During the upcoming Military World Games in Wuhan, China, the U.S. Armed Forces women's basketball players will face taller, Olympic-caliber athletes.
However, the U.S. women carry a quiet confidence about them.
Team USA will use a combination of speed, strength and shooting to offset any size disadvantage, U.S. coach and Army Maj. Michael Meyers II said, adding that a few of the U.S. women are also deadly from 3-point range.
"I call them the splash sisters," Meyers joked during an Oct. 4 scrimmage. The team held its training camp at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, in preparation for the 7th International Military Sports Council games that begin Oct. 18 and continue through Oct. 27. The council is referred to by its French acronym, CISM, because French is its founding language. Military athletes from about 100 nations compete in the CISM Military World Games every four years before the summer Olympics.
Army 1st Lt. Jala Harris and Army Capt. Taylor Alton will pace the U.S. women with their 3-point shooting abilities, which helped the All-Army team capture the 2019 Armed Forces Basketball Championship in June.
Alton shot 45% from the arc during the AFBC, including hitting six of seven from downtown during the All-Army team's 91-76 dismantling of Navy in the teams' second meeting. Harris hit 48% of her 3-point attempts during the tournament, including seven of nine threes in a 91-67 rout of the All-Marine Corps team. A third U.S. player, Petty Officer 1st Class Christie Ayers, shot 39% from three-point range for the All-Navy team.
"We have shooters everywhere," said Army Sgt. Donita Adams, a 5-foot 8-inch guard. "Everyone can shoot the basketball on this team."
The squad can also run. While admittedly undersized compared to its towering international competitors, the U.S. team has several talented players who can hustle, including Ayers, Adams and Air Force 2nd Lt. Charmaine Clark, the AFBC leading scorer at 17.9 points per game. Adams, who played professionally in Italy and had a brief stint with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, led the All-Army team in scoring at 14.9 points per game. Harris averaged 14.6 points and an Army team-best 4.4 assists per game.
"I think we'll really be able to run teams up and down the floor," Alton said. "If we find size mismatches, we'll be able to take advantage of them even if we're on the smaller end."
The team's post game will be anchored by the All-Navy team's leading scorer, Petty Officer 3rd Class Danika Dale, who averaged 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game at the AFBC.
They also have some experience, as Ayers (11.1 points per game at AFBC) and Adams both played in the 2016 World Military Basketball Championship at Camp Pendleton, California, where the U.S. took silver after losing to Brazil by one point in the final. Women’s basketball is a relatively new sport for CISM and was not part of the Military World Games in South Korea in 2015, so the U.S. hosted a separate tournament the following year.
"I think we have a really good chance of winning gold," said Ayers, who had 25 points for Navy to help hand the All-Army team its lone AFBC loss. "We have a lot of good shooters. We have a lot of post players that are good inside, but they can also step out and hit the mid-range shot as well. I just think we have an all-around really good team. We're not one dimensional."
Myers said his squad could be the most talented group ever assembled. He added that several players could find their way into the starting rotation, depending on the matchups and players' overall health.
Many of the Armed Forces players have Division I experience, including Alton, who led Michigan State in 3-point shooting as a senior; Ally Lehman, who starred at Northern Illinois; and Clark, who competed for the University of Miami. Harris competed for the University of Alabama-Birmingham and earned the Conference USA's freshman of the year honors.
"A very talented group of women," Meyers said. "Maybe the best in quite some time. A lot of great shooting. A lot of very selfless leaders that are willing to sacrifice some of the important parts of their game for the better of the team."
Meyers did say he will likely start 6-foot 1-inch Army Sgt. 1st Class April Cromartie along with the 6-foot Dale, and Alton. The starting wings likely will be decided by committee, he said, adding that he will also consult the team's trainer, Army Capt. Kelsey Gebauer, to keep his lineup fresh.
"One of the craziest things about this whole process is that every last one of these women are starters on an average armed forces team," Meyers said. "So what we're most likely going to do is look at our matchups."
Meyers said he expects a lofty challenge from the host nation, noting that the Chinese armed forces squad typically boasts a larger lineup.
"Obviously, China's going to be a really big team, very skilled team, and they're the host country, so they're going to put their best foot forward," he said.