The scoreboard shows the Tucson Rattlers came up short today in their quest for a division title within the Nike Tournament of Champions at Chicago, but in terms of overall performance and effort, coach Chris Klassen said his team is returning home a success.
“Our girls came up here and represented Southern Arizona, their high schools and their families to the fullest,” Klassen stated.
After routing Illinois Evolution White 62-31 in the morning to qualify for the division title, the Tucson Rattlers lost 46-45 to Level Up Express of Michigan. The Rattlers finished 5-1 in the prestigious tournament, attended by college recruiters from the junior college ranks to NCAA Division I.
“They played together and shared the ball so well,” Klassen mentioned. “It’s tough to guard a team like us when the ball moves and you have any player on the roster as a scoring threat. You mix that with aggressive, suffocating defense that they played, and you get something special.”
The Rattlers made a marked improvement since going 2-2 in a Phoenix tournament during the spring. They took the month of June off so each player could spend time with their respective high school summer league teams.
“As a staff, we are just so happy for these girls,” Klassen stated. “People don’t understand all the hard work, dedication and long hours they put in on the court and weight room with us. This week really showed how far they have come since March.”
Klassen didn’t single out any player to credit the most because it would be difficult for him to do so, although Tanque Verde senior forward Nikya Orange provided performances this week that were significant.
She had eight points and five rebounds in the first game today, playing less because of the rout. She had the same numbers in the title game. Overall, she averaged 11.8 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.
Ironwood Ridge junior forward Bella Hamel came on strong, especially today with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the morning game and seven points and 12 rebounds in the championship. She averaged 9.2 points and 9 rebounds a game.
“Nikya Orange and Bella Hamel were monsters around the rim,” Klassen said. “They both were double-double machines. And the biggest key was the offensive boards that gave us second and third chance opportunities every game.”
Pueblo senior guard Summer Fox had 13 points, five assists and three steals in the title game after having 10 points, five assists and four steals in the early game. Fox tallied 25 steals in the six games, an average of 4.2 a game.
“Her defense changes the game and her court vision this week really opened the floor,” Klassen said of Fox, who averaged 5.2 assists in the six games.
Klassen went on to praise Ironwood Ridge senior guard Caroline Finster, Catalina Foothills senior guard Emily Chua, Marana junior guard Antoinette “Andy” Audiss, Tanque Verde junior guard Emma Morris, Ironwood Ridge junior guard Makayla Holthaus, Pueblo junior forward Jasmine Belt and Marana center Bella Muscoreil for their contributions.
“Caroline and Emily both kept us steady, running our sets and pushing the ball to keep the game fast paced and up where we like to play,” Klassen said. “Andy and Emma both had games where they got hot and hit big shots to push our leads higher and get separation, and their defense was much improved.
“Makayla, Jasmine and Bella (Muscoreil) were all sparks off the bench all week. They knew their roles, came in and worked hard. Each them had breakout games during the tournament and upped their motors to play at a higher, faster, more aggressive, level.”
The Rattlers return to game action with tournaments in Las Vegas and Ladera, Calif., from July 23 to July 30. They will practice at Pima Community College in the meantime.