Girls hoops living up to hype


I know that it’s early in the season, but it is becoming clear that our girls basketball teams are going to be factors in the eventual playoffs at winter’s end.

Here is a look at what we have seen in the early going from three specific teams that could be playing for championships in March:

Cranston West

The Falcons were in the state semifinals not that long ago and took a step back last season as a middling team in Division I.

When watching them last year, you could see the pieces in place. You could tell that this was a well-balanced lineup. The problem? Experience. The Falcons just did not have the experience to go toe to toe with the elite teams and lost a handful of close games in the second half because they just did not know how to close things out.

This winter has been different, as the Falcons as of this writing are 5-1 and in first place. They’ve been arguably the best team in the state.

Maia Riccio is one of the state’s most complete players while Olivia Tedeschi-Moran is a high-level point guard that can do a little bit of everything. She’s above average in each aspect of the game.

Then there’s Kyla Buco, the sharp-shooting sophomore that made her presence felt as a freshman. She seems to have put on some muscle since her freshman year and really is becoming more than just an outside shooter, she has been finding ways to score all over the floor. The fact that she’s one of the state’s best shooters is not just a piece to her game.

Another underclassmen making noise is forward Sinayya Chase. Although Chase has been buried in the depth chart by the senior class, she has quietly become a staple to the Falcon lineup. Coach Nerson Santaigo called her “a walking double-double” and when keeping up with the boxscores, she’s been just that.

The Riccio, Tedeschi-Moran, and Buco trio is one of the strongest cores in the state. Chase’s emergence has been huge and the Falcons will need one or two more girls to make a difference, but this is a team that has the makings of a potential state champion … not just a divisional one.

Toll Gate

Prior to the season, the Titans were my top choice of our girls teams to make a deep run. They lost their best player in Adeline Areson before the year started last season and still managed to reach the Division III Semifinals. So far, the Titans look to be right back toward the top of the division again.

Now, Toll Gate has hit some adversity after dropping games to North Smithfield and Narragansett, who are in first and second place, respectively. However, early lumps are not surprising as the team reintroduces Areson and works through replacing last year’s top scorer in Bri Simono, who is up at CCRI this winter.

The Titans were 4-3 as of this writing and in sixth place in Division III. They did pick up big wins over the Lincoln School on opening night then got a holiday win over defending champion Pilgrim … who they will be meeting on Thursday night.

I expect the Titans to compete with anyone in the division and to return to at least the semifinals. Areson is too dominant and the pieces around her are plenty, including girls like Dulce Garcia among others. Division III was a dogfight last winter and is shaping up to be one again this time around. Don’t let the Titans’ uneven start fool you.


The Panthers entered the season confident with new coach Jhamal Diggs and the return of All-Division underclassman Bella Gesualdi.

I covered their opening night loss against Davies. It was a tough one for the Panthers, as they led and controlled much of the game and let it slip away in the fourth quarter. Since then, they have rattled off five straight wins and Davies has maintained first place. It will be a fun race between these two teams the rest of the way and I suspect it will be those two at RIC for the title game in March.

Gesualdi has been lighting up the boxscores and appears to be potentially the division’s best overall player. In basketball, you need elite pieces to compete for championships, and that is exactly what she has proven to be … elite.

Ava Waterman is a well-rounded veteran while Aubree Allen and Hannah Lavergne are also key starters. This Johnston team is deep and experienced coming off an early playoff exit last year.

Diggs’ influence cannot be overlooked, either. He is a former coach of the year and revitalized the Cranston East program in short order, eventually leading him to Rhode Island College last season to coach at the college level. Diggs may be the missing piece in getting Johnston over the top and back to perennial contention.

One last note before I sign off.

The start of this winter has been a tough one, personally. My family, which includes an 18-month old, has been through the ringer when it comes to health. A terrible flu ripped through the house in December, then this past week we were faced with Covid.

Between the two illnesses and the holiday break, I have struggled to get into a rhythm early this winter season, but am optimistic I will be back in full force starting this week. I just wanted to take a moment to explain why you may not have seen me on the sideline yet. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and truly getting back into the swing of things. I’ll see you out there!

pitch, girls, hoops, basketball


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