The West Virginia Thunder take on Mavs Elite in a quarterfinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

MANHEIM, Pa. — For the top clubs in this year’s Girls Under Armour Association circuit, all roads lead to the Spooky Nook Sports Complex.

Championship play began Saturday morning, with a bracket of thirty-two 17U teams vying for the title, but only eight of those teams had the chance to fight it out Sunday in hopes of reaching Monday’s championship game.

Top-seeded FBC United features four highly-rated recruits in the Class of 2023 — point guard Jaloni Cambridge, center Essence Cody, point guard Reniya Kelly and shooting guard Courtney Ogden — so it’s no surprise they entered the weekend 10-0.

The No. 1 team drew the 10th-seeded Germantown Lady Panthers in the quarterfinals and secured a spot in the semifinals with a 57-45 win.

“It was a team win,” Ogden said. “We focused on playing as a team. We weren’t really hitting our shots like we normally do, but we still got it done together. We’re ready to go on and win this thing.”

That core four, alongside class of 2024 point guard Zamareya Jones and 2024 power forward Joyce Edwards, played with energy and grit. Even when the shots weren’t falling, FBC United took advantage of every possession.

That team victory moved FBC United into the quarterfinals against the No. 3 Northwest Blazers, who defeated No. 7 Nebraska Attack 67-51.

But unfortunately for the Blazers, there was no stopping FBC United. College coaches from all over, including Baylor’s Nicki Collen, Iowa’s Lisa Bluder, Kentucky’s Kyra Elzy and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, bore witness to another balanced effort, as FBC United claimed a commanding 58-35 victory to secure a spot in Monday’s championship.

The West Virginia Thunder take on FBC The Family Supreme Team in a semifinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

FBC United and No. 2 FBC The Family Supreme Team both entered the weekend with undefeated GUAA seasons. They, along with fellow quarterfinalist FBC Legacy, hail from the Atlanta area’s Finest Basketball Club, an organization that has consistently produced Division I talent.

Naturally, a program that has graduated many McDonald’s All Americans is no stranger to the champions bracket, which is precisely why spectators found themselves watching a quarterfinal matchup between FBC The Family Supreme Team and FBC Legacy in one of Sunday afternoon’s first games.

As a parent from another quarterfinalist club put it: “Of course they’re playing each other. They’re always here.”

Ultimately, it was FBC The Family Supreme Team who reached the semifinals after a 47-35 victory.

The second overall seed awaited the winner of No. 4 West Virginia Thunder and Arkansas-based Mavs Elite, both of whom boast elite talent. Point guard Kymora Johnson, a top-25 recruit in the class of 2023, led the charge for the Thunder, while Mavs Elite’s Mikaylah Williams, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023, seemed to be on everyone’s must-see list.

“She literally floats,” said an admiring 15U onlooker, after on of Williams’ many impressive buckets.

Mavs Elite's Mikaylah Williams puts up a shot against the West Virginia Thunder in a quarterfinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

While Williams, who recently committed to LSU, looked every bit the unanimous top recruit in her class, the Thunder utilized balance and depth to grind out an 83-67 win. It was always within the Thunder’s control, and class of 2025 forward Zakiyah Johnson was a big part of that.

“I knew I was guarding her,” Zakiyah Johnson said about Williams. “I knew I couldn’t lay off, but I’m also at that elite level, too. I knew I could handle that pressure, and slowing her down slowed her team down. It helped my team bring it up.”

Zakiyah Johnson is one of two members of the class of 2025 on the Thunder’s U17 squad. She and power forward Darriana Alexander are not only two of the team’s tallest members, but also two of the toughest.

“I thought the girls played hard from the start to the finish,” Thunder Coach Scott Johnson said. “Mavs Elite’s a really good team. I thought we did a great job collectively as a defensive group. We geared up for this game, and we were locked in. We want to go to the championship. We know it’s one step at a time. And this was the first step right here.”

The second step, a 68-65 win over FBC The Family Supreme Team in the semifinals, was hard fought. After a Thunder scoring drought in the third quarter that turned a double-digit lead into a two-possession game, the possibility of another FBC matchup — this time in Monday’s championship — began to lurk.

“We had to make something,” Alexander said about the final minutes of the game. “We had to do something. Rebounding was key for us.”

Best Moment

The score was tied at 65 as the clock inched toward zero, and the crowd was electric. Everyone had something to say, and in more than a few cases, they were yelling it.

Emotions were high, and understandably so, with a spot in the final on the line.

Kymora Johnson had found her offensive rhythm in the quarterfinal matchup against Mavs Elite, and not even the four hours between the two games could slow her down.

“I knew it was going to be close,” she said. “Every game of the tournament keeps getting closer and closer. They never let up, so we had to keep our foot on the gas.”

Johnson did just that, hitting a smooth game-winner from beyond the arc with just 14.8 seconds left, and once more, the Thunder took care of business, securing a 68-65 victory.

Most Valuable Player

Basketball has long been compared to jazz — if even one member of your group is out of sync with the others, the lack of cohesion can throw everyone off.

And just as a misstep may ruin the tempo, a shining moment may elevate it.

Kymora Johnson spent all of Sunday shining, and because of that, everyone around her did, too.

“She’s a bright-lights player,” said Kymora Johnson’s mother, Jessica. “I can’t say I’m surprised. She is very unselfish. She doesn’t mind sharing the light. And her birthday is tomorrow, she turns 17. So she’ll play the last game of her AAU career on her birthday, and she’s been determined to make that the championship.”

The West Virginia Thunder's Kymora Johnson puts up a shot against Mavs Elite in a quarterfinal of the 2023 GUAA tournament Sunday in Manheim, Pa. (Mina Park/Just Women's Sports)

Rising Star

In FBC United’s dominant win over the Blazers, Edwards handled her opposition with ease in the paint, finishing with 20 points, and on a team with so many big names, she managed to be the difference.

“I just go in the game thinking about what the team needs me to do — rebounding, putbacks, all the dirty things, all the effort plays — and show my passion for the game,” Edwards said after the semifinal win.

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also writes about college basketball for Blue Ribbon Sports and covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.