Highland High School girls basketball standouts Amanda Ponce and Madison Wellen helped the St. Louis Hype scorch their competition this summer.
Ponce, a senior, and Wellen, a junior, aided the St. Louis Hype, an AAU select basketball team, in rolling to an impressive 31-6 overall record, highlighted by winning three of the seven tournaments they competed in. The three tournament championships came in as many states: Rockin the Hardwood in Fayetteville, Ark.; the Battle of the Border in Kansas City, Mo; and the Run for the Roses in Lexington, Ky.
In addition, the St. Louis Hype finished second and lost in the championship game by one mere point at the Windy City Classic in Chicago.
Including Ponce and Wellen, the team was comprised of eight total girls, four 17U and four 16U players from Illinois and Missouri who competed in the toughest division possible based on tournament regulations.
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In addition to Ponce and Wellen, the St. Louis Hype included two other talented players from the Mississippi Valley Conference in Mascoutah senior Maddie Nekola and Waterloo junior Kathryn Finnerty, who are rivals during the winter but they all were allies this summer.
The rest of the squad included Missouri stalwarts Haley Diestelkamp a senior at Owensville High School (Mo.); Gabby Walker, a senior at St. Charles High School; Rachel Pudlowski, a junior at Fort Zumwalt High School; and Kelly McLaughlin, a junior at St. Joseph’s Academy.
The St. Louis Hype, which was coached by Stephen Irons and Tom Leach, also competed in the Gateway Challenge in St. Louis, the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago and the Adidas Nationals in Atlanta, Ga. At the Adidas Nationals.
At the season-ending Adidas Nationals in Atlanta, Ga., the Hype fell in the second round to the eventual national tournament champion. But the Hype, which only had eight players to begin with, was severely shorthanded for much of tourney after starting the tourney down a player and then losing another to a high ankle sprain during the second game.
“Playing AAU is much different than high school, the game is much faster,” Ponce said. “Having multiple players on the high school team experience this pace of the game is very beneficial. Playing with this team the past two years with low numbers allowed for a great deal of playing time. I am very close with all of my teammates, and I believe a bond between Madison and I has been formed every since we played with each other back in middle school.”
Wellen said finding practice time with all eight players together was a challenge due to everyone’s varying summer activities, but the team did not have trouble meshing on the court when it was game time.
“Our team was successful because we were friends on and off the court and we didn’t think too much about playing, it just happened,” Wellen said. “I think that playing on this AAU team has definitely made me a better basketball player. Going from AAU tournaments to high school shootouts in the summer is really encouraging because playing against other ordinary high schoolers doesn’t really compare to playing against D1 recruits at AAU tournaments. The best memories were definitely winning the tournaments and having all of your hard work pay off. I wouldn’t change a thing about this last season, it was an awesome experience and an amazing opportunity.”
Wellen was a prime example of player who had a crazy summer schedule. She started with the St. Louis Hype in May. Then in the month of June, Wellen bounced on to competing at the same time in the summer seasons for both the HHS basketball and HHS volleyball teams. Finally in July, the Lady Bulldog junior returned to finish with the Hype.
While competing for both the HHS basketball and volleyball squads in June, there were some marathon days in which Wellen would leave home at 7:30 a.m., then have an hour or to break, and then not return home until 11 p.m.
“Going back and forth between high school basketball and volleyball was definitely difficult and time consuming, but it was manageable,” she said. “Giving energy towards each wasn’t a problem because I love competing. On top of that, my select team was demanding as well.”
After such a successful summer of basketball and finally a couple of weeks of down time, Wellen now shifts her focus solely to HHS volleyball, which begins official practices on Wednesday.
“We played more games this summer instead of being in the gym every day and I think it helped us grow as a team because we know each others strengths and weaknesses during a real game,” Wellen said of the volleyball Lady Bulldogs. “We should be pretty strong if we all do our part and work as a team.”