This article was originally posted by The Sun Chronicle.
After upsetting the No. 1 seeded team in the tournament from Tennessee by 13 points in the opening round of play, the Honey Badgers - an AAU girls' basketball team composed of eighth graders from North Attleboro - had to settle for a top-20 finish at the National AAU Girls Division 1 Championship Tournament in Orlando, Fla. The Honey Badgers won 45 games overall this season, winning eight of the 12 tournaments they entered in five states.
"These girls have won over 90 percent of the nearly 400 games they have played together in the past four years," said coach Matt Forbes. "Most importantly, colleges are starting to recognize our players and put them on their radars - not bad for a group of friends from North Attleboro."
The Honey Badgers, who won the National AAU Division 2 Tournament title last year, were considerable underdogs heading into the championship series this year. Because of the somewhat lax AAU rules, according to Honey Badger coaches Kevin Lahiff and Forbes, the Division 1 Tournament typically draws teams with all-stars from several states, with the age bracket including girls 15 and 16 years old. As a result, many teams field numerous players in excess of 6 feet tall, while the Honey Badgers tallest girl is 5-11 and two starters are 5-1.
The Badgers drew the No. 1 ranked team in the tournament as its first opponent in pool play, the Tennessee-based "Select Basketball." Led by Caroline Collard and Katie Nelson, the Badgers immediately pulled off the upset of the tournament by defeating the Select team 58-45.
"This is what they do," said Lahiff. "We give them challenges that seem unrealistic and they respond. The other team was at least three inches taller at each position and it didn't matter. They believe in one another and work as a team - that is usually good enough to win, regardless of the competition."
Coming into the tournament, Forbes and Lahiff wondered how they would compare with the other top teams in the country. Their primary goal was to be one of the 22 teams among the 44 entered that would advance from the Pool Play to the Championship bracket and compete for the National Championship. To do so, the Honey Badgers had to defeat the West Virginia Hornets, the team that finished second in its state tournament. Once again rising to the occasion, let by Riley Lahiff and Nia Atkins, the Badgers blew out the Hornets 52-20, to advance to the elimination bracket. In the first round of the elimination play, the Badgers faced the Philadelphia-based Comets. On the strength of the inside-out play of Molly Lahiff and an incredible shooting performance from Julia Strachan (16 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half), the Badgers held a five-point lead with six minutes to play. Unfortunately, some exceptional clutch shooting by the Comets in the final minutes, proved too much to overcome as the Badgers fell 51-45.
In their last game in the consolation bracket, the Badgers faced a team from Minnesota, North Tartan. Led by Emma Forbes, Sam Taggart and Emily Schromm, the Badgers hung tough against a much bigger team. For the second consecutive game the Badgers faced a one-possession deficit in the final minute, only to see the game slip away in the final seconds.
In the second round round of "pool play" for the Honey Badgers, the team fell by 16 points to BWSL Richmond out of Virginia despite red-hot shooting from Ashley Ahern to start the game, which led to an early 10-point lead.
"They did to us what we usually do to other teams", added Forbes. "Whether it was a let down from the game earlier in the day or general fatigue from the energy we exerted, we played a very un-Badger-like game at the worst possible time. BWSL beat us to every lose ball and played aggressively throughout, and for whatever reason, we failed to respond. I think it shocked everyone, because it doesn't happen very often."
The Honey Badgers completed the season with a 45-6 record overall, one of the losses being to a 10th grade team, while the other five were all to state champions. The Honey Badgers were hoping for a top 10 finish among the Division 1 competition,
"I think they proved they belonged in the company of the best teams in the country," said Lahiff. "In between games, I was watching some other teams play, when a coach of the Comets sat next to me and told the person he was talking to that a team called the 'Honey Badgers' from New England just gave them the toughest game they had played all season - I was extremely proud to hear that."
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