Before joining forces, the players on Trinity Lutheran’s travel girls’ basketball team were rivals on the hardwood.
They’ve always played each other on the middle school schedule, but not together in a competitive setting.
Putting any past differences aside, girls from St. Ambrose, Immanuel Lutheran, Lutheran Central and St. John’s Sauers — for the first time ever — came together to reach higher goals.
Earlier this month, Trinity’s seventh grade travel team finished fourth at the Midwest Youth Tournament Nationals.
The boys and girls’ coaching staff at Trinity Lutheran High School hatched the idea to create AAU teams this past school year.
“This was an idea that (boys varsity coach) Brian Stuckwisch and I had towards the end of the last basketball season,” girls varsity coach Mike Lang said. “Prior to having the (local) All-Star game, we were looking at kids that we would possibly want to have on an AAU team representing than Trinity.
“We really started putting things together the week of the Lutheran Invitational Tournament, back in February. We started practice a couple weeks before the Sauers went to the National Lutheran Tournament. We took our kids out there and scrimmaged with Sauers. We practiced consistently for a month to six weeks.”
The players meshed well in a hurry, and looked to take on talent from around the state.
“Once we started playing, we entered them in tournaments,” Lang said. “We started here in Seymour and then went to Franklin and Triton Central twice and to Bloomington twice. We played in the Midwest Youth National Tournaments, and through that we qualified for the nationals.”
In the tourneys leading up to nationals, Trinity made their name known.
“They’ve had a lot of success,” Lang said.
“In their first three tournaments, they were runners-up. The last two tournaments — they won. What was really neat about this group is seeing how they can come together not only as a team, but as friends. Taking kids from four different schools and gelling them all together as one.”
The three-day midwest nationals tourney, that ran from June 10 to 11, featured top talent from inside and out of Indiana.
Games were played at Mid America Sports Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
After a rough first day in pool play, going 0-3, the Cougars came back strong on Sunday in single-elimination bracket play.
Trinity defeated Flight NuVision 2022 (45-16) and Indiana Red (34-17) to advance to the quarterfinals before falling to runner-up IN Elite SWISH 59-42.
“It was a good experience, we got to know each other,” incoming Immanuel 8th grader Kailene Cockerham said. “We worked together as a team well. This team had more basketball experience.”
Thunder WKY2022 were the eventual champions, besting SWISH 46-25.
“Every other team was true, legitimate travel teams,” Lang said. “There was a team from Kentucky that had kids from multiple counties and schools. Indiana Elite SWISH had kids from all over central and northern Indiana. To bring a group of kids from Jackson County and compete at the highest level with these kids, and have success, is tremendous.”
Lang said that the kids never had an internal issue.
“At our very first practice, we brought them together and said, ‘hey, we all come from different backgrounds and schools, but at the end of the day we’re all putting that same jersey on. We need to have the same goals in mind,’ Lang said. “From the very first night of practice they bought in to it. It was really neat, and the night we took the kids out to scrimmage Sauers before their national tournament we all had ice cream afterwards. They’re going from being bitter rivals to hanging out and being friends overnight.”
For the kids, working with the high school coaching staff meant a lot.
“I knew most of the people on the team — It was more local,” incoming LC seventh grader Maddy Hackman said. “You get to know the coaches sooner and will know what it’s like going into high school. They push you harder.”
Creating the travel team allows Trinity to work with perspective students at an earlier age.
“We’ve got five feeder schools that we work with, but our feeder schools are small compared to the public schools,” Lang said. “This is our way of getting our foot in the door and working with these kids and getting them to see what kind of coaches we are.”
Lang said that he hopes to see more participants next year from the lower grades so they can create more travel teams.