Women’s Basketball Ready for Challenges of New Season

Roger Williams University women’s basketball Head Coach Kelly Thompson gives helpful pointers to freshman Alyssa Grant and sophomore Sam Leone during a preseason practice.

Britney Dixon, Sports Manager

With the 2017 season underway, the Roger Williams University women’s basketball roster took early action to enhance the team chemistry.

The team had a busy offseason starting in the spring with a trip to Europe. Head coach Kelly Thompson was excited to take last year’s team — including the two seniors — to get closure with them and a jump start on the new season.

“It was a great way to try some things out and figure out what we were going to be without those seniors,” Thompson said.

Having seven returning members overseas was beneficial for the team, but according to Thompson, the challenge now lies with getting the six new players accustomed to the team and finding their new identity for the season.

Going abroad was equally as beneficial for 2016 senior Bridget Quilty, who landed a job with the travel company Go Play Sports Tours shortly after returning home. Quilty now works alongside retired RWU soccer coach Jim Cook at the company.

“I told her you just never know what opportunities basketball is going to give you. I was happy for her,” Thompson said.

With the N.C.A.A. Division III limitations, the Hawks did what they could to maintain an out-of-season relationship. As part of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Day of Service, the team volunteered at a local daycare helping clean and take care of the children.

Thompson says the team will continue to take on community service opportunities as the season progresses, such as helping out at the wrestling invitational in the upcoming weeks.

“When you’re helping others it gives you good perspective,” Thompson said. “It’s a good reminder that it is a privilege that I get to coach and they get to play and that we’re doing it here at Roger Williams; not everyone has that opportunity.”

Once the preseason began to creep up on them, Thompson and her assistant coaches knew they wanted to challenge the team. One of the season goals is to change team mentality. The team jerseys display this motive with the word “tough” written across the back.

“When things get tough, we get tougher,” Thompson said. “That’s our motto.”

Coming off a lot of adversity last season, Thompson wants to make sure the team continues to get tougher and challenge themselves to only look toward the future, not the past. In the last few weeks, the team has started to come together to work toward these goals and find their strengths and weaknesses.

According to Thompson, last season’s adversity had more of a long-term impact on the program itself than the team. The coaching staff always makes recruiting a priority, but overcoming these challenges has made this more difficult than in years past.

Looking forward, losing Quilty — Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year — and losing the leadership of Emma Klis is something Thompson is focusing on replacing. Seniors Anna Walther and Mariah Nicholas were All-CCC players last year that are expected to step into these roles.

“I wouldn’t put it past anybody on this team to surprise us,” Thompson said.

University of New England and Endicott College remain the teams to beat this season in CCC play. However, out of conference Thompson has produced the most difficult schedule the program has ever had.

Thompson is excited to challenge the team with a competitive schedule this season. The team will match up against Brandeis University — who has beat the Hawks three years in a row — national number one preseason team Tufts University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who produced over 20 wins last season. University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth also shows up on the schedule after making it to the sweet sixteen last year.

“We’re always trying to focus on the process. Every game we’ll have our smaller keys to winning, but we need to be disciplined on offense and tough on defense,” Thompson said.

Thompson hopes that RWU will be defined as a tough team this season, and to achieve this, they’ll take every game one at a time.

Coming close to several CCC Championship titles, Thompson knew she had to take a new approach to close the gap for this season’s tournament.

According to Thompson, the team may look a little different this year, but with all the returners and talented new freshmen, all their goals are well within reach.

“It is the best group of returners I’ve had top to bottom in my entire eight years at Roger Williams,” Thompson said. “They’re a really competitive group.”