Story   Know Your Military

U.S. Women Rebound, Take World Games Bronze

Oct. 28, 2019 | BY Joe Lacdan

U.S. guard Air Force Staff Sgt. Cinnamon Kava leapt into the arms of teammate Ariel Thomas moments after the U.S. armed forces women's basketball team stormed back from 18 points down to stun France 85-79 in overtime at the CISM World Military Games in Wuhan, China.

The victory clinched the bronze medal and wrapped up a bevy of emotions for the U.S. women, who endured numerous obstacles.

Basketball player holding the ball jumps to make a shot, closely guarded by a defender.
Jump Drive
Air Force Staff Sgt. Cinnamon Kava drives past a Chinese defender for a layup during the CISM Military World Games women’s basketball competition in Wuhan, China, Oct. 22, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sergeant James R. Crow
VIRIN: 191021-F-LA783-0370

"It's heart," said Thomas, who led the U.S. with a game-high 26 points during the third-place game. "Our whole team is built on family and trusting each other. The comeback was nothing but heart. The teamwork and dedication was nothing but heart."

We had to pull it together. We came too far not to give it our all and leave it on the floor."
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ariel Thomas

Thomas and Army 1st Lt. Jala Harris had dealt France clutch shot after clutch shot, none bigger than Harris' three-pointer from near half court that sent the game to overtime. Down 71-68 with 15 seconds left, Harris (24 points, 4 assists) didn't hesitate to take the deep three, which seemed to take France by surprise.

France's leading scorer Johanna Cortinovis backtracked as Harris made her dribble past center court and fired.

"I'm sure she probably was thinking nobody would shoot that ball in their right mind," said Harris, a soldier from Fort Stewart, Georgia, who hit six three-pointers. "My teammates have confidence in me to get it up there."

Basketball player drives the lane against a defender.
Dribble Drive
Army Sgt. Donita Adams drives past a Chinese defender during the Military World Games women’s basketball competition in Wuhan, China, Oct. 22, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. James Crow
VIRIN: 191021-F-LA783-0076

During the second quarter, Harris aggravated a knee-ligament injury and had to leave the game. After getting her knee checked, Harris then told U.S. coach Paul Parker Jr. to put her back in during the second half. "I just didn't want to go out like that," Harris said.

The U.S. weathered a whirlwind of emotions during the world games. Already, they had lost their former head coach, Air Force Maj. Mike Meyers, who had been called back to his unit. They had only two weeks to train to compete with literal giants in China's towering front line, and a Brazilian squad that had national team members on its roster.

While the U.S. women (4-2) failed to upset either of the basketball powers, Parker said his team competed to the last minute. After losing a tough battle to host China 119-71, the U.S. bounced back to beat Germany 81-34 and Canada 87-39. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Danika Dale led the U.S. with 17 points and 11 rebounds against Germany, while Army Capt. Taylor Alton led the Americans with 20 points against Canada.

"We're playing with a chip on our shoulder," Thomas said. "We had to pull it together. We came too far not to give it our all and leave it on the floor."

A basketball player prepares to shoot .
Taking Aim
Army 1st Lt. Allyson Lehman prepares to shoot during the CISM Military World Games women’s basketball competition in Wuhan, China, Oct. 22, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sergeant James R. Crow
VIRIN: 191021-F-LA783-0334

Parker had the difficult task of coaching the 11-player squad alone. Parker said he bounced ideas off his roommate in the athlete's village, a U.S. men's basketball assistant. And he credited the team's trainer, Army Capt. Kelsey Gebauer, for helping him evaluate the players' physical conditions during crucial moments.

Afterward, outside the team locker room, Parker wept as he covered his face in a towel.

We all come from different branches, so to be able to bring everybody's different perspectives together at the last minute with a coach that was determined to win, we did what we needed to do."
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ariel Thomas

"It's a lot of emotions," Parker said. "Those ladies didn't quit. At halftime, I wrote something on the back of my clipboard. I said, 'We gotta be resilient, we gotta fight through adversity, we got to play with heart.' And they did all those three things."

In the first half and into much of the third quarter, France exploited the Americans' lack of size by driving the basket, led by 13 points from Cortinovis. In the second half, U.S. center April Cromartie stepped up on defense and grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds.

France (3-3) held its biggest lead, 50-32, after two third-quarter free throws by French forward Manon Boehrer. The French women still clung to a fourth-quarter lead with four minutes remaining, then Harris hit a three-pointer from the right wing and Army Sgt. Donita Adams (9 points) hit another three-pointer to narrow the lead to 69-68.

Basketball player launches a jump shot amid four defenders.
Jump Shot
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Danika Dale shoots during the Military World Games women’s basketball competition in Wuhan, China, Oct. 22, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. James Crow
VIRIN: 191021-F-LA783-0027

After Boehrer scored on a layup, Harris responded with the pivotal three-point hoop. Cortinovis (20 points, 15 rebounds) missed a potential game-winning shot as regulation time expired. Harris and Thomas combined for 10 points in overtime to lead the U.S. to the win.

Thomas said she hopes the bronze medal will generate more interest in the women's game.

"We came far to get it. A lot of these teams have been practicing a lot longer than we have," she said. "We literally had two weeks to play with each other. We all come from different branches, so to be able to bring everybody's different perspectives together at the last minute with a coach that was determined to win, we did what we needed to do."

China (6-0) defeated Brazil (5-1) to win the gold medal, 93-65, led by WNBA draftee Li Meng's 20 points.

(Joe Lacdan is assigned to Army News Service.)