Girls Basketball: AAU team enjoys Trinity connection

Before playing for the AAU Chicago Hoops Express, several current and future Trinity girls basketball players started out with the organization’s Flash feeder program.

That’s how Mikayla Leyden began her basketball career as a fifth grader at St. Thechla Elementary School on the Northwest side of Chicago.

Leyden is one of Trinity’s current players with perhaps the longest tenure playing for coach Jerald Davis’ Chicago Hoops Express organization. Leyden started out in the Flash development program and this summer she has become a member of the CHE I team, along with Trinity teammates Shannon McGinnis and Lauren Prochaska.

Other members of the CHE I team include Oak Park-River Forest guard Caroline Kelty and Hinsdale South guard Toni Romiti, who is playing for Hoops Express for the first time.

All of the players are seniors except Prochaska, who is a junior. The team left Sunday morning for the Blue Star Nationals, which starts Monday in Las Vegas. The tournament ends Wednesday, but CHE I will play Saturday and Sunday in the Midwest Challenge at the Bartlett Community Center.

This month’s three Chicago Hoops Express teams have eight current or future Trinity players on its rosters.

Leyden, a guard, missed much of last season due to an injury to her right knee. She is hoping to break into the Trinity starting lineup after coming off the bench last season. She is capable of playing multiple positions for Hoops Express.

“I’m working on my 1-on-1 skills,” Leyden said. “You have to cope with different tournament play. When [the team] needs me to play small, I’ll play small. If they need a big player, I’ll play big.”

The three Trinity members of CHE I played together in their first major AAU tournament of the month Friday at the one-day Adidas Jamboree at the Hidden Cove Sportsplex in Bourbonnais. Each team at the tournament played three random games in front of dozens of college recruiters from across the Midwest, including DePaul women’s coach Doug Bruno, and assistant coaches from schools such as Wisconsin, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Marquette. Many other recruiters came from Division III schools and junior colleges.

The Trinity trio will make their first trip to Las Vegas this week. After playing in Bartlett, the team will compete in the Nike Midwest Showcase July 21-23 in Indianapolis, the Best of the Midwest Jam July 27-28 in Schaumburg and then the Summer Final July 29-31 at Waukegen Fieldhouse.

Hoops Express members draw from all over Chicagoland. Former Flash player Jacqui Grant, a Maine South center, no longer plays for CHE, but verbally committed recently to Illinois. McGinnis started playing for CHE in the sixth grade while Prochaska started in seventh grade.

Davis started an AAU program 17 years ago at the Lincoln-Belmont YMCA. In 2000, it was renamed Chicago Hoops Express. For the last five years, Davis found a home court for practices at Trinity, which explains why many Blazers have chosen to play for the AAU team.

“Trinity has its [summer] camps and works with us [for gym rental],” Davis said. “There is a joint effort and it helps that Trinity is centrally located.”

Two of Trinity’s returning players, Maura Molloy and Patricia Stritzel, play for CHE. Stritzel, who will not play at Bartlett due to an injury, is the daughter of Trinity coach Ed Stritzel. One of Trinity’s top returning players, Taylor Nazon, is playing for the Illinois X-citement this month.

Three incoming freshmen for Trinity, twins Arielle and Amber Reese and Maryam Wilcher, are hoping to make the varsity team after beginning classes in August.

“I’m excited. I want to meet the girls. I know a couple of girls on the AAU team already player there,” said Wilcher, a forward.

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