The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team (13-8, 5-4 Atlantic-10) under first-year head coach Daynia La-Force have already nearly doubled their win total from last season (7) as the upturn continues.

La-Force came to URI by way of Northeastern University, where she most recently helped guide the Huskies to a 17-13 record while receiving Coastal Atlantic Association Head Coach of the Year honors. She inherited a squad that went 30-115 under former head coach Cathy Inglese, along with a 6-66 posting in A-10 play.

With La-Force also came the arrival of two freshmen who have been major statistical contributions for the team this season, guards Charise Wilson and Dominique Ward. Wilson has started all 21 games for Rhode Island in her freshman year plugging in a team high average 34.1 minutes per game. She also leads the team in points per game with 16.6 and assists with 2.6 per game while tallying 4.4 rebounds per game in her first season. She most recently poured in 33 points for the Rams in a 70-58 win over the University of Massachusetts last night.

Ward has also seen major contributions for a freshman, starting 15 of 21 games played while averaging 5.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.

“It feels really good to have success come our way especially since I know how hard we have been working for this,” senior captain and guard Megan Straumann said. “It’s been a long time coming. We received some missing pieces to the puzzle and it feels so right this year.

La-Force has her team holding opposition to an average of 58.2 points per game as opposed to last season’s 60.2. The slight decrease is a major reason the women’s basketball program is winning many games they typically would have lost last season. Rhode Island was 1-8 in games decided by seven points or fewer last campaign, but have posted a 5-1 record in such games this year.

“The upperclassmen remain leaders both on and off the court,” La-Force said. “They are great role models for the younger players.  They work hard in practice and always give maximum effort.  This has helped the team prepare for competition.  Because of their past experience they are aware of the work ethic and focus needed to remain successful.”

Upperclassmen contributions have been crucial for Rhode Island. Junior Tayra Melendez has poured in 7.4 points per game and pulled down 6.1 boards per contest to become the leading rebounder. Junior Samantha Tabakman has also averaged 7.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Melendez had 12 against UMass while Tabakman scored 16.

A major loss for the Rams, though, is that of Straumann, who went down with a season-ending injury after averaging 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, along with 15 assists in the 10 contests she started.

“I feel as though I have given my heart to this program and I intend to keep doing just that, “ Straumann said. “Sharing what I know about the game to my teammates and helping us to keep rolling, help them to keep believing. Unfortunately my career as a player as come to an end due to injury but I am dedicated to making my teammates feel like I am still out there with them.”

Wilson has helped make up for what the team has lost with Straumann going down, leading the team in scoring and total assists. Junior Symone Bullard and senior Sydney Lewis have aided in filling the void as well, with each averaging more than seven points per game.

“Coach La-Force and the rest of staff believe in who we are as players and what we individually bring to the table,” Straumann said. “As a player that feels really good. Coach La-Force is one of those coaches that looks you in the eye and tells you ‘you’re going to hit the next shot’ and you can’t do anything but believe her.”

Rhode Island has shown their confidence in both victory and defeat.

The Rams pulled off of a 57-45 victory at the Patriot Center against George Mason University on Jan. 24, with Wilson putting up 20 points. Lewis added 15 points and nine rebounds, and Melendez led the way with three assists.

Rhode Island dropped a close contest a few days later on Friday against the University of Richmond, despite Wilson’s 14 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. The Rams fought back from multiple deficits during the game, a feat they rarely accomplished last season.

“We need to remain tough and physical with our opponents,” La-Force said. “We need to remain focused during adversity and believe we can win.”