Richmond, VA— Daynia La-Force considers herself a very competitive individual. Last year, the now fourth-year coach’s patience was put to the test following a 6-23 overall record and 2-14 Atlantic 10 Conference mark.
“I think I have a lot more grey hair after last season but I think the good thing about it was that it taught our program the type of culture that we want to be known for and have,” La-Force said. “When you have a lot of issues that are off the court that are affecting your competition, that’s a big lesson to learn and it’s good we learned it early in my time at URI and we can focus on building a more positive future with better players.”
This year’s roster can best be described by one word, new. Rhode Island has 16 players in total, 10 of which are new. Five of those newcomers are freshman.
One of those returners is Marta Vargas a 5-foot-9 guard from Amadora, Portugal who La-Force believes is finally the solution to provide backup minutes for senior Charise Wilson. Vargas has been on the rise with Portugal’s national program and La-Force is optimistic that will translate into her team.
Another freshman La-Force has is 5-foot-11 guard Abby Streeter who shoots “lights down”. Rhode Island shot 28.1% on its 3-point shots last season and Streeter brings immediately credibility to raise that number.
Also joining Rhode Island, are Elemy Colome, Gabrielle Green and Megan Oberg, all of whom redshirted last season.
Colome previously attended James Madison and can provide a potent scoring punch with Wilson that could result in a starting lineup spot.
As far as Green and Oberg, each spent their redshirt year working on their game and have shown noted improvement in practice.
So while all of the new faces in addition to its play last season results in a preseason prediction of 13th among 14 Atlantic 10 team, La-Force strongly believes her team will surprise opponents.
“I think the fact that all 16 players on the roster are players that I recruited fit into my system and into the program at URI, no longer are we transitioning the old into the new,” said La-Force. “We have 10 new players this season, three of which sat out for transfer or redshirt issues, will be new to the court and have a year under their belt with the system. This is a very experienced group that can be effective early.”
There of course are returners that made their mark on this Rams team last year.
First off there is Wilson who despite multiple injuries played in 22 of her team’s 29 games and averaged 19.1 points per-game.
Wilson was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Second Team and it was clear that when she was injured or even early in the season when she had to wear a face mask, that Rhode Island was not the same team.
Admittedly, La-Force stated the injuries showed Wilson’s impact and the powerful player she became, but also gave players such as Ednaija Lassiter an opportunity to play quality minutes.
Other key returners for this Rhode Island team are Nicole Jorgensen (7.0 ppg/5.2 rpg) and Dina Motrechuk (7.0 ppg/4.4 rpg). Motrechuk led the Atlantic 10 last season with 2.5 blocks per-game and had 68 total for the season.
La-Force has challenged her team with five road non-conference games, something which was done intentionally. Rhode Island will have to grow and learn together at a quick rate, especially since the Rams will face five of the top six teams in the A-10 Preseason Poll on the road.
“URI has always done a great job with the non-conference schedule keeping the league RPI up with its competitiveness but also giving ourselves an opportunity to get that at-large bid because you never know when it’s going to happen and you have to make sure your non-conference schedule is prepared for that opportunity,” she said.
It is La-Force’s belief that everything is better this year.
If there is a model that Rhode Island can look at in regards to finding proof that what it is doing is working, the Rams can look no further than their male counterparts which made the NCAA Tournament last season after winning their second ever Atlantic 10 Championship.
“It was inspiring and great to watch them with the run they had late in the season to band together as brothers and complete the task of winning the A-10 Championship,” La-Force said. “Our girls were at every game, watched every video, we cried with them, we laughed with them. I think that really built a lot of character for our kids and we can do it if we stick together. I think the men proved that.”
With everything being better, La-Force does believe her team is better than where it was selected and that spots 5-14 are rather wide open.
“I don’t think the bottom teams will be at the bottom at the end of the season and I think it makes it fun,” said La-Force. “Our goal this year is worry about 5-12, teams we are very capable of beating and just worry about being competitive with the top five at their arena.”