Who’s the strongest collegiate Women’s Basketball team in Rhode Island? While fans of all four DI teams could make cases for their program, this weekend the discussion will be taken onto the court as the four DI women’s basketball teams of Rhode Island compete in the Rhode Island Tip-Off Tournament.
Last year the crown went decisively to Brown University after going through URI and Providence to win it. This year, however, every team has a strong case. In order to see which team is bringing it, we broke down each of the four programs so you’ll know what to watch for this weekend. It’s all here, so let’s see who has the claim to the Quahog Throne!
The Defending Champs: Brown Bears
Last year, the Brown Bears took the Rhode Island crown in the Rhode Island Tip-Off Tournament, going 2-0 by defeating URI in the first round and Providence in the championships. This set a good pace for the Bears, who went on to achieve a 17-13 record with a 7-7 effort in conference. Brown would go on to play in the WBI, going 1-1 and losing in the quarterfinals round to UNC-Greensboro. Not a bad season at all for the Bears and Head Coach Sarah Behn.
This year, however, Behn knows she can’t expect an easy road to repeating. “Anybody could beat anybody,” Coach told the media. “The teams are well coached. We were really proud a year ago to come out on top of both games.”
What to Watch For: Coach Behn knows the stakes, saying that these teams – including hers – are playing for a state title. Fortunately, Behn returns a lot of experience on her roster from last season.
“For the first time, I feel we have a little bit more veterans on the court and a little bit more experience,” Behn commented.
This experience will go a long way for a Brown team that performed well last year. Look for Brown to play an uptempo game and push the pace. Behn’s “explosive players” in guards Shayna Mehta, Justine Gaziano, and Taylor Will should be ones every fan (of any team) should watch. They make up a big portion of Brown’s scoring this year, with Mehta averaging 19.3 ppg, and Gaziano and Will both averaging 17.3 ppg apiece.
The (Not So Under) Dogs: Bryant Bulldogs
Most Rhode Island basketball fans are familiar with Providence men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley and his story of growing up in Providence and becoming the head coach of the Friars. Cooley isn’t the only one in town to achieve a local basketball player’s dream. In fact, he’s not even the first.
Mary Burke is a name every basketball fan in Rhode Island should be familiar with. A native of the state, Burke played for Toll Gate High School and then Providence College, getting the Friars to an 80-36 record during her four years with the team. After making her mark in college, Burke joined Bryant in 1987 as an assistant coach, and was named head coach in 1991. Now in her 27th season, Burke has been named the Rhode Island Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year four times, has helped Bryant transition from DII and DI and keeping the program competitive all the while.
And now, Burke has her sights set on claiming the Rhode Island crown in the Rhode Island Tip-Off Tournament. But for Burke, this is about more than just winning.
“It’s a great way to continue to develop and bring attention to women’s basketball,” she told the media. “I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
Burke says events like this helps elevate women’s basketball in the state, with four conferences represented. And, even though her team only went 1-1 last year (losing to Providence and then beating URI), Burke’s squad is primed to usurp the crown from the Brown Bears.
What to Watch For: While there’s no place for ‘what-ifs’ when thinking about the past, Bryant is a special exception because, prior to the Ocean State Tip-Off, they had beaten the Brown Bears in an out of conference matchup. Had Bryant overcome the Friars last year, they may be defending the crown rather than trying to claim it.
And they do have a strong case to win it. Burke is a seasoned coach who knows how to get the most out of her players. Point in case: last year the Bulldogs went 1-5 at one point in conference, only to recover and win 8 straight, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament by losing to top seeded Robert Morris in the NEC Conference Championship game.
Burke says that, while her team may appear young with five freshman, but with three sophomores, three juniors, and a senior, there’s plenty of leadership to help the new players get acclimated quickly. And, according to Burke, this team has “a taste of what it takes to be successful and get to the conference final.
Keep an eye out for Haley Conners, who Coach praised during the press conference, saying that Conners “had her best five weeks at the end of last year” and will likely be riding that momentum.
The Host Team: Providence Friars
Head Coach Jim Crowley is only in his second year with the Friars, but he knows exactly what’s at stake in the Rhode Island Tip-Off – and he’s ready to bring his team to take on the challenge.
