The Wheeling-based West Virginia Lady Rebels finished fourth in the AAU National Tournament last summer in Nashville.
That wasn't nearly enough to satisfy the hunger of head coach Chip Calissie and his 10 Lady Rebels who have come back strong for another season.
The Lady Rebels will make the trip to the AAU National Tournament for the second straight season with a strong 44-2 record.
PICTURED ARE the West Virginia Lady Rebels AAU?Basketball Team, which has qualified for the AAU?National Tournament in Orlando next week. Sitting, from left, are Tamara Bumgardner (Wheeling Park), Morgan Brunner (Linsly), Jewel Purpura (St. James & John) and Bailey Filben (John Marshall). Standing, from left, are Asia LaGrow (St. Clairsville), Torrie Derrow (John Marshall), Caitlyn Kroll (Bridgeport), Lindsey Baker (Wheeling Central), Cate Calissie (Wheeling Central) and Angela Staffelino (Brooke). The Lady Rebels are coached by Chip Calissie and Matt Filben.
"We're pretty confident," said Calissie. "We're much improved from last year, and we feel we've got a chance to do very well."
The Lady Rebels will begin to make their descent on Orlando and the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex this weekend and the opening ceremonies for the event are slated for Tuesday.
West Virginia's state champions will have to battle in pool play first and the winner of the pool will advance to the championship bracketed tournament.
"Last year, there were only 48 teams (in the field), but now there are 77 (in our division)," Calissie said. "Obviously, with 29 more teams in the field, it's going to be much more competitive."
The Lady Rebels, who are made up of players from Belmont, Ohio, Marshall and Brooke Counties, hit the floor for the first time at 7:20 p.m., competing in the Division II field Wednesday against the Middle Georgia Dream.
They'll play two games on Thursday against the Maryland Flames and BIA Athletics, which Calissie believes is based in Boston.
Calissie believes the experience his team garnered last season could pay dividends.
"It's huge," Calissie said. "We're more prepared and know what to expect, especially since our core group of girls is in tact, but we realize nothing is guaranteed."
Should the Lady Rebels not qualify to the championship portion of the event, they'll move into rebound tournament
En route to the national tournament, the Lady Rebels have played throughout the months of March, April and May. They played one tournament together in June, but most of the month has been spent playing with their respective high school teams in shootouts and leagues.
"We probably practiced once a week throughout June," Calissie said. "We probably played in 10 or 12 tournaments."
The Rebels' roster is comprised of Asia LaGrow (St. Clairsville), Tamara Bumgardner (Wheeling Park), Morgan Brunner (Linsly), Jewel Purpura (St. James & John), Bailey Filben (John Marshall), Torie Derrow (John Marshall), Caitlyn Kroll (Bridgeport), Lindsey Baker (Wheeling Central), Cate Calissie (Wheeling Central), Angela Staffelino (Brooke). Calissie is assisted by Matt Filben.
Win or lose this weekend, Calissie hopes to bring back much of the roster for next season.
"Hopefully, we can keep most of the girls," Calissie said. "Some of the parents think, with the high school schedules and different things, that it might get muddy, but I really believe we have three or four girls who legitimately could play college basketball, so we want to keep working at it. Obviously, we would scale back our tournaments and only play in select events because we probably played in some, this year, that we shouldn't have."