Skippers among favorites to contend for state championship
The North Kingstown girls’ varsity basketball team has the talent to bring home a state title, coach Bob Simeone said, and they’ve put in the hard work. Now the Skippers face the question: Can they live up to their promise and become state champs?
Simeone said he is “knocking on wood” that everyone stays healthy, but hopes are high. However, he doesn’t want the players to get ahead of themselves.
“Our motto is one game at a time,” he said.
Simeone and assistant coach Brenda Westberry arrived at North Kingstown High four years ago, and this group of girls is their first graduating class. There are six seniors on the team, including Jamestown’s Kristjana McCarthy and Roma Patel. Other seniors include Allie Barton, Bridget Soares, Morgan McBrier and Taylor Buckley, all of North Kingstown, and Simeone says the upperclassmen are demonstrating the leadership the team will need if this is to be their year.
So far, the team has blown out the opposition. East Greenwich came the closest to making a game out of it, but the Skippers, who are 3-0, dispatched the Avengers by 15 points on Dec. 18, 56-41.
In the nonconference opener on Dec. 13, North Kingstown trounced Prout, 55-21. The margin of victory was about the same a week later when the Skippers took on their first league rival, Westerly, winning 50-26. But it’s early in the season, the coaches cautioned, and the conference schedule will heat up in January.
“We try not to pay too much attention to the state rankings,” Westberry said. “We are favored to win or at least be in the finals.”
But other teams will try to spoil North Kingstown High’s hopes.
“In this league, you can’t discount any of these teams,” she said. “It’s not just about La Salle and Barrington.”
Over the summer, Kristjana developed into a strong post player, Simeone said. In the early schedule, Kristjana will have to work through an injury, but she is expected to be at full strength when conference play starts.
“The sky has always been the limit with Kristjana,” Westberry said. “She’s an inspirational player. She plays with a lot of adrenalin and energy.”
According to Westberry, Kristjana has a chance to become the state’s best center.
At 6 feet, the 17-year-old gives North Kingstown the height advantage over most of their opponents, but she’s not the only weapon in the lineup.
Allie Barton, who was named to the second All-State team last season, continues to be “the heart and soul of this team.”
“Everyone seems to flow when Allie flows,” he said. “When the going gets tough, Allie wants the ball.”
Transfer student Taylor Buckley is also expected to be a factor. She is a senior, but last year she played for the Skippers’ nemesis, Exeter- West Greenwich. Taylor was the 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year. The 5-foot-11 center averaged nearly 18 points, 13 rebounds and more than two blocks per game last season. She led EWG to a 21-2 record and the state semifinals.
Kristjana and Roma say they are delighted Taylor moved to North Kingstown before the season started so she could be a Skipper.
The two starting guards are also players who can make the difference, the coaches say. According to Simeone, junior Brenna Coppola is a good shooting guard and has the skills to rack up a lot of points. Molly Feid, also a junior, plays point guard and is another scoring threat. Sixth player Amanda Bednarick is a hard worker and a team leader, Simeone said.
Kristjana said the state title is definitely her goal, and realistically, the Skippers should have a good chance to “run their number up on the banner.”
On the other hand, Kristjana says she isn’t thinking so much about her individual goals. “It’s early in the season, so it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to get into the groove right away.”
Roma said she wants to improve her basketball IQ this season, and pointed out the one conference win so far was a good victory because varsity has not beaten Westerly over the past seasons.
She anticipates La Salle will be the team that gives the Skippers the most trouble.
“I would agree,” Kristjana said. “And I would add to that: Barrington.”
The Barrington Eagles don’t have the depth the Skippers will bring, Westberry said, but they are a talented team. As for La Salle, Westberry said the Rams are always “ready to play at the right time.”
According to Westberry, both teams have adept coaches.
Meghann Maguire is the third Jamestown student who plays basketball at North Kingstown. She plays point guard for the junior varsity team that also hopes to make a run at the state title.
“Our goal is to get into the championship final,” Westberry said.
Two years ago, the JV squad, with Kristjana and Roma on the team, went to the finals but lost to Bay View on their home court.
North Kingstown’s next opponent is Narragansett at home on Friday, Dec. 27, at 6 p.m.