging 20.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Ray (Florida State) is averaging 17.3 points per game and has been deadly efficient from the perimeter — she’s hit 11 three-pointers and all 18 of her free throws — while Prather (Miami) is averaging 12.8 points per game and is the team’s best rebounder. She’s averaging 13 rebounds per game and had 15 boards apiece in the first two wins of the season against Bell and Life Center Academy.
As for the Tournament of Champions, Caldwell said his team is tentatively planned to open against the event’s defending champion, Mater Dei (Calif.) on Thursday.
“That’s the Super Bowl for girls’ basketball,” Caldwell said. “For where we are in the season, we’re getting a little bit better every day.”