The Warwick Vets girls’ basketball team didn’t have the highest hopes for last year, due to a young, inexperienced team that was learning the ropes.
With this season set to begin, the hope now is that the year of learning will pave the way for a year of stronger basketball, and a realistic shot to improve significantly upon last year’s 3-15 record in Division II.
And thanks to having nearly every key player from last season back in the fold, optimism is understandable.
“Right away they come into practice, and they know how to execute,” Vets head coach Owen Paquet said. “They came in shape already, and running the plays are second nature to them already, which is nice.”
The only senior to graduate off last year’s team was guard Liz Bailey, who missed a good portion of the season due to injury. She’ll be missed, as will Kristen Gregory, one of the team’s stronger inside players. Gregory suffered an injury during soccer season, and will likely miss the majority of the basketball season.
“She’ll be sadly missed,” Paquet said.
Other than that, though, there’s a wealth of experience. Leading the way is junior guard Casey Bennett, who stepped into the team’s primary scoring role last season.
Now a three-year varsity player, Bennett will be the team’s top offensive option once again.
“Second year running the point, she really settled into her own last year with scoring opportunities,” Paquet said. “And she can dish the ball out.”
On the interior, Paquet is expecting a big season from Katie Gregory, the twin sister of Kristen Gregory.
The two Gregorys played alongside one another last season, but with Kristen’s injury, Katie will be looked upon to be the team’s toughest inside presence.
“Katie Gregory, a senior, has progressed unbelievable for the last four years,” Paquet said. “She’s really shown her dedication and hard work has paid off. I’m expecting big things out of her.”
Not a huge scorer last year, Gregory may also be poised for a stronger year offensively.
“I’m looking for Katie to take some of the pressure off Casey, to be able to finish in a much stronger way this year and to put some points on the board,” Paquet said.
Senior Victoria Flynn should see plenty of time in the back-court, helping out Bennett with some of the ball-handling duties while also providing the team with another scoring option.
“Victoria has been in the program for four years,” Paquet said. “This is definitely her year to shine. She’s very aggressive driving to the basket and she’s got a great jump shot.”
Twins Emily and Lauren Almonte are also back for another year after making big strides a year ago, and they have the versatility to play either guard or forward spots.
Others players expected to make an impact are senior Cassidi Plouffe and juniors Jenna Fontaine, Ricki Beaufort, Jami Derderian and Tara Fernandes.
“Things are progressing quickly, like they should be,” Paquet said. “Things are looking strong right away.”
Last season, Vets started to show its improvement late in the year, as it beat Toll Gate and then upset playoff-bound Tiverton.
The team hopes that momentum will carry over to this year, as the ’Canes will open their season on Friday with a non-league, Injury Fund game against Central Falls at home at 6 p.m.
“We ended on a good note last year with a strong win over Tiverton,” Paquet said. “I look to feed off that adrenaline that we had last year. It’s exactly the same five that finished that game that will be starting this year.”
Vets will then play two more non-league games – Tuesday at Toll Gate and Thursday at West Warwick – before starting league play on Monday, Dec. 17 at home against Classical.
The ’Canes hope it’s the start of a resurgent season.
“We’re always looking to make a playoff run. Right now, we’ll take it game by game and play every minute of every game and try to progressively get better within the season,” Paquet said. “Eventually, we’ll hopefully make a playoff run.”