Written By: Brian Ledford

This weekend, the St. Louis Surge women’s professional basketball team embarks on a quest to reclaim the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League (WBCBL) national title and hoist its second championship trophy in three seasons.

Photo Credit: Mick Lite Photography

Photo Credit: Mick Lite Photography

St. Louis (10-2) battles Conyers Rockets (9-2) in the quarterfinals of the 2016 WBCBL National TournamentSaturday morning at Judson High School in San Antonio, Texas. The 10 AM Central tip-off features the Surge, seeded seventh in the eight-team bracket, challenge the second-seeded Rockets.

The Surge won the WBCBL national title in 2014 and finished second last season, so the team is more than familiar with reaching the tourney’s finale.

What is different this weekend is its opening placement. After falling to Flyers Pro Elite, 91-76, at the WBCBL’s Mid West Division trophy game held at UMSL’s Mark Twain Building two Saturdays ago, St. Louis was awarded an at-large berth into the nation’s “Elite 8,” hence the first-round pairing against a higher-seed.

The 15-point loss suffered in its last contest stung quite a bit as the Surge, winners of nine straight heading into the game, shot an uncharacteristic 32 percent from the field (20-63) against the Elite.

Photo Credit: Mick Lite Photography

Photo Credit: Mick Lite Photography

With the slate now completely wiped clean, and with the team re-energized with intense practices held the past two weeks, St. Louis aims to notch a quarterfinal win and entry into Sunday’s semifinal round.

Scoring will be anchored by 5-8 veteran guard Rebecca Harris, who averages 17 points per game. Double-digit averages are also posted by 6-1 forward Jaleesa Butler(13.0 PPG), 6-4 post player Michala Johnson (11.4 PPG) and 5-8 guard Leah Cotton (11.3 PPG).

Shanity James (9.3 PPG), Brittany Wilson (7.5 PPG) andBianca Beck (6.0 PPG) will also supplement Surge offense, which averages 90 points a contest.

Post players Tori Waldner and Cassie Rochel, standing 6-5 and 6-4, respectively, headlines the action under the bucket while Raven Berry, Jenny Rocha and Denisha Womack add to the Surge’s defensive unit that has surrendered an average of 75 points to opponents this season.

The team will have to perform at its highest-levels this weekend as its quarterfinal opponent had a breakthrough debut campaign.

Photo Credit: Conyers Rockets

Photo Credit: Conyers Rockets

Competing in its inaugural season, theConyers Rockets clinched the WBCBL Smoky Mountain Division title with July 16’s dominant 91-60 triumph over Tennessee Lady Hornets and possesses a two-game winning streak heading into San Antonio. Its lone pair of blemishes during the regular season was in non-divisional contests against this weekend’s third-seed, Charlotte, as well as fourth-seeded Georgia Soul.

Don’t let those setbacks against those lower-seeded squads fool you for the Rockets are extremely solid and clinching the national trophy is completely realistic.

Photo Credit: Conyers Rockets

Photo Credit: Conyers Rockets

The offense have averaged 94 points per game this season, third best in the WBCBL and has posted over 125 points twice during the regular season. 6-1 guard Abria Trice, 6-0 forward Ariana Jackson and 5-8 guard Santana Seay paces the scoring.

More importantly, the key to grounding the Surge is its stubborn defense that has allowed 71 points per game, second best in the WBCBL. 6-3 center Mary Hill and 6-1 forward Tia Stovall are capable of taking control of a contest in the paint.

The team that posts victory Saturday morning faces the winner of the quarterfinal between #2 Charlotteand #6 Louisiana in a semifinal held later that evening and the WBCBL Championship game takes place Sunday at 2 p.m. Overall, in order for the Surge to claim the governing body’s crown, it has to notch a trifecta of seeded upsets throughout the weekend. Conversely, lose one game and their power switch immediately gets turned off.

Can the Surge produce sparks in the Lone Star State leading and zap a second national title? With newfound life, St. Louis have all intentions to make it happen.

Here is a look at the other six teams competing at the WBCBL National Championships (in order of seed.)

san antonio logo1) SAN ANTONIO CRUSADERS (9-0) – The top-seeded Texans claimed the WBCBL’s Mid South Division title and seeks its inaugural national title. In the 2015 tournament, San Antonio fell to the Surge in the quarterfinals, but higher goals are craved in its return. The offense was second overall in average points amongst WBCBL teams (95 PPG) while its defense topped the nation (68 PPG).

