ROCKINGHAM — Following a seven-game lapse in the latter part of the season, the Richmond girls basketball team pulled off the biggest upset of the conference tournament by defeating No. 3 seed Jack Britt in the first round.
That victory — their sixth and final win of the year — highlighted how much potential the Lady Raiders had on what was a relatively young squad during the 2017-18 season, as sophomore guard Allexis Swiney and four other underclassmen combined for 52 of the team’s 58 points.
Although her team would fall to Lumberton in the next round, head coach Rosalind McDonald felt like the opening-round upset was a step in the right direction in regards to the future of the program.
“That was a huge confidence builder for the girls to be able to play that well,” she said. “I saw that (kind of play) day in and day out at practice, we just weren’t able to carry that great play into some of the games like we wanted to.”
Richmond finished the season with a 6-15 overall record due in large part to, McDonald says, its struggles to be consistent. After splitting the first two games of the year, the team dropped its next four matchups, won two in a row, lost back-to-back games, won two more and then went on the seven-game skid that closed out the regular season.
Of the 15 losses, though, all but four of them were by 10 points or less — meaning the Lady Raiders were a few possessions away from an overall record that would’ve had them preparing for the state playoffs. Instead, missed shots from in close and the free-throw line have them missing out on the big dance for the second time in three years.
“The season didn’t go as well as we wanted to in terms of our overall record and not being able to make the playoffs, but I do feel like our young players gained more experience on the varsity level,” McDonald said. “They learned how to play together, developed within their positions and became more confident towards the end of the season.
“If we could just pull everything together going forward, with each girl contributing as much as they can offensively, we’re going to do great,” she continued. “We’ve just got to bring how we perform in practice with us to the game, because that’s where it matters most.”
McDonald is “very excited” about the team she has coming back next year, which will be led by Swiney, junior Taliah Wall and sophomore Keionna Love — three of the team’s top four scorers this past season.
Richmond will also welcome the full-time services of freshman Jayla McDougald and sophomore Jardai Tillman, who were both called up from the junior varsity squad for the postseason and provided the winning spark off the bench at Jack Britt. McDougald will more than likely take over the point-guard duties while Tillman gives the team some much-needed size in the paint.
Although there weren’t as many three-pointers made in 2017-18 as McDonald would’ve liked, she believes that players’ confidence will increase now that they have more varsity experience. Love was the team’s best shooter, but sophomores Layne Maultsby and Hailey Miller and junior Dannon Shepard showed glimpses of their range.
Also, in her two appearances, McDougald proved that she’s a reliable weapon from beyond the arc.
“It’s so important for any team to have an inside-out game. With so many shooters on the court at the same time, it’s going to be hard for teams to defend,” McDonald said. “It’s going to be pretty exciting watching them play over the next couple of years.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.