UPPER MARLBORO – Riverdale Baptist School has long been known as a national powerhouse in girls basketball. Unlike most high school teams, the Lady Crusaders don’t stick close to home – they travel around the United States, playing the best competition the country has to offer.
However, the Crusaders had never traveled abroad until Thanksgiving, when head coach Sam Caldwell took his team all the way to Germany to play three exhibition games.
“It was an epic trip for us because we’ve never done anything like this in our school history,” Caldwell said. “For our girls, for some of them it was the first time out of Maryland, let alone out of the country.”
“Not many high school students can say they went to Germany … so that was definitely big,” said North Carolina State-bound senior guard Chloe Jackson, 17. “And I felt really lucky to be a part of that.”
Caldwell has said it is hard for Riverdale Baptist, winners of 14 national championships, to come up with program “firsts.” But this year has a sort of historic feel to it with both the trip to Germany and three seniors – Jackson, Chania Ray and Khaila Prather – on their way to ACC schools next year. Caldwell said the program has never sent three athletes to the ACC at the same time.
“I think it was a great start to the season and my senior year as well,” said Ray, a 17-year-old guard who will head to Florida State next fall. “And then I just look forward to that experience with FSU, because I know they take an overseas trip every once and a while.”
Caldwell, who previously served in the Navy and was the head coach of the All-Navy and later All-Armed Forces basketball teams, arranged the trip through his connection to the Ramstein Air Force Base, southwest of Frankfurt. The Crusaders paid for the trip with fundraising from basketball camps and clinics. They also received sponsorship from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and Krossover, a company that breaks down game film and produces statistics for sports teams.
While in Germany, the Crusaders played the Ramstein Air Force Base’s women’s team, Ramstein High School and Kaiserslautern High School. All three games were blowouts in favor of Riverdale Baptist, but Caldwell said he wasn’t really worried about those opponents preparing his team for their tough schedule ahead in the regular season. Instead, the big takeaway from the trip was the bonding his players were able to do off the court.
“We went to visit a castle, which was crazy, and [did] a lot of team bonding,” said Prather, 17, a Miami-bound center and forward. “We had Thanksgiving dinner with the troops … we shopped – that’s always fun.”
“They had a ball,” Caldwell said of his players. “They had an opportunity to learn about European culture. They had a chance to experience different foods, and obviously the sightseeing.”
For the Riverdale Baptist players, the trip was yet another perk that comes along with attending one of the best girls basketball schools in the country.
“That was really different,” said senior guard Alysha Berry, 17, of going abroad. “I came from a public high school last year and the transformation [to] playing a college schedule this year has been very unique.
“Riverdale’s very different … they strive to be the best,” Berry said. “It’s a fight every day in practice and I like that atmosphere.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the rest [of senior year] … I think we’re just gonna get better from here and that trip was a great first step,” Berry said.