Lioness seventh-graders bring home hardware

July 10, 2012

By Sebastian Moraga

A pride of lionesses roared in the desert.

The EBI Lioness AAU girls basketball team won the Reno Jam On It Championship’s seventh-grade division in June. The team included Skyline High School’s Gina Grossi, (back row, first from the left); Liberty High School’s Samantha Kelderman, (back row, third from left), Kadi Cooke, (front row, first from the left), and Megan Kirschner, (front row, fifth from the left); and Eastside Catholic High School’s Bailey Haner (front row, fourth from the left). Contributed

The EBI Lioness team, composed of teenage players all over the Eastside, earned first place at the Reno Jam On It Championship’s seventh-grade division in Reno, Nev., in May.

The team, part of AAU competition, “were determined to win it for their coach” Felicia Johnson, an email from one of the team’s parents stated.

Johnson fainted while at the tourney, so the team had to play on its own the first two games.

“I don’t even remember even having to call a timeout,” Johnson said.

Lioness center/forward Kadi Cooke, from Issaquah, agreed.

“It was stressful at first but then all of our teamwork paid off for the team and it was fun at the end,” she said.

The team spent a lot of time together off the court, shooting guard Bailey Haner said.

“We went go-karting together, we went on roller-coasters, we ate ice cream a lot,” she said. “It was really fun.”

All the fun stuff makes the team more cohesive, she added.

The level of competition was all over the place, Johnson said, but it got tough once they reached the semifinals.

The Lioness team went 4-0 in the Reno tournament, defeating teams from Nevada and California.

“It’s awesome chemistry,” Johnson said. “It’s probably the best team I’ve coached in a while. It’s a special group — they get along really well on and off the court.”

The team has been playing together for two years, and includes young hoopsters from the Issaquah, Mercer Island, Snoqualmie Valley, Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts, plus a few players from private schools.

“They come together every fall and spring from various greater Eastside locations to play basketball,” team parent Michelle Turner wrote in an email.

Haner lives in Carnation and plays for Sammamish’s Eastside Catholic High School.

“It doesn’t really make a difference,” Haner said of coming from private or public schools. “We are all old friends.”

Most of the schedule contains out-of-town tournaments in places like Nevada and Oregon and closer locales, like Yakima and Spokane.

Johnson said this is the biggest prize in the history of the team.

“It’s actually the world’s largest Memorial Day basketball tournament,” she added, noting that it was the team’s first year at the tourney.

“We all had worked so hard up to that point,” Cooke said, “We knew we were going to play with confidence.”

The first weekend in July, the team played in Oregon City, Ore., finishing second.

“We just came up a little short in the end,” Cooke said. “But we played really well.”

The team was ahead in the finals before losing by five points, Haner said. It was the last tourney of the 2012 summer, she added.

Next year’s schedule reads, “Southern California,” and perhaps more importantly, “Disneyland,” although Cooke said the team has decided nothing yet.

All the players will return next year, Johnson said. Cooke credits the good chemistry as a factor for the massive returns.

“We all get along really well,” she said, “and we are all really hard workers.”

Johnson agreed.

“It’s not common for teams like this to stay together for as long as they have stayed together, so as a coach you have got to feel good about that,” she said.

Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or smoraga@snovalleystar.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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