Last year, the Lady Friars went 1-1, losing the championship game to Brown after beating Bryant a day earlier. This year, Crowley’s squad has their sights on finishing what they started a year ago. But, beyond the competitive spirit of the tournament, Crowley notes how special something like this tournament is.
“It’s always a great opportunity when you can have a battle for, basically, the state,” Crowley shared. “[We are] really excited at the opportunity to host and have all these great programs together.”
Crowley’s excitement is understandable. Coach Crowley came in as the 10th head coach of the Lady Friars and was given the difficult task of righting the ship of a program that has struggled with limited bursts of success in the past. In his first season, Crowley went 12-18, including 4-14 in conference play. Crowley’s previous success at St. Bonaventure gives the program a much needed beacon of hope for improvement in a competitive conference landscape. Thus far, Crowley’s team has started strong with a 5-2 record heading into Saturday’s championship rematch against the Brown Bears.
What to Watch For: Last year, Crowley’s team started strong in the season before going on a 3 game skid in the nonconference that started with a loss to Brown. Look for Crowley’s team to come out hungry to avenge last year’s loss and help set the tempo for upcoming conference play.
Crowley feels optimistic about this year, saying”with a full year [of experience] in, we have a chance to be a little bit better.” Crowley noted that the biggest challenge will be the different styles of play from the teams.
Look for Jovana Nogic, a junior guard, to lead the Friars. Currently she’s the leading scorer for Providence at 21.9 ppg. Junior Ny-Asia Franklin will help crash the boards as she leads her team in rebounds, 5 rpg.
Another thing to watch for? The Friars getting their first home win. Oddly, although the Friars are 5-2, those 2 losses both came on their own court. The Friars have won on the road or in a nonconference tournament exclusively this season.
The Ones Ready to Prove Themselves: Rhode Island Rams
Head Coach Daynia La-Force is confident this year. Despite going 0-2 in last year’s Rhode Island Tip-Off (losing to Brown and Bryant), La-Force and her team will be ready to turn heads and surprise.
For La-Force, this isn’t about where they’re playing, because she believes that any fanbase can make this a home game. But it’s not just about a gym the teams will play in over the weekend, it’s about the impact this tournament will have as a whole on Rhode Island.
“For the state of RI, I think it’s great for all of our programs showcase all of our talent,” said La-Force, noting that a tournament like this could “in the future get more Rhode Islanders to our programs.”
State U struggled last season, going just 6-23, including 2-14 in conference. La-Force knows this year could be tough as well with such a young roster, but believes the Rams could surprise a lot of teams thanks to key red shirts and transfers that help diversify the Rams a bit.
“Ten of [my] 15 players are brand new to the floor,” La-Force mentioned, considering her freshman, redshirts, and transfers. Of that though, she feels confident that the “core” five will help provide the on-floor experience and leadership needed to succeed in this tournament and beyond.
What to Watch For: Look for URI to push the ball and the tempo. La-Force is excited that this year she’ll have players that all fit into her system.
“This is the first year I have all kids I recruited on my roster,” Coach noted. “I no longer have kids I didn’t recruit trying to fit in the style of play. All these kids have been recruited to run the dribble drive, uptempo, press, to really be the example of style of play that I want to implement in Rhode Island.”
This could be a great, early season opportunity for this URI squad to put everything La-Force has built into play and earn some on-court success from it.
Look for freshman guard Abby Streeter to contribute to scoring, as she averages 10.2 ppg. Although sophomore center Nicole Jorgenson leads the team with 15 ppg, she has not played since the season opener in a win against UMass Lowell. Instead, junior center Diana Motrechuk will be helping in the post. Motrechuk is a strong shooter who’s only shot under 50% once this season, and just had a season high 14 points on 7-10 shooting in a loss to Dartmouth.
YurView (Cox Channels 4 and 1004) will present the Ocean State Tip-Off Tournament at the following times:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2:
- Noon: Brown @ Providence
- 2PM: Bryant @ Rhode Island
- Noon: Championship Game
- 2PM: Championship Game