Although American women's basketball teams have done well historically in international competitions, the U.S. under-19 team has not had the kind of success other national teams have enjoyed.
The United States has won three straight Olympic gold medals in women's basketball, and the American World University Games team, which includes college athletes over age 19, has won 12 medals in 13 attempts, including five gold. But the under-19 team has won only two medals in five world championship tournaments. The U.S. team left with a bronze in 2001, despite a roster featuring Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard and coached by Connecticut's Geno Auriemma. The under-19 team's only gold came in 1997.
With the world championships less than two weeks away, this year's under-19 team has a chance to change that. And three players with area ties have a chance to change that -- Maryland forward Crystal Langhorne, Virginia point guard Sharnee Zoll and St. John's High graduate Marissa Coleman, who will play for Maryland next season.
Langhorne was named one of three captains for the team, which is coached by Duke's Gail Goestenkors and wraps up four days of practice at American University today. Being named a tri-captain "means a lot because it means that people are looking up to me, how I play and how I carry myself," Langhorne said. "It's not just what I'm saying, but how I act on the court."
Seven players who completed their first year of college and five who finished their senior year of high school made the team. Erlana Larkins (North Carolina) and Candice Wiggins (Stanford) will serve as captains along with Langhorne, who led the team in points and rebounds at the International Sports Invitational June 8-11.
At Sunday's practice, Langhorne was a vocal leader, clapping her hands and encouraging players to finish conditioning drills.
"It's a great experience to play with all these great players," said Langhorne, who averaged 17.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and shot 59.2 percent as a freshman for the Terrapins last winter. "We're opponents when we play against each other, but when we're playing together it's a lot of fun."
Larkins, for one, knows how good Langhorne can be. When Maryland hosted North Carolina on Jan. 9, Langhorne scored 23 points on 11-of-13 shooting while Larkins scored 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
"It's almost like you know what she's going to do but you can't stop it," Larkins said. "Most people, I guess it just takes them a while to figure out that she's left-handed. She beats you to the left quite a few times and you think she's about to go left, and she goes right."
To lead the under-19 team to a medal at the world championships July 15-24 in Tunisia, Langhorne and company will have to overcome several obstacles, including the team's relative inexperience.
"The other teams are playing not only together, but against professionals in their home countries," Goestenkors said. "There's a big difference between our players playing against high school teams and other countries playing against pro teams. It really puts us at a disadvantage that we don't have much time to jell. I think it makes the role of captain more important because they need to take responsibility to get the team where they need to be mentally."
With the tournament less than two weeks away, Goestenkors said she hopes the team bonds quickly.
"People are all going to be rooting against them," Goestenkors said. "All the countries root against the United States because they want to see them lose. It's a tough environment, you've got to be physically and mentally tough."