Surviving the 14-and-under Amateur Athletic Union National Championship meet is a daunting task for any team. However, the Fairfax Stars were up to the challenge.
The Stars spent the summer playing primarily older teams and nearly winning them all: Heading into the single-elimination medal round of the AAU tournament in Monroe, La., Fairfax was 48-2.
Additionally, all but four of the Stars' 12 players were on the team last year, when they won the national championship.
"These girls have it all," said Coach Aggie McCormick-Dix, who also is the head coach at Hayfield. "They're all starters on their high school basketball teams. They're extremely good basketball players. They're very experienced, too. They've been doing this since they were 10, so they know what they're doing."
The team includes some of the best underclassman basketball players in the Washington area. Jasmine Thomas, a rising sophomore at Oakton, was second-team All-Met as a freshman. Brittany Carlock, Lauren Reinshuttle and Laren Robinson were three of Hayfield's top four scorers last season.
Dominique Bryant and Katherine DeHenzel were contributors for St. John's, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion that finished the year ranked fourth in the D.C. area, and Robin Colbert was the fifth-leading scorer for Holy Cross, one of the WCAC's top teams.
The Stars even have an incoming freshman who looks to make a big impact next year -- 6-foot-4 center Chay Shegog, who will attend Brooke Point High in Stafford.
This stellar crew faces a daunting task this week, though, to maintain the title it won last year. The Stars qualified for the medal round of the AAU tournament, which started Tuesday and is scheduled to end on today. To win, they need to win six games in a row -- two games per day.
"It's okay," McCormick-Dix said. "We've been here before, and we won it. They know what they have to do."
Stars Come Out in Tennessee
For most of the AAU regular season, the Fairfax Stars 12-and-under girls' basketball team faced 14-and-under teams. The competition against older and bigger girls turned out to be perfect preparation for the AAU National Championships, held June 25-July 3 in Kingsport, Tenn.
The Stars, composed of girls from Northern Virginia, won nine straight games in the double-elimination tournament that featured 105 teams to claim the national title. They had reached nationals in each of the previous two years and finished fifth last year.
The run through the tournament was especially impressive because the Stars' head coach resigned for personal reasons just two weeks before the start of nationals. However, new head coach Krista Jay and new assistant Lori Barb had help from assistants John Gibson and Kesha Walton to make a smooth, fast transition.
"We weren't sure what would happen at nationals because we had just gotten new coaches two weeks before," said Christen Gibson, the Stars' starting point guard and Gibson's daughter. "But it didn't take that long to get adjusted."
The Stars were led by Tiera Ruffin-Pratt, considered by many to be the best 12-year-old in the nation, but got contributions from multiple players. While Ruffin-Pratt scored 168 points in the tournament, six others scored between 48 and 63.
"She was a dominant player, but we had six other girls who could put up double figures in any game," John Gibson said.
The Stars breezed through pool play and beat a Texas team that boasted a front line of girls that were 6-foot-4, 6-3 and 6-2. In the semifinals, they beat the Oklahoma Select, 59-57 in double-overtime, and in the winner's bracket final, they defeated the Garner Flames (N.C.), 58-43. In the overall final, the Stars defeated the Oklahoma Select again, 53-30.
Other members of the Stars are Amber Bond, Phyllis Martin, Allison Mathes, Kristine Mial, Kiara Savage, Colleen Shea, LaShanna Tutt, Kate Vennergrund, Andrea Williams and Erica Wohlleben.
Oakton All-Met sophomore Jasmine Thomas has been key to the Fairfax Star's success this summer.