As the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League (WBCBL) composes the ending pages of its 2015 campaign, its tenth season overall, there is the possibility that the St. Louis Surge adds a declaration to the final chapter written.
It would read “back-to-back champs.”
The Surge, the governing body’s defending champion, competes at the WBCBL National Tournament this weekend in Greenville, South Carolina.
St. Louis, seeded third in the eight-team field, meets sixth-seeded San Antonio in a quarterfinal set for Saturday at 10 AM Eastern (9 AM Central).
Three consecutive triumphs within two days records the locals into the WBCBL’s historical ledger a two-time title holder.
“This is what you play for,” said Surge guard Rebecca Harris. “You want to win that hardware and you want to be able to say that you’re a champ. I’ve never been a defending champion before, so this is something that I look forward to.”
The road to that distinction will be a challenge for the Mid-West Division representative (9-1 in the WBCBL and 11-1 overall) as five of the other seven leagues competing this weekend claimed its respective division outright and a pair of leagues are former WBCBL national queen pins.
“The talent that we’re going to see in South Carolina is going to be intense,” said Surge Owner/General Manager Khalia Collier. “It’s definitely not going to be a cake walk for us, but it’s going to be fun. I think we’ll be a little seasoned, knowing that we were here last year and we took care of business.”
The Surge’s trio of victories, and first title, at the 2014 Nationals in New Orleans was an incredible experience for the five-season franchise. Veteran players and the returning brain trust are eager to relive that moment and add another layer to the team’s legacy.
For the rookies in this year’s St. Louis roster, it’s a new found journey. One that is met with enthusiasm.
“I’ve never been close to a championship before, not even on the collegiate level,” said Surge guard Brittany Carter. “In my high school career, I’ve had two state championships. This would mean so much more.”
Four Surge players enter the weekend tourney with double-digit averages, paced by Harris (16 PPG) and Carter (13.6 PPG). Forward Jaleesa Butler (13.4 PPG) and guard Leah Cotton (12.9 PPG) added firepower this season on a consistent basis.
Just like its 2014 championship season, the Surge has been complimented by its extremely deep bench this year. Newcomers Raven Berry (9.2 PPG), Cassie Rochel 7.2 PPG), and Brianna Puni (7 PPG) as well as veteran Bianca Beck (6.3 PPG) performed perpetually throughout the campaign.
Yelana Rosado, Devonna Smith and Gabriella Green also played in key situations. In short, the Surge never had to rely on only a select few to handle the workload. Everyone contributed.
“It’s been very big for us,” said Butler of her team’s depth.”Sometimes we get in foul trouble, sometimes it’s injuries, and sometimes it’s things you can’t control, so it’s good to be able to go to your bench. Everybody lasts a little longer.”
“It’s a luxury because each individual player worked their butts off to get there,” added Surge Head Coach Tony Condra. “They came in, worked hard, believed in what we had going on. That makes it really easy, once they buy into it.”
The well-oiled machine seeks its eleventh-straight victory Saturday morning. A hard-fought 87-81 overtime victory over the Flint (MI) Monarchs, the defending champions of the Women’s American Basketball Association (WABA), this past Saturday primed the team for its post-season tilt.
“We’re ready,” said Butler. “We’re giving it our all and we’re just going to leave it out on there on the floor.”
To its credit, the team remains grounded in its hoop dreams and does not overlook its first-round opponent, San Antonio, who makes its first-ever national trip in its inaugural campaign. In the single-elimination tourney, one stumble immediately ends the season.
“One game at a time,” said Condra. “We’re going to try to bring (the title) back, and it will mean a lot, but it’s just one game at a time.”
The Crusaders (6-3) is one of two teams that received at-large bids in this weekend’s bracket of eight. After starting the season 0-2, San Antonio won five straight and claimed the runner-up slot in the WBCBL’s Mid-South.
The Texans topped Memphis last Saturday, 92-59, which provides a boost heading into the scrap with St. Louis.
Sisters Tamara and Nia Torru, alongside guard Barb Borst and forward Breanna Brock enter the weekend averaging double-digits. Like the Surge, San Antonio also utilizes a deep bench.
The triumphant team advances to face either second-seeded Auburn or seventh-seeded Cleveland in Saturday’s 6 PM Eastern semifinal game. The WBCBL National Championship final takes place Sunday at 1 PM Eastern.
The desired goal of winning back-to-back titles would achieve an afterword added to the Surge’s history book. For Collier, it also raises the franchise’s stock within St. Louis athletics.
“I think for the city, they would see that women’s sports are only getting better,” said the Surge owner. “We’re becoming more competitive, more entertaining, and more athletic. We’re building momentum in a community. Not only are we building a phenomenal brand, but we’re champions, both on and off-the court. I think that speaks volumes.”
By late Sunday afternoon, the Surge could pen its own successful epilogue.
