First-place Skippers to face Rebels
With the Division I South title on the line Thursday, the North Kingstown girls’ basketball team is looking for revenge against the Rebels.
South Kingstown High (12-3 in division, 13-4 overall) edged the Skippers 47-44 in their first meeting this season in an overtime duel at North Kingstown. The Skippers’ Brenna Coppola hit a field goal at the end of regulation to prolong the game, but overtime was decided on free-throw shooting, assistant coach Brenda Westberry said.
But that defeat – followed by another disappointment earlier this month when the Skippers lost 77-64 to Bay View – galvanized North Kingstown’s determination, according to head coach Bob Simeone. Right after the Bengals game, the Skippers started playing up to their ability, he said.
That might sound hard to believe, he allowed, given the fact the Skippers have so far dominated the opponents and established their team as one of the state’s best. But in spite of all the success, the coaches felt they still had room for improvement.
The team really came together for the La Salle game two days after the loss to Bay View when the Skippers stunned the Rams, 52-44. It’s the first time in recent memory that North Kingstown has defeated La Salle, Simeone said.
“That game put them over the hump,” he said.
According to Simeone, the players have always had the confidence. The coaches repeatedly tell them they’re as good as anybody in the state.
“But they put pressure on themselves,” he said.
In the past, if a few things in a row went wrong, their game could unravel. That’s not the case anymore, he said.
Jamestown senior Kristjana McCarthy has been a “powerhouse” going into the second half of the season. The coaches anticipated she had the goods to become the best center in Rhode Island, but she was coming off an injury at the beginning of the year. Lately, however, McCarthy has been playing up to her potential and has developed into one of the team leaders, Simeone said.
The Skippers enjoy a height advantage over most opponents, with McCarthy at 6 feet tall and Taylor Buckley, a 5-foot-11 firstyear transfer student.
“Height always helps,” said Westberry.
Point guard Molly Feid has also matured. In the past, opponents could rattle her by throwing on the defensive press, but she’s learned to stay cool and take good care of the ball, Simeone said. “We have very few turnovers now.”
They’ve also benefitted from some unexpected help from Aggie Hicks, just a freshman. She is rotating into the varsity games at the forward position and has been playing about six minutes every game. Also, the Skippers have Alexandra Barton, who Simeone calls the “heart and soul of the team.”
According to Westberry, the team has been “basketball by committee,” with the entire lineup giving “110 percent.” The Skippers also bring a “collective intelligence” that makes them difficult at times, she said.
The Skippers (13-2, 18-2) have their sights set on the state title, and are heading into the playoffs as one of the top contenders.
“We’re sort of on track,” Westberry said. “We knew we would be a strong team.”
North Kingstown has a crop of returning seniors and juniors on the team, and most have been playing together since their freshman year. They have developed their ball movement, defense and basketball IQ together over the years, she said.
The Skippers have a little advantage at this point in the season because four of their final five games are at home. After they get past the Rebels, they play Chariho on Sunday, March 2, and finish up the season against Ponaganset and Westerly.
Senior night is going to be an emotional time, Westberry said. This is the first team the two coaches have taken from freshman year through their highschool careers. Five of the seniors have been together all four years. Although they may have started out as “raw, unskilled” talents, they’ve blossomed into mature adults and skilled athletes.
Buckley is going to play college basketball in Chicago with a Division II school. Morgan McBrier has signed with Iona to play soccer. McCarthy has not decided yet on a program, but Westberry feels she has a future.
“Any college coach would be excited to have her on a team,” she said. “And she’s a very good leader.”
For now, they’re concentrating on winning one game at a time as they head into the playoffs.
“There’s no doubt playoff time brings a different feel and flavor,” she said. “You cannot go into a game and take for granted any of the teams.”
According to Westberry, Bay View and South Kingstown are two of the top contenders. Also, Barrington and La Salle both have excellent coaches with playoff experience, she said.
But it’s not always the favorites, she added. The Skippers can’t dismiss the teams that play good street basketball and have nothing to lose.
The girls’ junior-varsity team also went to the playoffs but lost in the first round.