When the fifth-grade basketball squad known as the Central Illinois Xpress racks up another win as the only girls team in its all-boys league, tears are often shed.
"After we beat them, some of the boys cried,'' point guard Anne Rupnik told Dylan Dreyer on TODAY Tuesday. "We didn't really like them crying. We just wanted to win, but we don't want to see them cry."
Profiled by The New York Times, the Xpress are 8-2 in their intramural league based in Springfield, Illinois, with a team of nine girls who are 10 and 11 years old. The team plays under the direction of coach Tariq Toran, who is an assistant coach for a local Division III men's college team and previously served as an assistant for a semi-pro men's basketball team. Toran's daughter, Kaleah, 10, is a member of the team, which Toran coaches just like he does when working with adult men.
"I prepared them like they were collegiate men,'' he told Dreyer. "We got the pads out, (and) I started using medicine balls and started using a lot of weighted material to give them just the lure of how it would feel with contact. We were hitting them with the pads like they were at a collegiate practice, and they embraced it and they loved it."
Practices are intense and closed to parents as Toran looks to get the girls prepared to play the game the way he envisions.
"I just wanted to teach them the right way to play basketball,'' he said. "Not the separation from girls versus boys, just basketball being played in its purest form, and that's the correct way."
With their motion offense and their relish for contact, the Xpress show no fear of being the only all-girls team in their league. In fact, they believe it's helped their game as they get older and the competition gets more intense.
"Playing with the boys has made us faster and quicker with thinking and running,'' guard Meghan Wegner said.