Before the current 2012-13 campaign began, first-year Riverdale Baptist girls basketball coach Sam Caldwell proclaimed his three-headed starting backcourt of junior Auteaonna Gilmore, Chloe Jackson and Chania Ray as “the three best guard-tandem in the country.”
Considering how well that trio has performed this season, guiding the Crusaders to 24 wins despite the loss of seven Division I college scholarship athletes to graduation, and the national recognition each has garnered, Caldwell seems to be right on target with his assessment.
“All three of them are top 100 guards in the country [according to college recruiting services, such as ESPN],” Caldwell said. “We’re the only school that has three players in the top 100 and that’s pretty good. You won’t find three guards like that.”
Leading that trio in terms of scoring and national prestige is Jackson, who joins Gilmore as the team’s only returning varsity players from last year’s 38-2 national championship team. She was pouring in a team-best 16.3 points per game, notching double figures in all but two games with a high of 32 points in a 68-65 win against MATHS on Jan. 24. Jackson, who had knocked down 51 3-pointers, is listed 26th in the nation in the 2014 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings.
“Out on the wing, she looks almost unguardable at times,” Caldwell said. “She can flat out shoot the ball and she has an ability to get to basket almost at will. She’s an elite level athlete and a heck of a defender.
“She really opens up a lot of lanes and space. That really helps Chania be able to get a lot of open looks and knock down open shots, primarily from 3-point range. It’s really hard to guard all three of them.”
Ray had used that extra space to knock down 13.7 points per game and 43 3-pointers. She had made at least one 3-pointer in most of Riverdale’s games this winter, including a season-high four in an 84-44 route of Archbishop Carroll on Dec. 7.
“We can all handle the ball. We can all shoot and we can all create our own shot,” said Ray, who transferred to Riverdale this year after spending two years with St. John’s College High School (D.C.). “It makes our job a little easier and we rely on each other. We mesh really well.”
Making life even easier for Jackson and Ray has been the play of Gilmore, the team’s starting point guard, who both said was great at setting them up for easy and open looks at the basket time and time again each game. Gilmore, who was averaging 10.8 points per game, is ranked 50th by ESPN HoopGurlz.
“It’s a big advantage, having all three of us on the same team at the same time when we’re all producing, it’s just easier for the rest of the team,” Gilmore said. “My role is to be a floor general and lead my team to a national championship and just make my teammates better.”
Gilmore and her teammates will get that opportunity to win a national title when it again competes in the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational tournament, which the Crusaders won a year ago. Before then, the trio will lead Riverdale in this week’s National Association of Christian Athletes championship tournament in Tennessee. Riverdale Baptist enters that tourney as the defending champion as well.
“It’s not going to be easy to get to the finals [at the NACA tournament],” Jackson said. “ESPN Rise, we don’t know who’s in it yet, but we always know there is a fair amount of competition.”