The Warwick Vets girls’ basketball team had its struggles last year but made a run to the playoffs and almost upset top-seeded Mount St. Charles in the first round.
Part of the reason for that success was the steady play of Jess Arnold and Brittany Alejo, who carried the bulk of the scoring load and anchored the defense. Both were lost to graduation, meaning the ’Canes have some big shoes to fill.
But all is not lost. Another reason for Vets’ late success last year was the improvement that turned young, untested players into solid contributors.
As those players take center stage this year, they’re hoping to build on that improvement.
“It’s tough to recover from losing Jess and Brittany – they were a great combo,” said head coach Owen Paquet. “But we can definitely regroup. We’ve got some good players coming back, and they got great experience last year. Hopefully, they’ll take that experience and build on it.”
Arnold and Alejo weren’t the only seniors that Vets lost from last year’s team; six other players also graduated. Those losses have left the team a little thinner, with only eight players on the varsity roster, but there’s enough experience to create some optimism.
Sophomore Casey Bennett started from day one as a freshman and came into her own as last season went on. Bennett is sliding over to point guard this season, and Paquet thinks she’s poised to continue her improvement.
“She played a lot as a freshman and got some really good experience,” Paquet said. “There’s no hesitation with her anymore. She’s going to the basket strong and she’s shooting the ball when she needs to. So Jess Arnolds’ shoes are going to be filled somewhat.”
Twins Katie and Kristen Gregory will also be trying to carry over strong seasons. Last year as sophomores, they emerged as solid inside players, and their height will be an asset for the ’Canes.
“Hopefully we can create some mismatches with them,” Paquet said.
Another set of twins, sophomores Emily and Lauren Almonte, should also give Vets a strong inside presence. Senior Jen Kittila and juniors Victoria Flynn and Cassidy Plouffe will also be pushing for playing time in various spots.
“Height and the competitive attitude are the biggest keys right now,” Paquet said. “There’s definitely a competitive atmosphere with the girls and that can go a long way.”
Paquet doesn’t know exactly what style fits his team the best at this point, but he thinks they’ll be flexible.
“We’re going to take it game-by-game and look at the match-ups,” he said. “We’re in great shape, so I think we can push the ball if we want to. But we also don’t want to get into a lot of shoot-outs. So we’ll take it one at a time.”
It may take the ’Canes some time to find their groove, but Paquet expects it to happen sooner rather than later. The team has impressed him since the very first day of practice.
“You would think it would take a while, but I don’t really think it’s going to take us too long to find an identity,” Paquet said. “Sometimes it takes until Christmas before they’re in basketball shape, but these girls came in running hard and in shape already. That’s a big positive.”
And it’s another thing the ’Canes can build on. However it all shakes out, Paquet just wants to see the improvement continue. Nearly everybody on the roster will be back on the team next year too, making this year an important step.
“The best thing is that almost everybody is coming back next year,” Paquet said. “The goal is to get them a lot of experience, build that chemistry and start jelling. Hopefully, we’ll execute and play well.”
Vets will begin the season Thursday with a non-league game against Pilgrim at 4 p .m. at home. The ’Canes will visit Scituate next Wednesday before opening league play on Dec. 16 at home against West Warwick.