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Brentwood girls youth basketball program keeps growing

Ray Fisher
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Participants of the 2018-19 Brentwood girls youth basketball program.

The Brentwood girls youth basketball program has experienced steady growth.

Started in 2013-14 by varsity coach Rachel Thomas, the youth program consists of 35 players in grades 3 through eight and 10 volunteer coaches this year.

“I restarted this program — we call it the Brentwood Girls Winter League — when I took over the head coaching position,” Thomas said. “It’s extremely important, especially in a small district like Brentwood, to have a feeder program.

“It is my hope that these young ladies get a positive experience and learn the fundamentals of basketball, and I believe this program has been successful in doing that.”

The youth program consists of three tiers of teams: third-fourth, fifth-sixth and seventh-eighth grades.

“We enter a league every year, which provides these girls the opportunity to get real game experience,” Thomas said. “Home games are played at Elroy, and they also travel to other schools. I am fortunate to have a great group of volunteers to coach and guide these young athletes.”

While Thomas oversees the program, Brentwood resident Rob Travis serves as league coordinator. He has been involved in youth basketball in the borough for eight years: six with the girls and two with the boys.

“I handle the scheduling of the gym, and I contact coaches from the other team(s),” Travis said. “Ideally, I would love to offer an instructional program for K-2, for both boys and girls, to continue to build the program.”

How successful has the girls youth basketball endeavor been?

Every member of the current Brentwood varsity team participated in it.

The Spartans’ 14-player squad consists of seniors Abby Wolf, Anna Betz, Brooke McQuillan, Natalie Murrio, Rebecca Dirling and Sydney Gilchrist; junior Maddi Travis; sophomores Taylor Davis and Paige Miller; plus freshmen Cecilia Foley, Jaelynn Lindahl, Hannah Fornear, Maura Daly and Isabella Grimm.

“The youth program is extremely important for Brentwood because these girls are the future, and it’s important for them to learn the basics of the game now,” said Wolf, a 5-foot-4 point guard. “I made so many memories playing for the youth basketball program, especially at the Court Time sports complex and at local tournaments.

“There were never many girls on the team in my age group, so we had to play almost the whole game all the time. Most of the girls who played then still play now, and the bond we have with each other from playing all these years really shows on the court and makes us a better team.”

Brentwood (12-3, 7-1) is battling Serra Catholic (11-4, 6-1) for first place in Section 2-2A this season. Since the youth program’s inception in 2013-14, Brentwood has posted an 81-37 regular-season record and qualified for the playoffs every year.

“So many girls helped establish the culture of girls basketball in Brentwood,” said Travis, Maddi’s father. “I remember when the current high school team — that qualified for the state playoffs and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs — first started playing and only scoring a combined four points a game. They never quit and continued to get better, and everyone could tell by middle school they were going be a really good team.”

Third and fourth graders consist of Kassidy Reed, Annalise Covert, Lee’aira Johnson, Taylor Boyd, Bristol Rogers, Emily Schubert, Olivia Diuard, Erin Gralish and Delaney Rosing.

They are coached by Ray Rosing, Rick Gralish, Rich Schubert and Celeste Lapen.

The fifth- and sixth-grade participants are Maddie Fry, Jolina Ghassa, Bridget Direnna, Sarah Schruben, Lila Tinker, Lexi Wardziski, Hanaah Olah, Addy Pawloski, Maura Bender, Milley Folley, Olivia Witt, Emma Thompson, Amira Smith, Broolyn Daniels, Kacie Scanlon, Lelani Terry and Dakota Billy.

Tom Fuchs, Jim Bohem, Dave Tinker and Jim Thompson coach that group.

Girls in seventh and eighth grade include Kenzie Castiglione, Kamryn Christopher, Ella Cupka, Kyliegh Donnelly, Mallory Daly, Bri Folino, Mia March, Olivia Trent and Jenna Lee.

Rob Travis and Stephanie Thomas are their coaches.

“Stephanie has come full circle. She played in our youth program, had a very solid high school career and played at La Roche College,” Travis, the coach, said. “That’s what I like the most about the youth program: It has created what I like to call a culture in Brentwood. The older girls are all willing to help out with the younger ones. They want to keep the tradition of very good girls basketball going.”

An annual highlight for the tried-and-true youth program occurs during the Christmas holiday break, when, schedule permitting, the grade school girls join in a combined practice with the varsity players.

“We have a fun practice, and it allows the young girls to compete with their favorite players,” Thomas said. “We also like to recognize them yearly before a varsity game. We bring them in the locker room prior to the game so they see how we prepare before a game.”

Sounds like a winning formula for a winning program.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.