“We’re trying to show others that we’re more than just a basketball team,” said Carter. ”Our motto is, ‘We’re bigger than basketball.’ So to win something at the national level and to be recognized by others like that, especially for an organization like ours, would be amazing.”
A capsule summary of the other six teams competing in the WBCBL National Tournament (in order of seed):
1 – CHARLOTTE INVASION (12-0) – Let this swish around in your head for a second. The weekend’s top seed, as a rookie franchise, was 3-7 last season. Oh my, what a difference a year makes! With its spotless record and sweep of the WBCBL Carolinas Division this season, a lot of credit is targeted on the complete overhaul of the roster. Five of the team’s top six scorers, each averaging double digits, were not in last year’s line-up. Tiffany Brown (Georgia Southern, 19.7 PPG) and UNC-Charlotte standouts Kendria Holmes (17.8 PPG) and Jaquaria Forney (13.7 PPG) have paced its lethal offense. A first-round meeting with eighth-seeded Louisiana might not provide much of a challenge. A trifecta in its sister state would put the exclamation point on the WBCBL’s Top Story of 2015.
2 – AUBURN FLYERS (12-1) – The WBCBL Atlantic champ was in complete control within the division, posting a 7-0 record. The 2013 National Champion had won its first 32 games as a franchise before being trumped by the Surge in last year’s trophy game. Expect the Flyers, who face Cleveland in the quarterfinals, to make a bold statement and potentially recapture national glory. Five players average double-digits, paced by Whitney Houston’s 20 points per game. This regular season, the Flyers’ starters have logged heavy minutes, so the depth at bench is questionable. That might be a factor in a projected semifinal match-up against St. Louis, who holds a slight advantage in numbers between the two.
4 – DADE COUNTY BULLS (9-1) –Defending champs of the WBCBL Suncoast steamrolled over divisional rivals, finishing 7-0. Notched a non-division upset over second-seeded Auburn, 84-67, in June, thus making them a potential threat for a trophy hoist. If they advance past Friday’s quarterfinal against Mississippi Dream, the Bulls are projected to meet top-seeded Charlotte. Not quite as dominant in the scoring column compared to last year, but the defense has mightily improved. Veterans Cherelle George (22 PPG) and Leeza Burdgess (14.3 PPG) lead the charge.
5 – MISSISSIPPI DREAM (7-1) – Newly-minted this season, the Dream captured the WBCBL Gulf South title with a victory over eighth-seeded Louisiana. In fact, their 2-1 regular season divisional record over the Bayou Angels helped solidify their current seed. The other victories over Gulf South opponents were decisive. A quarterfinal match-up against a veteran Dade County squad on Saturday might be a little bit overwhelming. The Dream is happy to be in the Championship mix and the weekend should provide the opportunity for the franchise to raise its WBCBL IQ.
7 – CLEVELAND CRUSH (2-3) – The Ohioans snagged the WBCBL Northeast Division with a 74-72 nail biter over the Louisville Fillies two weekends ago to enter the tournament. The good? The win avenged a 35-point setback against the Kentuckians earlier in the year. The not-so-good? The WBCBL Northeast only contains the two aforementioned teams. A nine-point non-division setback to the highly-competitive WBCBL Mid-West mainstay Illinois Shooting Stars might be a barometer to how this team can compete against non-divisional squads. Karisma Penn and Sirshana Dowdy each average double-digits, but the ensuing quarterfinal match-up against Auburn might not be pretty.
8 – LOUISIANA BAYOU ANGELS (6-2) – The other at-large spot in the bracket goes to the Bayou team, the 2012 WBCBL champions, who have been a fixture of the league’s post-season tilt over the last several cycles. Finishing second in the Gulf South hierarchy with a 10-point loss to divisional queen pin Mississippi in the divisional trophy bout, the Angels brings to the table the veteran leadership and poise to give top-seeded Charlotte a run for their money. Guard Quianna Chaney averages 20 points per contest while running mate Olivia Grayson nets over 17.
Fans can keep up-to-date with the Surge’s weekend results by going to the team’s official Facebook page.
WBCBL 2015 NATIONAL TOURNAMENT – Greenville, SC
SATURDAY, AUGUST 1 (All times Eastern)
10 AM – (3) St. Louis Surge vs. (6) San Antonio
NOON – (4) Dade County vs. (5) Mississippi
2 PM – (2) Auburn vs. (7) Cleveland
4 PM – (1) Charlotte vs. (8) Louisiana
6 PM – Semifinal: St. Louis/San Antonio winner vs. Auburn/Cleveland winner
8 PM – Semifinal: Dade County/Mississippi winner vs. Charlotte Louisiana winner
SUNDAY, AUGUST 2
1 PM – WBCBL National Championship Finals
For more information on the St. Louis Surge, go to stlsurgebasketball.com.