The Central Illinois Xpress are the only team of girls in a 5th grade AAU basketball league in Springfield, IL. They also happen to be one of the best teams in the league. With the season half over, the Xpress are 8-2, and with each victory they’re making believers out of everyone in the area, in addition to making their opponents cry.
“We’d walk in, and all the boys would be like, ‘We’re playing girls?'” said Anne Rupnik, a point guard. “Then we’d beat them. Some of them cried.”
Most of the the girls have been playing with each other for four years, so there’s a built-in advantage of camaraderie and team chemistry. In addition, they’re coached up hard by Tariq Toran, who is also an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at nearby Division III school Benedictine University. Practices are closed to parents, but players do push-ups, run sprints, and learn basketball fundamentals that have so far outclassed a majority of their rival boys teams.
“[The boys] make such sloppy passes,” said Lily Randolph, one of the team’s guards.
These girls won’t let other teams push them around. A lot of the time they’re playing against opponents who are bigger than them and faster than them. Coach Toran told the story of a game last summer where they played a group of older girls who began pushing around the younger, smaller Xpress players. Toran challenged his team to fight back.
“Everybody go foul somebody on the next play,” he told the players in a huddle. “Really plaster them!”
The players did what they were told and the officials let them play, and the Xpress went on to win the entire tournament.
NOTE: Since Uproxx became aware of this story, the Xpress have since been featured on Tuesday morning’s edition of the Today show. Click here for that story and accompanying video.