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The Hoosier Elite AAU girls' basketball team had just eight players this year in its fourth-place finish at the Nationals tournament. This year's team included, from left: (front row) Natalie Morse, Cara Sharp, Chelsea Benham, Siera Fuller; (back row) coach Lea Sharp, Amanda Trambaugh, Elyse Weddle, Adrian Sahm, Meghan Bussabarger and head coach Mark Morse. (Photos Courtesy of Lisa Benham)

Hoosier Elites finish fourth at Nationals

Benham, Bussabarger part of So. Indiana AAU team

July 30, 2008
The Hoosier Elites, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) girls' basketball team from Southern Indiana including Crawford County's Chelsea Benham and Corydon Central's Meghan Bussabarger, recently finished fourth in the Division Two AAU National Championships in Orlando, Fla. It was the team's best finish in the tournament in Benham's four years on the squad.

"We finished fourth in the final four out of 32 teams," said Benham, who will be a senior for the Crawford Lady Pack this season. "That's the best that this team as a whole has ever done. The four years I've been on it the best we've ever done is ninth. We did that two years, then one year we got knocked out in the first or second round. We tied for 17th. This year, we just dominated."

The Elites dominated differently than most, playing with just eight players.

Crawford County's Chelsea Benham, right, and Corydon Central's Meghan Bussabarger have plenty of reason to smile after their Hoosier Elite AAU girls' basketball team finished fourth at the Nationals tournament in Orlando, Fla.
"We just had all the right girls, and we had been together longer than anything," Benham said. "This year, we did not pick up anyone. We just had our straight eight. We lost four girls from last year. We had 12 from last year. … The chemistry wasn't there because there were more girls. Five in here, five in there, a couple out here and there, so there wasn't as good of chemistry."

Before an individual can even reach the tournament, a player first has to get on a team, and it's not just a matter of walking on. To be picked for an AAU squad, a player must be recommended. Benham was recommended by Crawford's Roxanne Koopman for the then-called Mitchell Jackets. Benham then recommended Bussabarger for the Elite team two years ago. The team is coached by Mark Morse of Mitchell.

"It was more of the Mitchell team," Benham said. "Roxanne was on it and she got me on it and that's when we changed our name to the Hoosier Elites. We had more people from more schools."

Bussabarger said her first year on the team was a challenge.

"The first year was crazy," she said. "I was so nervous. I hadn't built any chemistry at all with the team yet. I was like the little girl that had no idea what she was doing.

"I played one game before we went to Nationals. It was a little frustrating. I had no idea what I was doing. They overwhelmed me with all these plays. This year, Mark was like, 'Do this.' We just kind of did our own little thing. Everything on defense we had structured."

Benham said the Elite badly needed a second post player and Bussabarger was the perfect choice.

"I've been on it for four years and we needed another post player because I was the tallest player, which was pretty pathetic," Benham said. "I knew Meghan real well from just playing summer ball and getting to know her through junior high and high school. I told Mark she'd be a good addition, and he agreed and asked her to join."

Benham said Bussabarger's size was badly needed with most teams being much bigger.

"The girls are bigger," she said. "The teams are bigger. They're from everywhere. All of our girls are local girls. We all know each other real well. Other teams, they might have one girl from one place and another girl two hours away from them."

To get to Nationals, teams must first qualify out of their state tournaments. The Elites failed to qualify for Division One, but made the Division Two cut.

Bussabarger said her second year was much better. Benham said, however, there were still some nerves before the games began in Florida.

"This year, it was a lot easier with the girls because I had played with them a little bit more and had more chemistry," the Corydon senior said. "The first game we lost by one. We didn't hit our free throws that game at all. When tournament time came close, we just started kicking butt."

"This year, we didn't really practice that much together, so we were a little nervous going into Florida and we had an all-day practice the day before we left," Benham said.

Benham said the Florida tournament began as pool play with the final tournament seedings being decided from the earlier games.

"It turned into like an NCAA tournament would be," she said. "They did bracket plays, single-elimination tournaments, play till you lose. We were seeded third out of our pool, but we were the only team in our pool to make it to the final four."

Game formats were also different at the Nationals than the state tournaments. At the Nationals teams played 18-minute halves with a 30-second shot clock.

Both girls said the shot clock was something they liked and would like to see used in high school play.

"I personally liked the shot clock better because there's no stalling at the end of the game," Benham said. "I hate it when teams do that. It drives me crazy."

"The first year, it was hard to adjust to, but this year I like it better," Bussabarger said. "I'd love for us to be able to box out on the free-throw line, too."

Benham said the team's coaches kept a structure defense, but allowed the girls to freestyle a lot of the offensive plays.

"Pulled it out of the that literally," Benham said with a smile. "We probably had two set plays, and we almost never ran them. Mark called it freestyle and the girls had enough chemistry and been together enough that we knew where each other was going to be. We just did our own little thing."

The Elites were also considered underdogs by a wide margin, especially to the team from Tennessee.

"Nobody expected anything like we accomplished, especially the Tennessee Hoop Stars," Benham said. "They were from Tennessee and they thought they were just going to wipe the floor with us. They made it to the final four the year before. They didn't like it so much when we beat them. That was during the tournament play."

With the high school season in a few months, Benham said this year's AAU experience has helped her gain confidence for the 2008-09 season. She and Bussabarger both know, being seniors, more will be asked of them.

"I think it's given me a lot more confidence, especially against bigger girls," Benham said. "I remember last year during school ball, especially when we played against Forest Park, it was worse because they had three six-footers. I was scared to death because they were so much bigger than me. Down at Nationals and during the AAU season, almost every team had three six-footers. You get used to playing with them, bigger and more physical girls. It makes you better."

"I just hope that I can play the way I did in AAU," Bussabarger said. "I just want to be able to carry that over. When Mr. Uhl talked to us, he talked about that me and Katie (Hayes) are seniors. He knows what's expected of us and we know what's expected of the team. We have to lead them and help coach them. … It's our responsibility."

"I talked about it with coach (Eric) Toney and we're both happy with the progress we've made through the summer," Benham said. "We're just hoping it continues to grow and that we have a winning season."

The pair must also go back to playing against each other and help their own teams.

"We've known each other throughout cross country, track, basketball," Benham said. "It's been hard playing against her. She is really one of my good friends, but you have to do it. There's no way out of it. You can't say, 'No I don't want to play this game. I'm playing Meghan Bussabarger.' That would make me look like a wimp."

"We're playing to the best of our ability, and that's all a person can ask of us," she said. "We're going to be friends before the game and after the game, but during the game it's all business."

"I know this is a young team, so I just want to be able to build on that," Bussabarger said. "I want to have a great season and I want to win the sectional. It's going to be a long, tough, hard trip."

"I'm looking forward to it a lot," Benham said. "I can't wait. Go out with a bang, I hope."

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