Trio of area players take part in USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team Trials

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Photo - Holy Family guard Isabelle Hren gets blocked by Mesa Ridge center Ashley Bowen during the Mesa Ridge and Holy Family girls basketball game at Mesa Ridge High School on Friday, March 4, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.
Holy Family guard Isabelle Hren gets blocked by Mesa Ridge center Ashley Bowen during the Mesa Ridge and Holy Family girls basketball game at Mesa Ridge High School on Friday, March 4, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.

Just being on the floor with the nation's top high school basketball players was a treat in itself for incoming Sand Creek sophomore Tomia Johnson.

Then, getting a chance to rub elbows with a women's basketball icon kicked it up a notch.

"I saw someone walk into a meeting, and I said 'Oh my gosh, that's Tamika Catchings,'" said Johnson, one of 136 players who were competing for 12 roster spots at this weekend's USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team Trials at the Olympic Training Center. "She's a legend. I used to come here all the time as a kid and watch her and Skylar (Diggins) and Brittney Griner. I'm hopeful to do one day what she did. It's a far-fetched dream, but hopefully I can get there."

Long before winning four gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016), Catchings first had to earn a spot on the junior national team and ascend the ranks. Johnson didn't get the chance to make the roster to compete in the upcoming FIBA Americas U16 Championship after not making the initial cut Saturday, but the 14-year-old guard hopes this isn't her only audition.

"I just want to get better as a person and a player, even if I didn't play my best here," Johnson said. "The best of the best are here. You just have to play your own game and get noticed that way, not by trying to impress anyone."

Johnson was one of three Pikes Peak region student-athletes who participated in the tryouts, joining incoming juniors Ashten Prechtel of Discovery Canyon and Mesa Ridge's Ashley Bowen, both of whom were participating in the event for a second straight year.

And for Bowen, that second chance ended a year of doubt after her debut ended early due to injury.

"I got play this year, and I didn't think they'd invite me back," said Bowen, 6-foot-3 center who suffered a sprained knee during drills last May and was unable to take part in a scrimmage. "I'm glad they did, and it was great to get to play this time. Playing with the best players just helps my level of basketball. You don't get to play against these girls every single day."

Prechtel, a 6-5 center who averaged a double-double and helped lead Discovery Canyon to its best regular season in school history last year, was the only local player to make the first two rounds of cuts as the field was whittled to 64 girls.

The experience from 2016 certainly didn't hurt.

"It's nice having been through it before," Prechtel said. "Coming in, you know what to expect, but it's still crazy. I just want to get better and to as far as I can."

Trials were scheduled to continue with the first of two sessions starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the announcement of the 15 finalists set to take place Monday morning.