Outside of winning a state championship, St. Thomas More girls basketball coach Stephen Strojny wanted to do something on a grand scale upon taking over the program four years ago.
That day has finally arrived.
St. Thomas More departed Sunday for the KSA Shootout in Orlando, Fla., where the Lady Cougars (9-2) open play at Disney’s Wide World of Sports against Ossining, N.Y., (4-0) on Monday at 10:45 a.m.
“I didn’t think Disney would be something that was attainable, but it’s a testament to the parents, the kids and the commitment everybody’s made,” Strojny said. “We told them about this during the summer, and it was something that was referenced frequently after games. I had a girl in the middle of July after workouts, said the countdown to Orlando started then.”
The KSA Shootout features eight teams from eight states and is conducted over three days with Tuesday set aside for teams to attend any of Disney’s world-famous theme parks.
There will also be a New Year’s Eve party for all participating teams on Thursday evening at one of the Disney parks.
“One of my goals when I took over the program was to go to a big tournament every four years, something bigger than going to New Orleans or Dallas,” Strojny said. “I want the kids to be able to look 20 years from now and say they had a phenomenal experience aside from the wins, losses and bus rides that comes with playing on a team.”
STM has won nine of its first 11 games, including a formidable stretch that included wins over Rayne, Iota and South Lafourche and a narrow loss to St. Michael the Archangel.
Strojny realizes the level of competition in the KSA event will increase significantly, especially since he opted to play in the more competitive side of the bracket that includes Liberty, Mo., (7-0) and Brewbacker Tech of Montgomery, Ala.
“The wins and losses don’t count toward power points when you play out of state competition,”Strojny said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. We’ll get to play three outstanding teams from out of state, and then we come back and start district 1½ weeks after we get back.”
Strojny said the experience of intertwining the business of basketball with the enjoyment of the Disney parks is also a reward for his 16-player roster who are all multiple-sport athletes, maintain exemplary grade point averages and are involved in campus-based activities.
“This is also for the sacrifice they’ve made, especially in this day of specialization” he said. “Some of them play three sports. I wanted to do something aside from the team or season, were they’d be able to say they had a special experience.”
STM hits the court Monday against arguably the top team in the event — Ossining — which has won the last three Class 2A state championships in New York and is the state’s second-ranked team in its class behind Christ The King.
Ossining was off to an undefeated start in games played before Christmas. They’ve averaged 87 points a game with a pair of players — 6-foot senior Shadeen Samuels and 5-foot-11 Aubrey Griffin — averaging 29 points apiece.
STM counters with 5-9 sophomore guard Megan Abrams (15 pts, seven rebounds) and 5-10 senior forward Bailey Hemphill (8 points, 10 rebounds), who is an Alabama softball signee.
“This was one of the big reasons we wanted to go to the tournament, to play these kinds of teams,” Strojny said. “To get used to what some of the best teams in the country are like.”