The Only Girls Team in an All-Boys Basketball League Dominates the First Half of the Season
As sports journalist Scott Cacciola takes a break from covering the “woeful Knicks” for the New York Times this season, he’s covering good basketball around the country in a new column, "Not the Knicks." His latest subject is the Central Illinois Xpress, a tenacious fifth-grade team of girls in an all-boys league. And not only are they playing, they’re winning. The Xpress’ record is 8-1 so far this season, something its opponents didn’t expect.
“We’d walk in, and all the boys would be like, ‘We’re playing girls?’” Anne Rupnik, a point guard, told the New York Times. “Then we’d beat them. Some of them cried.”
“I don’t think the other teams expected us to be as tough as we were,” forward Kortnee Walton added.
Their coach, Tariq Toran, views competing against boys as part of the team’s larger strategy. When Xpress players join the Amateur Athletic Union, they’ll be playing against slightly older girls. Challenging themselves against boys’ teams is good training.
Xpress players have risen to the occasion, committing to intense practices including push-ups and sprints. “We practice hard,” Xpress guard Meghan Wegner said. “I think some of the boys are scared of us.”
But beyond physical fitness, the Xpress shows a cohesiveness that gives them a leg-up on other teams. A core group of Xpress girls have played together for four years. Dan Schrage, an Xpress parent, notices the difference between the girls and their male opponents. “Boys just move faster…but with the girls, they almost seem to process everything in stages. Step 1: O.K., I’ve got the rebound. Step 2: Look for my teammates. Step 3: Advance the ball.” The girls' regard for each other has served them well so far.
The Xpress’ competitive drive and commitment to each other shows that girls don’t need a league of their own—they’ll succeed on any court.
Image via Getty