The Rice Memorial High School girls basketball team sputtered on offense in last week’s loss to Champlain Valley, an anticipated matchup of undefeated Metro Division powers.
Three-year starter and point guard Hailee Barron scored only two points. Cassidy Derda and Tomilayo Akinpetide each reached double figures, but Derda suffered a bruised knee and sat out briefly and Akinpetide battled foul trouble in the 48-44 defeat.
In other words, not the best night for the two-time defending Division I champion Green Knights.
“The best team (Friday night) won,” Green Knights coach Tim Rice said. “As hurtful as it was to lose to CVU, we’ll learn from that and grow from that.”
That process — coach Rice’s favorite word — is made easier by a trio of standouts who possess their own individual talents that make Rice (12-1) one of the D-I favorites.
At 6-foot-1, Derda is an imposing inside presence who has rattled off 17 straight double-doubles while leading the team in scoring (16.9 points per game) and free-throw shooting. Akinpetide (9.9 points) generates most of her production through her athleticism, taking the ball to the basket or finding space in the open floor. And Barron, the lone starter from the past two title teams, is the Green Knights’ facilitator and floor leader, averaging 11.2 points, four assists and 2.6 steals per game.
Together, they hope to carry the Green Knights to a Division I three-peat, an achievement the Catholic school last accomplished from 1999-2001.
“It’s in my mind, but I can’t be thinking about winning the championship. You can’t get ahead of yourself in the game, because it’s a long season,” Barron said. “Can’t start thinking about the end when you are still in the beginning.”
Prior to last season, Akinpetide moved from out of state while Derda transferred from South Burlington, joining Barron on a Green Knights squad that found its groove just in time for a postseason push, closing out on a 10-game winning streak to secure another crown over CVU.
A year older and emotionally stronger, according to assistant coach Mark Pfaff, the trio helped Rice to an 11-0 start, which included gritty victories against Essex and Burlington.
“As coach always says, we’re going to be a target. We just have to go out there and play our game,” said Akinpetide, who is headed to St. Michael’s College next year on a basketball scholarship. “We know what we need to do.”
The loss hasn’t deflated Rice’s confidence. It will get another crack at CVU on Feb. 26.
“After winning last year I was sobbing, I was so happy. As great as that feels, every loss feels 10 times worse,” Derda said. “It makes us that much more hungry to win again. It makes me more determined to work harder.
“If we are playing our best basketball in March, that’s all that matters.”