Six-foot forward Dominique Simmons tops scoring with 18 points per game while guards Nia Torru and Len’Nique Brown each add 17. The one lone red flag for the Crusaders might be its depth as only five members of its 14-player charter competed in all nine regular season games and three others played in eight.  If one of the three aforementioned players is contained in a game, there is the possibility that an opponent could capitalize on the team’s short bench and record an upset. San Antonio plays #8 Dallas Diesel, a team it narrowly defeated twice this season, in Saturday’s quarterfinal round, so an opening game cakewalk is not guaranteed.

charlotte logo3) CHARLOTTE INVASION (9-2) – The defending WBCBL National Champs defeated the Surge at last year’s finale but struggled early in the 2016 campaign. After finding itself with a record of 3-2 in early June, the Invasion notched six straight wins, including a 105-88 victory over Carolina in the WBCBL Carolinas Division title game held two weekends ago.

Returning veterans Tiffany Brown and Kendria Holmes each brings a near-20-point per game average to the tourney and Jaquaria Forney also provides double-digit scoring. The Invasion faces #6 Louisiana in the quarterfinals and a first round win is projected. If Charlotte sweeps the weekend, and claims the national title, it would be the second WBCBL trophy hoisted in its three years of existence…an incredible accomplishment that legitimizes legacy status.

soul logo4) GEORGIA SOUL (11-3) – A newcomer to the WBCBL national title picture, Georgia won the Atlantic Division with a 96-83 win over South Carolina two weeks ago.  The Soul sport a five-game winning streak heading into Texas, propelled by its defense that has allowed an average of 71 points, fourth best in the nation.

The Soul excels from the arc and is paced offensively by 5-8 guard Lacoya Terry’s 21 points while Ebony Fields follows with 11 per game. Although their respective points are minimal, both six-footers Tracey Flowers and Taylor Ayers are rebounding machines on the defensive side. That’s going to be imperative in its quarterfinal game against Flyers Elite. The ensuing side-by-side seeded match-up is anticipated to be a close one with no clear-cut favorite.

flyers5) FLYERS ELITE (9-3) – The WBCBL 2013 National Champions relocated from Auburn, Alabama to Elsberry, Missouri during the off-season but remained competitive during its 2016 campaign and earned its Texas placement with the aforementioned Mid West Division triumph over the Surge. This weekend marks the team’s fourth straight national tourney appearance and certainly possesses the firepower to run the Lone Star State gauntlet undefeated.

5-6 guard Whitney Houston averages close to 20 points per game while guard Kari Koch-Dowell adds 19. Tia Stovall (17 PPG) and Morgan Jennings (13 PPG) also adds to the offense. In its side-by-side seeded quarterfinal game against #4 Georgia, the narrative will be the comparable backcourt battle between the Elite’s Houston and Koch against the Soul’s Terry and Fields. Whoever excels in that match-up will more than likely claim the duke. Also, if the Elite execute the same aggression and consistency that it displayed in the WBCBL Mid West finale against the Surge, there is a good chance that they win their second national trophy.

bayou angels6) LOUISIANA BAYOU ANGELS (5-2) – The Bayou Angels, the 2012 National Champs, are a perpetual entrant in the post-season mix. After dropping its first two games of the season, Louisiana won five straight, highlighted by its 90-79 victory over Mississippi Dream in the WBCBL Gulf South finale.

Scoring is paced by 5-11 guard Quianna Chaney (20 PPG) and running mate Olivia Grayson (17.9 PPG).  Five-foot sparkplug guard Roshaundra Barnes also averages double-digit scoring. The task will be tough in its Saturday quarterfinal against defend WBCBL champion Charlotte but these spunky Cajuns are more than ready to meet the challenge.

dallas diesel8) DALLAS DIESEL (8-2) – Everybody always loves an underdog and the Diesel fits that narrative perfectly. Dallas earned entry by finishing second in the WBCBL Mid South behind San Antonio, the defending national champs. In their prior regular season contest against each other, the Diesel fell by two and seven points, respectively. They certainly can hold their own against their cross-state rivals and by entering the weekend with a six-game winning streak, who’s to say they can’t fuel up en route to a successful weekend?

The Diesel topped the WBCBL nationally in team offense this season, averaging a mind-melting 104 points per game. Dual threat 6-4 post player Layla Shwartz-McCray brings a 24-point average and a 14-rebound average to the table while guards Jill Duffey and Chantoya Hawkins each chip in 20 per contest. Dallas faces the aforementioned top-seeded San Antonio in the Saturday’s quarterfinal round and there is a probable chance that the Diesel claims a coveted victory over its in-state rival.

With a bracket robust with parity, picking a true favorite to the claim the WBCBL national title this weekend will be difficult.  In the end, whichever team hoists the trophy will have certainly earned it.

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