With 12 freshmen and only one returning player, the CCRI women’s basketball team knew there would be a bit of a learning curve heading into this season.
That’s been the case so far, as the Lady Knights have lost two of their first three games while trying to assimilate the majority of their team into the culture of college basketball.
But, even in just the small sample size of those three games, CCRI head coach Kate Lynch has seen her young team take drastic steps forward, giving her plenty of hope as the season continues to progress.
“I expect them to struggle a little bit with learning,” Lynch said. “But, honestly, they’ve been doing very well. They’re jelling well on and off the floor and that’s all I can ask for right now. They’re giving me their best effort every day, and I’m excited about it.”
CCRI dropped its season opener on Nov. 12 to Maryland’s Frederick College 73-69, and then followed that up with a loss to Alleghany 62-51 the next day, in a game that was also played in Maryland. Last Wednesday it got its first win with a 56-42 victory over Orange County Community College.
“I think every game we’ve learned a little something about ourselves,” Lynch said. “Whether it be, we’re trying to string together 40 minutes as opposed to 20, 25, or 10-15 minutes here and there, that’s a growing process as well.”
CCRI’s one returning player from last year’s 12-16 team is sophomore Lauren Masse, from Woonsocket.
She’s been coming off the bench as a guard and has provided the type of leadership Lynch was hoping she would as the team’s only veteran.
“She’s a great leader on and off the court for us,” Lynch said. “I’m looking to her for some three-point production. She’s a very, very good shooter.”
In the starting lineup, Warwick’s Jessica Randall is playing the power forward spot and has immediately become one of the most consistent performers.
Randall, who was the MVP of the state tournament at Bay View for the 2008-09 season, played at Worcester Academy two years ago and then took a year off to attend Arizona State University.
When Lynch heard that she was returning to Rhode Island, recruiting her for the team was an easy choice.
“She came back home, and she’s probably one of the best pick-ups I’ve had,” Lynch said. “She was home, I gave her a call and she walked into the office and now she’s starting. She’s doing really well.”
Randall is joined in the frontcourt by Hope Valley’s Krista Trenholm and Jahira Smith, from Norwich, Conn.
Smith has already put up big numbers, most notably in the win against Orange County in which she had 16 points, 16 rebounds and five steals.
“I’m thinking by the end of the season, she’s going to put up some numbers,” Lynch said. “She’s one of our captains and she’s one of our best players right now.”
In the backcourt, Monique Plummer, from Fairfield, Conn., is starting at shooting guard while Boynton Beach, Fla., import Cartrecia Ward is running the point.
“She’s a 5 foot 2 little quick, quick guard from Florida,” Lynch said of Ward. “Despite her size, she can get in there. She’s very, very quick, and we like to run the ball a lot.”
Besides Masse off the bench, Lynch has been getting contributions from Ashley Welly, who is from Coral Gables, Fla., and Nyjah Porcher, from New Britain, Conn.
Porcher has the ability to provide a big-time spark.
“She’s a 5’9 guard,” Lynch said. “She’s coming along really well. She’s pushing the basketball and she’s shooting really well. She had 15 points off the bench last week.”
Former Warwick Vets star Jess Arnold and former Cranston West standout Jess Winegar are also on the team.
And expectations for everyone are high, regardless of the inexperience.
Lynch has intentionally scheduled difficult opponents along the way, including the early season games in Maryland and extending to two games with New York’s Genesee Community College.
“I just think if we can hang with those teams down there, we can come back up here and make a big impact,” Lynch said.
The team does have some goals. Lynch has put an emphasis on academics, and she wants success there to come first and foremost. On the court, she knows that excelling in the non-flashy parts of the game helps teams gain separation from the pack.
“Defensively, I want to hold teams to 55 points and under,” Lynch said. “We want to do the little things. We want to out-rebound people and box out and get through screens the proper way. I know I nitpick, but I think in the end it will help us out.”
CCRI’s next game is on Friday night against Mercer CC at the Mercer Mixer. The Lady Knights will then play Brookdale the following day.
They’ll have one more game after that – against Massasoit CC on Dec. 1 – before finally playing their home opener on Dec. 7 against Dean at 6 p.m.
By then, CCRI hopes to be even further along.
“We’re trying to find who we are,” Lynch said. “I think we’re beginning to find who fits where and what fits our personality as team. I haven’t had to tailor any expectations, and I don’t want to.”