PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis. – Not that Breanna Beal needed it per se, but the highly touted guard from Rock Island, Ill., reinforced her status during USJN’s 13th annual Battle of the Programs.
Beal, Blue Star’s No. 2-rated prospect from the class of 2019, led her Illinois-based Midwest Elite EYBL squad to the top title in front of college coaches from 140 schools.
In the final, Beal and her teammates defeated a talent-laden another EYBL squad, the Indiana Lady Gym Rats, 51-48.
It was the second time in their two meetings that Midwest Elite came out on top.
“I think this previews our future for EYBL,” Beal said. “This is a thrown-together team that kind of prepares us for what we have coming in the future.”
The Battle of the Programs’ brackets – there are five, eight-team brackets – feature only 2019 prospects and younger. Midwest Elite played without Notre Dame commit Anaya Peoples, another top-20 national player in the 2019 class.
Midwest Elite led the entire way, bumping its lead to 14 points at the end of the third quarter, using a punishing fast break and a surprising edge on the boards against the bigger Gym Rats.
“We wanted to make their bigs run the floor,” Midwest Elite coach Randy Weibel said. “We thought we could get some easy stuff and we didn’t want to play a halfcourt game.”
After the third period, Lady Gym Rats coach Danny Riego lit into his team, searching for greater effort. It worked.
The Gym Rats’ furious rally pulled them within one at 49-48 on Nyla Blackford’s putback with 25 seconds left. But the Gym Rats played the final 80 seconds without their best player, guard Sydney Parrish, Blue Star’s No. 2-rated player in the 2020 class.
Beal centered two free throws with 19 seconds left and the Gym Rats missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
“I like being in that clutch situation, all eyes on me, stuff like that,” Beal said.
It was Midwest Elite’s first BOP title since 2009.
Beal has her pick of the nation’s top college programs but she’s not in a hurry to choose.
“I think right now, my dad goes through it and later on he’ll tell me,” Beal said. “He doesn’t want it messing with my head, thinking about the coaches and stuff. I’ll let him handle all of it. I think probably at the end of my high school season I’ll sit down and make that decision.”
WISCONSIN FLIGHT ELITE TAKES BOP’S NO. 2 BRACKET
Wisconsin Flight Elite’s 16 squad pulled away in the final two minutes to defeat Chicago Hoops Express 62-52 in the BOP 2 bracket championship.
Flight Elite got solid play from 2019 guard Julia Hintz and 2020 guard Leilani Kapinus, but its 2021 players were central to winning the title. And that’s nothing new.
“The 2021s played up in the Adidas nationals and made it to the championship. Lost in the final to our other Flight Elite team,” coach Nicholas Levy said. “I think they’ve only lost a handful of games the last few years. And most of those games they play up.”
Most impressive last weekend was 5-foot-11 Laura Nickel and versatile 6-footer Callie Genke, who punished the Express when its defenders couldn’t handle her in isolation.
“We only practiced twice since August,” Levy said. “We just ran a basic dribble-drive as much as we could and they just learned.”
Flight Elite won the No. 2 bracket for the first time. It captured the No. 4 title in 2015.
WISCONSIN PLAYGROUND ELITE STILL UP TO THE TASK
Coach Jeffery Smith’s Wisconsin Playground Elite 16 team is frequently among the contenders in the BOP’s No. 1 or No. 2 brackets. This year, however, Playground Elite was in the No. 3 bracket. You can guess what happened.
The Elite made short work of the eight-team field, thrashing Iowa Kingdom Hoops 80-55 in the final.
“We normally have been in 1 or 2,” said Smith, whose team won the No. 2 bracket in 2012. “That other group had six or seven kids that went D-1. I can’t rightfully say right now that I have six or seven but I’ve got some talented kids that can play. But that group was special. This is a special group, too, but it’s hard to compare.”
Per usual, the Playground Elite has a stable of athletic guards. This batch is led by 2019 guard Shemera Williams, who has offers from Wisconsin, Marquette and Kansas State, among others. Williams has speed, can penetrate and dish or finish around the rim.
“Her strength is that she can pretty much get anywhere on the floor that she needs to get to,” Smith said. “The other thing is she’s very unselfish. She led the state of Wisconsin at 33 points a game. She can fill it up and she can distribute it as needed. But she’s a team player. She just wants to win; she’s a competitor.”
ILLINOIS TRUTH, MICHIGAN MBA ALSO CLAIM TITLES
The No. 4 bracket offered the best game of the afternoon, as the Illinois Truth 16 – with seven players at least 5-foot-10 among an entire squad of 2020s – defeated Indiana Always 100 by a score of 59-58.
The No. 5 bracket, contested for the first time this year, went to Michigan MBA, which beat Illinois Rebels 64-52.
MORASHA WIGGINS A RISING STAR FOR MICHIGAN CROSSOVER
She hasn’t played a minute of high school basketball but Michigan Crossover 15 EYBL guard Morasha Wiggins already has a college-ready body and a bright future.
Wiggins, a 6-footer from Kalamazoo, Mich., is one of the top 2021 players in Michigan. She is extremely athletic, an exceptional leaper, and a strong passer with great vision.
“A great kid,” Crossover coach Jessica Adams said. “When you have that much talent … and it’s raw talent. She’s going to be amazing. Smart on the floor. You can put her at the 1 through 5 positions and she’s going to get it done.”
ONE TO WATCH: ILLINOIS LADY LIGHTNING’S KRYSTYNA ELLEW
A talent-rich program like the Illinois Lady Lightning seems to perennially produce a sharp rising standout, and this year’s case might be 2021 6-footer Krystyna Ellew.
Ellew, playing for the 14 Silver squad, shows a strong willingness to rebound, will drive or spot-up for jumpers and has an adept mid-range shot. She’s a freshman at Chicago Taft High School.