CCC crown in sight for RWU

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Roger Williams
Roger Williams hopes to be the last team standing at the end of the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament.
RWU athletics photo

By Matt Noonan

Something had to change.

After ending its season once again in the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament, Kelly Thompson, the coach of the Roger Williams women’s basketball team, felt her program needed to shift in a different direction.

The team needed to work harder – Roger Williams clearly worked hard last season, but Thompson and her staff believed this year’s squad needed to work even harder.

Thompson also felt her team needed to be both mentality and physically stronger, too – both words (mental and physical) are cemented on the back of each student-athletes’ practice jersey.

And making things a tad bit tougher for this current group has helped the Hawks once again position themselves for a run at the conference title later this month – they entered last weekend’s tilt against Wentworth Institute of Technology riding an impressive nine-game winning streak, which stretched to 10 consecutive wins to bump their overall ledger to 18-3.

“We really tried to make everything tougher this year,” said Thompson. “We ramped up all the physical stuff that we do in the preseason and during practice, and we put a lot more emphasis on some of the mental sides of the game, so I think it is really, really important for us going into (our final few games to) remain extremely focused on what we need to do.”

And what the Hawks must do down the stretch is continue to exhibit both mental and physical toughness, as well as its resiliency, too - yes, this squad needed to be resilient at the end of last month to pull out some important conference victories against Salve Regina, University of New England and Western New England.

Said Thompson with a big smile, “We are really resilient.”

In all three games, the Hawks needed to overcome a slow start to defeat their conference foes – in fact, they needed overtime to secure a season sweep of the Golden Bears. “We found a way,” said Thompson, of her team’s hard-fought win against WNE.

And if one were to dive even further into these three particular wins – or perhaps the squad’s 18 victories – they would see it has been a total team effort thus far.

Sure, the squad misses last year’s CCC Player of the Year Bridget Quilty, who graduated last spring, but the team has managed just fine without her, thanks to its senior co-captains Stephanie Bramante, Anna Walther and Becca Ritchie.

All three student-athletes hope their final season will result in a CCC crown – it would be the first for the program – as well as a trip the ‘big dance’ (the NCAA Tournament), too. All three captains were in high school when the Hawks last appeared in the tournament as an at-large bid in March 2014.  

“We all knew the goals we were working towards (entering this season) and we knew that we were going to have to take it one day at a time,” said Walther. “Each day that we are coming into practice, we have to know what we are setting up to do, but also keep the playoff games and championship games in the back of our minds, but know that we are not going to get there unless we are playing well in practice and doing what we need to do in the next game.”

Added Ritchie, “I think the most important thing is that we need to stick together.”

And one of the things that has helped this current group of Hawks gel – or as Ritchie said, “stick together” – is from studying top tier opponents in the region like Amherst and Tufts, while applying portions of their game to the Roger Williams game plan. Both captains felt they learned a lot about what it takes to be successful from competing against the Jumbos earlier this season in Medford, Massachusetts, but also from playing pick-up basketball with them last summer.  

Walther said she also gained a better understanding of resiliency from watching Amherst compete against Mass-Dartmouth in last year’s NCAA Division III sectional final.

“Coach said we are resilient this year and (that’s what I saw) from them as well,” said Walther.

“They were always playing together, they were always playing selfless and they don’t let down on any play and they always have that next-play mentality that we’re striving to have as well.”

It’s not a bad thing to look up to Amherst or Tufts – you can also throw Bowdoin in that mix, too – but Roger Williams, similar to Mass-Dartmouth and other teams in the area, hope to one day compete with the top tier of New England teams and enjoy similar success, both in conference and non-conference play, as well as in the NCAA Tournament, too.

If one were to glance at the Hawks’ past few seasons, they would see a squad hovering around 18 wins per year – that is under the direction of both Thompson and the current senior class. They have enjoyed success in the previous three seasons, but this year just seems a tad bit different – maybe because of the way their season concluded last year with a one-point setback (44-43) to Western New England in the CCC semifinals? Or maybe, it was because Thompson had additional time to dissect last year’s campaign with her staff for months?

As a member of the national committee, Thompson is constantly surrounded by some of the best basketball minds, including those from the New England Small College Athletic Conference. And from picking the brains of some of the best coaches or individuals she respects and looks up to, she has found a way to mold the Roger Williams program into what she feels could be in for an exciting final few weeks of the 2017-18 season.

Said Thompson, “Being on the national committee has allowed me to kind of expand those friendships and network more, and give me some perspective that I may have not had if I wasn’t on (this committee), so I have had lots of people be able to give me some insight on our team.”