UConn women’s basketball alumni lead AAU women’s basketball program in inaugural season


Maria Conlon and Ashley Battle met as pre-teens playing basketball on the AAU circuit in the 1990s.

Long before they were teammates in UConn women’s basketball, they competed, traveled across the country for tournaments, became friends through shared flights and hotel stays.

The two helped the Huskies win three national championships from 2002 to 2004. After graduating, Conlon played professionally overseas before becoming a high school coach, while Battle played for various WNBA teams and worked now for the Boston Celtics of the NBA as a scout.

With their playing careers over, the duo are now giving back to the sport that brought them together nearly three decades ago.

Conlon and Battle, along with former Husky Meghan Culmo and former UConn student Stacey Nasser, have spent the last year building BattleCon, a Connecticut-based AAU women’s basketball program.

The program wraps up its first season this weekend at the Under Armor Association (UAA) Finals in Manheim, Pennsylvania, after spending the last few months training local high school players on what it takes to be a great player on and off the pitch.

“Our program is really committed to finding coaches who are committed to the same principles and values ​​that we are in terms of basketball development and to really empowering them with not just basketball but also life skills.” , Conlon said. “It’s really kind of creating a holistic approach to helping that kid be in the best possible position to go as far in their athletic career as possible.”

Conlon and Battle have always talked about starting their own basketball consulting company, but it wasn’t until last summer that they got serious about launching their own AAU program.

In June 2021, news broke across the state’s youth basketball world that a coach from an AAU program was being charged with sexual assault.

As the mother of a pre-teen, Conlon was shaken. She knew there was so much more to AAU, and something had to change. As head coach of Notre Dame of Fairfield, she said she has seen the direct impact of current AAU programs on her athletes and wants to deliver more.

“For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back on ‘We gotta do it’ happened last summer,” Conlon said. “I was like, ‘Enough.’ We need to build something that’s good and works and helps kids like this I couldn’t lay my head on my pillow at night.

Conlon boarded Battle with the idea. She also pitched in Culmo, which was starting its own girls’ basketball camp that summer, and in Nasser, since both remain local in the state. It didn’t take much persuading to get the former Huskies involved.

“Being involved with Maria and Ashley is easy,” Culmo said. “It’s obvious because above all, they are great people. I know them, I knew their work ethic, I know what kind of people they are. … This is the state of Connecticut, where the UConn women’s basketball program is one of the most common things in the state of Connecticut now, so we should have a strong infrastructure for young girls.

Nasser, who has been the associate athletic director of St. Joseph High School since 2016, led the behind-the-scenes administrative work to get BattleCon off the ground, including filing for his LLC.

Each of the women thought back to their own AAU days and what made those experiences so valuable to them. They wanted to create a competitive program, but more importantly, they wanted to help young athletes learn about themselves, their passions, and prepare for the athletic path they would choose to follow.

Former Huskies have created weekly strength and conditioning workouts, nutritional planning, camps and clinics and even run recruiting seminars to help athletes understand what college coaches are looking for.

“You see a lot of trends with travel basketball and just travel sports in general, but specifically kids’ women’s basketball that maybe isn’t getting the best direction,” Nasser said. “We really want to do what we can to help the next generation of basketball players grow, improve as people, improve as athletes and hopefully help them find a way, maybe playing in college, if that’s something they want.”

Conlon and Battle combined their last names for the name of the program and used their and Culmo’s presence in Connecticut youth basketball to publicize the program to all interested athletes and sponsors.

They held tryouts in the fall and got more kids to sign up for their inaugural season during the school season.

In the spring, there were enough registered players for seven different teams ranging from under-12s to under-17s. Coaches were hired and teams began training in May for the summer season.

Notre Dame senior Paige Fourtin opted to play her final AAU season with BattleCon after being coached by Conlon during the high school season. She played on the program’s U17 team this summer along with some of her high school teammates and other players she’s played against before.

“I feel like for our first season, we’ve definitely grown a lot in such a short time. I think it’s super special,” Fourtin said. “I feel like every tournament , we would improve. …Coach Maria teaches me so many things on the court and in life in general, like life lessons, so it’s not just basketball, it’s like you have to work hard to get what you want.

Throughout June and July, teams traveled the East Coast for tournaments, including games in New Jersey, New York, Boston and Kentucky. Outside of competition, teams made sure to schedule team-building activities such as beach days and group dining at restaurants.

“I feel like BattleCon has a family vibe,” Fourtin said. “Like all of my team-mates, we’re all family now and we’ve all got to know each other really well and we have a really good bond.”

While Conlon, Battle, Nasser and Culmo leverage their experiences as Huskies to help younger players on the field, Battle says it can be odd since most players weren’t alive to watch them during their playing career.

“Sometimes they’re a little shocked because I don’t even think they were born when we played and when you look at it that way they have no idea who we are,” Battle said with a laugh. when asked if players ask about their UConn days. “It’s so weird. I’m like, ‘They don’t know us.’ The only person they know is Paige (Bueckers).

The former Huskies are happy with how BattleCon’s first season has gone, but have bigger goals for the program, like finding a centrally located practice facility instead of using Notre Dame and St. Joseph’s gyms for training. train.

“It was really exciting,” Nasser said. “Watching our teams progress, seeing some children progress. Like our whole team is improving, seeing improvement in them, seeing them having fun.

“The kids were great. The parents have been wonderful, and I mean, it’s gratifying to see it come to fruition and to know that they had a great time this summer and maybe improved a bit and even found a little more passion for it.

Conlon, who hails from Derby, wants to see women’s basketball grow in Connecticut. She wants the state to eventually brag about some of the best recruits in the country.

“It’s been a really long time since there’s been a top rookie coming out of Connecticut,” Conlon said. “It’s the long-term goal to really get back to that. Where it’s a place where colleges want to come and recruit, and they know what they’re getting, and the product is good.

For now, though, as former Huskies can look forward to the program’s second season next year, BattleCon remains a reminder of the importance of the UConn connection.

“I am proud to be involved with these other women. Obviously it’s my UConn sisters, but I’m grateful they asked me to get involved in something like this, to give back,” Culmo said. “For me, that’s the most important thing: we want to give back to the young girls of Connecticut.”

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