PHOTO: The Ladies Ball executive director Kate M. McGuinness explains the event in which the NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls team has been selected to participate to the team’s players and coaches Sunday. (Tom Robinson Photo)
By Tom Robinson, NEPA Elite News
MANHEIM – The success of the NEPA Elite AAU program, particularly in the defending Hoop Group Girls Showcase League champion Clark 17U team, continues to bring attention to the club out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton.
The attention was translated into opportunity Sunday when the NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls team learned, following the conclusion of its latest tournament that it had been selected to play in The Ladies Ball, a global championship event, that is being run in partnership with the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
NEPA Elite will get to play at home with Riverfront Sports selected as the regional host site for the event, which will bring regional winners to Knoxville, Tenn., home of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in October. The regional in Scranton is scheduled for September.
The NEPA Elite club, created by Riverfront Sports co-owner Kevin Clark, is in its second year.
In the first year, the club won the Hoop Group Girls Showcase League title.
The wins have continued in the second year with a title in the top division of the Hoop Group’s Pennsylvania Showcase June 11-13 at East Stroudsburg University and a second-place finish out of 32 teams in the top division of Saturday and Sunday’s The Prime Event East, a Select Basketball Events tournament at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster County.
It was after the team lost in a final that came down to the game’s last shot Sunday at Spooky Nook that it learned of the selection.
“I think the recognition has been great for the girls,” Clark said. “We’re able to operate as an independent team and the success that we’re having against these shoe company teams and all the top talent in the country just goes to show you that it can be done.
“It’s being done in northeast Pennsylvania with home-grown girls.”
Others have taken notice.
The Ladies Ball is seeking teams from roughly the top 100 AAU programs in the entire country and selected NEPA Elite after monitoring the team’s progress.
NEPA Elite has Cecelia Collins (Bucknell) and Rachael Rose (University of South Carolina-Upstate) from its 2020 team headed off to start National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I careers.
The current team has two more NCAA Division I-committed players in future Drexel teammates Moriah Murray and Kylie Lavelle as well as one of the nation’s most highly regarded uncommitted players in Ciera Toomey.
The program had seven first-team, all-state Pennsylvania high school players in the 2020-21 season and four of them are on this season’s Clark 17U roster. Kaci Kranson, who is currently sidelined by a wrist injury, joins Murray, Lavelle and Toomey as the all-staters.
“We have eight regional tournaments and one national tournament,” said The Ladies Ball executive director Kate M. McGuinness, who was at Spooky Nook and met the team after its final Sunday game. “We’re taking the top two teams in every state or region to come to a regional and compete in an invitation-only event. Then, the winning team from each regional will head to Knoxville, Tenn.”
Because Pennsylvania has two regions, the East and the West/Central, McGuinness said it is possible for 3-4 teams from the state to wind up being selected.
McGuinness said The Ladies Ball is working with Sinclair Broadcasting, arranging television coverage of the regional and national championships.
The Clark team competes on the 11th grade level.
The Ladies Ball will have divisions for players from Grades 4 through 11.
In Grades 10 and 11, the regional winners will advance. In Grades 4 through 9, either the winner or top two teams will be proceeding to the national event.
There are six sites, other than Knoxville, being used around the country.
Greensboro, N.C. will serve as host site of both the Southeast and South Regionals.
Scranton will host the Northeast Regional Sept. 10-12 and will join Boston (New England), Fort Wayne, Ind. (Midwest), Fort Worth (Southwest) and Phoenix (West) as the other hosts. The other regionals fall between the last weekend of August and the first weekend of October.
Knoxville will host a regional for selected international and small state teams, Hawaii and Alaska, where the winner will remain in Knoxville to keep competing with the other regional winners.
The Northeast Regional at Riverfront is scheduled to include teams representing Pennsylvania East, Pennsylvania West/Central, Delaware, New Jersey North, New Jersey South, Maryland/District of Columbia, New York City, Long Island/Staten Island, N.Y., and Virginia North.