With sports at a two-year college, the turnover every year is substantial. Sophomores don’t grow into juniors and seniors; they either call it a career or move on to a four-year program.
Yet, despite that situation, in which no player helps out on the field for more than a pair of seasons, the CCRI women’s soccer team has managed to find consistency. Amidst a lack of continuity, CCRI has won 12 consecutive Region XXI titles.
This season, graduation struck again in a big way, but the goals and expectations haven’t changed. CCRI is hoping to turn 12 straight into 13, and then see if more success follows.
“We don’t have a junior or a senior coming into the camp,” said head coach Dennis Grassini, who is from Warwick and is entering his 20th year at the helm. “We only have our sophomores. The kids are working hard.”
Joining Grassini on his staff is longtime assistant coach Kathy Bannan, also from Warwick, but the team itself enters the season with eight returning players and 11 newcomers. The Lady Knights are also coming off a season in which they went 10-5-2 and advanced all the way to the district finals, where they fell to Monroe College.
But along the way, CCRI hit a speed bump, losing its first Region XXI game in many years. It didn’t de-rail the team – it still captured the region crown – but it showed that winning the region is not a foregone conclusion.
If CCRI wants to do it again, it will need to earn it.
“I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched,” Grassini said.
The Lady Knights won’t be able to lean on Caitlin McGarry, who graduated after two standout seasons and earned All-American honors as well. Last year, she led the team with 11 goals and 18 assists.
Also gone are key contributors like Brittany LeClair and Jess Sandin, leaving CCRI with some big holes to plug.
“We lose a lot every year,” Grassini said. “It’s a big turnaround for us. We’re a two-year school, a transition school. We understand that.”
But the Lady Knights also have some talent on the roster that should go a long way toward easing those losses.
Headlining that group is Paige Oram, from Burrillville, who scored nine goals and had three assists a season ago on her way to National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-North Regional Team honors.
Oram is a captain, along with fellow sophomores Betti Worth, a midfielder from Manchester, England, and Alex Place, the team’s goaltender who is from East Greenwich.
Last year, Worth had seven goals and three assists, while Place had a 1.41 goals against average.
“Three good leaders,” Grassini said. “We’re relying a lot on our returners, of course.”
In particular, the team will lean heavily on Worth this season. After a solid first season, she’s poised to break out in a big way.
“I see our strength in the midfield with Betti Worth controlling the middle of the field,” Grassini said. “She’s a player. She’s a bona fide Division I NCAA player. She’s come into camp very fit, very strong. She’s got good size. She’s going to be quite marketable. I’m sure she’s going to hook up with some Division I program.”
Another player Grassini is eying for a big year is former Pilgrim standout Jessica Hammond, who is also entering her sophomore season. She could be a dangerous goal-scoring weapon.
“She’s come in very fit,” Grassini said. “Probably one of the most fit people we have right now, and she’s got some good size. We’re hoping she can be a force this year.”
Other returners who should make an impact are Missy Richards, a midfielder from Coventry, Erin Rodrigues, a defender from Tiverton and Jen Kittila, an outside midfielder from Warwick Vets.
Then there are some newcomers, with Narragansett’s Carla Porras leading the pack. She can play either midfield or forward, and should be able to step right in for the Lady Knights.
“She’s a very talented young player,” Grassini said. “Looking for big things from her.”
Lauren Cattani from Cranston West and Selena Canales and Estephany Mejia from Cranston East are also in the mix, as is Pilgrim’s Talia Geremia.
Ashley LeClaire – the sister of Brittany, who played at CCRI the last two years – should contribute, and her former Westerly teammate Sarah Jacques is serving as the back-up goaltender.
Others include Middletown’s Riley Smith, Central’s Stepheanie Perez, Cumberland’s Taylor Lopes and Lauren Rodriguez, a midfielder from California.
“We’re looking to hopefully win our 13th straight region title and make it to district playoffs,” Grassini said.
The regular season begins on Saturday, where CCRI will play the first of two games in Maryland. It will take on the College of Southern Maryland that day, then play Harford Community College on Sunday. After that, it will head to the Bronx to play Monroe College before finally heading home for a game against ASA College on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
It’s going to be a tough road off the bat, and it won’t get much easier as the season progresses. CCRI’s schedule is loaded with Division I teams, and its district is stronger than it has been in the past with the addition of Monroe to the group.
“It’s not going to be an easy season,” Grassini said. “I’ll tell you that right now.”
The Lady Knights have already played one scrimmage, against the U.S. Coast Guard, and lost 2-1. Worth scored the only goal on a header off of a cross from Porras.
Despite the score, Grassini was pleased with how the game went. It was a start to season that, if all goes according to plan, will see the Lady Knights winning yet another region crown and perhaps even more.
At the very least, that’s the goal.
“It’s where you end that counts,” Grassini said. “Not where you start.”