The move down to Division II from D-I last year was a welcomed change for the Pilgrim girls’ basketball team, but the results didn’t exactly follow.
The Pats struggled, going 2-14. This year, there are no divisional changes and there’s no need to adapt to a new landscape. Pilgrim is comfortable where it is, knows the competition and thinks it’s ready to take a big step forward. The past is in the past.
“I know our team has had some tough times in Division I and last year, coming back to D-II, I think that was also an adjustment,” head coach Ian Smith said. “I think people felt that coming from D-I to D-II, that it would be easy. I think these girls learned a lot last year and know where to go this year.”
They’ll be trying to get there with a mix of veterans and newcomers, and contributions from just about everybody.
Pilgrim has 12 players on the roster, with three seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen. The common denominator amongst them is their athleticism, as all but one of them played a sport in the fall and nine of them are three-sport athletes.
That was on display this summer, when the Pats competed in the Oakland Beach summer league, with mostly positive results. It provided a chance for the team to come together before the season and also for Smith to see what exactly he had.
Some of the players have also taken individual training sessions and attended clinics, helping the preparations for this winter.
“It was really good for them to play to play together, get comfortable together and learn together this summer,” Smith said. “It seems to have paid off at this point.”
The Pats have six players with varsity experience from last year, and they’re all upperclassmen. Maddy Craik, Haley Donahay and Clare Birney are the team’s three seniors and the three juniors are Alexa Annotti, Megan St. Jacques and Tayla Ferreira.
Both Donahay and St. Jacques were honorable mention All-Division II-Central last season.
The sophomore class is made up of Hannah Page, Erin Plowman, Alexia Martins and Kendra Tantimonico. Two freshmen – Mary Mullane and Jeriann Evans – also made the cut.
All 12 of them will have a chance to get involved.
“I feel like we are extremely versatile in that one through 12, I don’t think there’s anybody that going into the game is going to cause any problems,” Smith said. “I think all 12 can actively contribute and all 12 are expected to contribute on a nightly basis. I think it’s going to be a lot of subbing. Very interchangeable. I don’t think we lose anything making substitutions.”
Of course, some individuals – particularly the returners – do have their own strengths that Smith is familiar with from a year ago.
“We are long and athletic,” Smith said. “Haley’s not the tallest person, but she has a knack for rebounding and she tends to emerge in a crowd with the ball around the rim. The three juniors have all shot up and can contribute at the guard positions and the forward positions. Maddy is very good around the rim and rebounding and positioning herself.”
Scoring-wise, Pilgrim doesn’t have one particular player back in the fold who handled a lot of the load last season, but Smith is hoping that is an advantage and not a detriment.
“I think it’s going to be a season of balance,” Smith said. “I think any one of these girls can be our leading scorer on any given night. I don’t know exactly where the scoring is coming from. Hopefully our style of play will be a little bit different and make that a strength, that it doesn’t matter who scores.”
The Pats will find out soon enough. They have an Injury Fund game on Thursday at home against Cranston East, then play two non-league games next week.
The following week, they’ll compete in the Coventry Credit Union Holiday Classic, before returning after the New Year for another non-league game.
Finally, they begin their league slate on Jan. 7 at rival Warwick Vets.
Comfortable in D-II, they’ll try to make some noise.
“The goal is the playoffs,” Smith said. “I think that’s an attainable goal.”