The Pilgrim girls’ basketball team is preparing for another challenging year in the state’s highest division. The Pats, a solid D-II program for several years, moved up to D-I last year.
It was a struggle then, and it may be a struggle again, but at least the Pats have a full understanding of what they’re up against.
“The girls are a little more adjusted to it now,” said new head coach Ian Smith, who takes over after six years as an assistant. “I think last year, they knew it would be different but they didn’t really know what it was going to be like, in terms of the speed and the talent. I think they understand that now, and they know what they have to do. They have a little more perspective.”
That should only help as the Pats try to rebound from an 0-18 campaign last year.
Smith takes the reins from Steve McManus, and he inherits a solid squad. While the Pats don’t have a ton of experienced depth, they’ve got some talent back from last year, and they’re hoping to be able to compete.
Senior guard Danielle LeBlanc leads the way. Despite Pilgrim’s struggles last year, LeBlanc established herself as one of the top players in the league. A starter since her freshman year, LeBlanc averaged 18 points per game last season.
“She’s one of the most athletic people in the school,” Smith said. “She works hard offensively and she plays great defense. She’s not afraid – she’s willing to go down and rebound and she’ll play the other team’s best player on defense. Whatever needs to be done, she’ll do.”
LeBlanc’s supporting cast should be able to help the cause. While several starters graduated, four players are back after seeing significant minutes last season. Giulia Garcia, Betsy Heidel, Stefani Quaine and Katelyn Reph should all contribute this season.
“Danielle is our offensive leader, and then we’ve got some juniors and seniors who are going to have to step up,” Smith said. “They know we’re up in Division I and they know what they have to do.”
Several other players could make a push for playing time, but Smith doesn’t quite know how the lineup will shake out at this point.
What he does know is that the Pats will be focusing on defense. When they were having success in D-II, a tough, hard-nosed defense was a trademark. At the D-I level, it’ll be even more important.
“We’re working really hard on defense,” Smith said. “We know we’re playing against the best players in the state. Our best bet is to play good defense and try to slow them down. We want to play tough defense all the time.”
That should help the Pats stay competitive, but whatever happens when the games begin, they’ll keep working.
“Things are good,” Smith said. “The girls are buying in and I’m excited about that.”
Pilgrim will open the season with a non-league game against former D-II rival Warwick Vets. That game is scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m.
League play begins the next Wednesday on the road against Chariho.