The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team ended their 2013-14 campaign on a dismal note with some uncertainty about their future.
The Rams lost 11 of their last 12 regular season games and exited the Atlantic 10 Tournament in the first round after a 61-53 loss to Duquesne. Their 7-23 finish was their second-best record with former head coach Cathy Inglese, whose contract was not renewed in March, at the helm. Since taking the reins at URI before the 2009-10 season, Inglese posted a 30-115 overall record with a 6-66 showing in conference play, never amassing more than two victories against A-10 opponents in a season.
The coaching search lasted just more than a month before Daynia La-Force, the first female minority head coach in URI athletics history, was announced as the new head coach on May 7.
“We have the final piece to our puzzle [Coach La-Force] and we’re gonna run with it,” Rhode Island senior guard Megan Straumann said. “We need to put a chip on our shoulder and fight for what we deserve. We needed someone who could take us to the next step. We needed the last piece to the puzzle and she was it.”
La-Force, previously of Northeastern from 2006-14, saw her squad’s greatest improvement during the 2012-13 campaign when they finished above .500 at 17-13, accompanied by a 10-8 record against conference opponents. La-Force earned the CAA Coach of the Year Award after the squad’s fifth-place finish in the CAA, their best since 2004-05.
“I’ve been involved with a lot of programs where taking the women’s basketball program from the bottom to the top was expected of myself and the rest of the coaching staff,” La-Force said. “I know what it takes. It takes changing the culture, it takes having kids buy in and believe in your system, it takes team chemistry. It takes a lot of intangibles that I believe in.”
La-Force was able to achieve at least five road victories in a season four times in her eight seasons, and winning away from the Thomas M. Ryan Center has been a difficult task for Rhode Island. The Rams are currently on a 47-game road losing streak and never won more than four road games in a year under Inglese.
La-Force has held her own against some Atlantic 10 opponents, posting a 9-5 record against teams from the conference and winning five of her last six. Rhode Island is currently winless against eight Atlantic 10 opponents, including reigning conference champion Fordham, La Salle, Dayton and St. Bonaventure. La-Force has faced one of the teams in this category, Virginia Commonwealth University, while with the Huskies and also has knowledge of George Mason University.
“We need to gain a little bit more confidence in our system,” La-Force said. “Our offensive system, our defensive system and overall the way we play. That’s going to be the major thing, just going to change the mindset and get the girls ready to compete.”
La-Force and her staff have already succeeded in bringing new blood to the squad, starting with 5-foot-10 Charise Wilson. Girls Collegiate Basketball Report ranked Wilson as a top-60 point guard and was named the MVP of the Catholic High School Athletic Association last year after averaging 17.1 points and 3.8 assists per game. Rhode Island was last in the Atlantic 10 in scoring offense this past season, only managing 54.7 points per game. The Rams were 10th in the conference with 11.7 assists per game as well.
Wilson led her school, St. Anthony’s, to its first state Class AA championship during her senior season and earned a spot on the Newsday All-Long Island First Team.
“Charise is a great player overall,” La-Force said. “Not only can she create for herself but she can create for the players around her a lot better, and that’s what I’m hoping she can bring to the team.”
La-Force and her team also added 6-foot-3 forward Tyler Raysor to help replace the defensive and scoring presence of Kerry Wallack, the team’s top rebounder who graduated in the spring. Raysor averaged 12.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game during her senior year at Haddon Heights High School in Lawnside, N.J. The Rams averaged 3.8 blocks per game last season, which was good for third in the conference.
Returning players brought in during Inglese’s tenure will help bolster Rhode Island’s roster. Tayra Melendez, who played and captured second place for Puerto Rico at the Centrobasket Championship for Women in Mexico this summer, will continue her leadership role on the court as a junior. Samantha Tabakman will also be back for her third season after shooting 40.8 percent from the field last year.
Rhode Island’s season begins with the URI Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 14-15.