It’s been a decade-long run of success for the CCRI women’s basketball team, and despite a new look on the bench and on the court this season, the Lady Knights don’t have any intention of slowing down.
After 10 consecutive Region XXI championships, which included a trip to the NJCAA Division II nationals last season, CCRI has started the 2013-14 season off on a five-game winning streak and has its usual high expectations. Former assistant coach Brittany Brown has taken over as the head coach after NCJAA coach of the year Kate Lynch accepted a job at Molloy College and the Lady Knights graduated a big group of sophomores, including perhaps the best player in program history.
But turnover is a part of the deal at two-year junior college. CCRI is concentrating on the present and the future.
“My sophomores definitely want to get back to nationals,” Brown said. “They definitely want to go for it. Their ultimate goal is to get back to nationals.”
It won’t be easy, especially with the numbers the Lady Knights are working with. They have just seven players at the moment, with an eighth eligible to play after the New Year. Two others were on the team – bringing the total to 10 – but they left for personal reasons.
That gives CCRI little depth, but it hasn’t been too big an issue at this point. The Lady Knights are 5-0 and have won almost all of those games convincingly. They opened the season with a 74-49 win over Central Maine, then followed that up with a 25-point win over Frederick College, a 45-point win over Allegheny and a 48-point win over Bristol Community College. Most recently, they were tested for the first time against the Naval Academy Preparatory School but still came away with a 73-65 win.
“We’ve gotten off to a really good start,” Brown said. “We’re 5-0, we can’t really complain about that. We’re small – we only have eight guards – but we have eight guards that want to play. A coach doesn’t ever want to coach effort. As long as they want to play that makes it better.”
Originally from Michigan, Brown has brought an extensive basketball history to the program. She was an assistant under Lynch the previous two seasons, but was a standout in college before that. She initially played at Labette Community College in Parsons, Kan., where she was an all-conference and all-region player. After that, she transferred to NCAA Division I Florida Gulf Coast University and played there for three years.
After playing some semi-pro basketball, she wound up as an assistant at CCRI and, three years later, is leading the Lady Knights.
“It’s definitely an easy transition,” Brown said. “The returners already know what system we’re running and it’s not like I’m going in being brand new. I already know the staff, the administration, the players. It was easy.”
Brown is tasked with getting the best out of her players as they try to replace the graduated Jahira Smith, who is the program’s all-time leader in points, assists, steals and made free throws. Nyjah Porcher also graduated as the team’s second all-team leading rebounder. A few other key contributors also said farewell.
That said, there are still a few standouts that will help CCRI’s pursuit of an 11th straight region crown. Sophomore co-captains Aynayyah Jackson and Lexi Barros lead the way.
Important pieces of the team last year as freshmen, the two of them have stepped up to lead the charge this year. Jackson is averaging 20.0 points per game while Barros is averaging 18.4. Jackson is also fourth in the nation in three-point shooting at 57.4 percent.
“This is their last year here,” Brown said. “That’s what they want to do – they want to be team-oriented and they want to get somewhere too. They have to step out and take over.”
Starting alongside those two has been freshman point guard Jesse Ossain, from Chandler, Ariz., and she has made her presence felt immediately. Ossain averages 13.4 points per game, good for third on the team.
“She’s doing a nice job,” Brown said. “She’s a pass-first guard. She can score – drive to the basket or shoot a three.”
The one issue that CCRI may encounter is height, as it doesn’t have a player over 5-foot-9 at the moment. Freshmen Amber Edwards is playing in a post spot and freshman Lindsey Danise is also playing down low. Edwards is from Boston, while Danise is from Danbury, Conn.
“I have eight girls who want to play and can play, so I can’t complain about that,” Brown said. “I have no height but I have heart.”
The two players coming off the bench right now are freshmen Jessica Patalano from Exeter and Cranston’s Jess Winegar. Nicole Chamberlain is the eighth player, but can’t suit up until January.
CCRI is doing the best it can with its low numbers. So far, that’s been pretty good.
“It’s tough, but any first-year coach I think with adversity, you’ve just got to get through it,” Brown said. “You’ve got players that want to play basketball, and that makes it a lot easier.”
It’s a long season, and the Lady Knights will have their work cut out for them to match last year’s 25-7 mark – the third-best in school history. CCRI is already 1-0 in the region thanks to its win over Bristol CC. Its next region game will be against Dean on Dec. 5.
“We’re small, so we run and we shoot,” Brown said. “We get the ball out, we run and we definitely penetrate and kick. I can’t complain so far.”