Midway through last season, a young CCRI women’s basketball team started to put it all together. The Lady Knights finished strong in the regular season, won the region championship and lost a close game to Lackawanna in the district tournament semifinals.
With a strong nucleus back and ready to go from day one, it’s like last season never ended.
“We started to hit on all cylinders in the second half of last season,” said head coach Kate Lynch. “It’s always a wild card when you come back from the summer. You don’t know if they’ve worked out and done everything they should, but honestly, they came in and just picked up where they left off.”
That’s adding fuel to expectations that were already high.
The Lady Knights finished last season with a 19-12 record, despite the fact that they began the year with only one returning player.
The young players that dominated the roster are now veterans, and they’re ready for more. CCRI has seven sophomores on its roster, four of whom are in the starting lineup.
That alone should make the Lady Knights a contender. If they needed anything extra, their loss to Lackawanna in the District N tournament provides plenty of motivation.
“The girls are working really hard every single day,” Lynch said. “Last year, we did a lot of good things, but everybody was really disappointed in how the season ended. The sophomores are very determined and focused on getting us back there.”
Leading the way for CCRI is sophomore Jahira Smith. The 5-foot-7 guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., burst onto the scene last season and earned second-team All-American honors after averaging 16 points per game and leading the team in assists.
She’s been even better so far this season. Smith has averaged 20.2 points per game.
“The sky’s the limit for her,” Lynch said. “Hands down, I think she’ll be a first-team All-American. She’s very confident and she’s been working hard. I think she’s going to have a great year.”
Smith plays shooting guard for CCRI, and she’ll be joined in the backcourt by Treedy Ward, a 5-foot-5 sophomore from Boynton Beach, Fla. At small forward, Warwick native and former Bay View stand-out Jessica Randall returns after a strong debut season last year. She averaged nearly 12 points per game.
The other sophomore in the starting lineup is Nyjah Porcher, who hails from New Britain, Conn. She also stood out as a freshman, averaging just under 10 points per game.
Those veterans have CCRI a step ahead of where it was last year.
“It’s been a lot easier,” Lynch said. “They’ve really taken a leadership role and they’ve kind of de-briefed the freshmen on what they need to do and what’s expected of them.”
Freshman Alison Littles, from Holyoke, Mass., rounds out the starting lineup. The 6-foot-1 center gives the Lady Knights an added dimension. She’s already averaging 15 rebounds per game, and she was just two blocks away from a triple double in one game this season.
“She’s just been a rebounding machine,” Lynch said. “She’s going to be a big key for us.”
The Knights have three other sophomores in the fold, along with two other freshman. Guard Monique Plummer gives CCRI another veteran presence in the backcourt, while fellow sophomores Lindsay Nash and Jenna Ayala can provide a lot of help in the frontcourt. Freshman guards Alexia Barros and Ahnyya Jackson are looking to make a big impact, as well.
It all adds up to a team that’s poised for big things.
“I think everybody has bought in and really believes in what we can do,” Lynch said. “Every single game, we’re working hard with a goal in mind.”
And it’s working so far. The Lady Knights are 6-0 and have scored more than 100 points four times. The competition will get tougher, but the Lady Knights expect to be ready.
They’re aiming high.
“Big goals,” Lynch said. “We want to win the region, and then our ultimate goal is to make the national tournament.”