There were eight seconds left on the clock. It was down to a 1-point lead for Tufts University against the Ithaca College women’s basketball team in the NCAA Division III Elite 8 matchup on March 15 in Medford, Massachusetts. From one guard to another, then-junior Samantha Klie swiftly passed the ball to then-freshman Ali Ricchiuti. Ricchiuti drove to the basket, knowing the entire season was on the line for her team, and attempted a reverse lay-up. It bounced off the rim, and thousands of Jumbos fans stormed Cousens Gym as the buzzer sounded.
This was how the 2013–14 season ended for the South Hill squad eight months ago. Tufts advanced to the Final Four, and the Bombers’ best postseason run in program history ended.
Head coach Dan Raymond said Ricchiuti felt like she should have made the shot and that it is one of the motivating factors she has coming into this season.
“I think she’s taken it on very well,” he said. “She didn’t have any excuses, didn’t blame anyone. It is something that affected her. It’s only fuel to the fire.”
Klie said she didn’t regret passing Ricchiuti the ball and the now-sophomore can ultimately learn from the experience.
“We always said after that shot, [she] was the only player on the team who could have made that shot,” Klie said. “It was a hard shot to take, and I trusted her with it. It will only make her better in the future.”
Playing in 29 of a possible 31 games last season, Ricchiuti hopes to build off her strong first-year campaign, in which she led the freshman class with 80 points, 54 rebounds and 29 assists for the season.
After playing all four years on the varsity basketball team at Herricks High School in Searingtown, New York, Ricchiuti was named Nassau County Player of the Year and earned second-team all-state honors in her senior year in 2013.
A multi-sport athlete, she also played soccer and lacrosse for the Lady Highlanders. Ricchiuti said she chose basketball because she had a passion for the sport.
“I started playing around second grade,” she said. “My neighbor used to take me to WNBA games to see the [New York] Liberty play. It was around sophomore year when I started playing more competitive basketball and I knew I wanted to play in college.”
It was there that she learned the move that would eventually open the door for her to play in college. Ricchiuti said her high school coach taught her how to develop a crossover move, something out of the ordinary for many of her peers. The move encompasses dribbling the ball and rapidly changing direction from one hand to the other, creating space against a defender. She would practice the move every day until it became a habit familiar to her.
Raymond was impressed by her skill set and said he heavily scouted Ricchiuti after one of her recruiting visits when she demonstrated her crossover.
“In one of our scrimmages against our scout team she pulled that out against a guy and almost made him fall down,” he said.
Raymond said Ricchiuti has high hopes for herself and does extra work on and off the court to improve her individual game.
“She expects a lot of herself, so therefore we have the same type of feeling,” he said. “There are some high expectations for her this year.”
Klie said she believes Ricchiuti has tremendous potential to succeed this season.
“She flies under the radar and shows up as a huge player,” Klie said. “She could be one of the best players in program history.”
Ricchiuti demonstrated that potential with a beginning to her sophomore season, scoring a career-high 22 points in the team’s season-opening win against William Smith College on Nov. 15.
Ricchiuti said a great deal of her success was due to the three senior All-Americans last season: Mary Kate Tierney ’14, Kathryn Campbell ’14 and Jenn Escobido ’14.
“I think a big part of it was the senior class we had last year,” she said. “They were great players. They just helped you feel comfortable and also helped coach you on the court. It was big having them there.”
Ricchiuti said she gained much from the loss to Tufts in the Elite 8 last season and that the experience made the whole team driven for more.
“You learn from those kinds of games when it’s that close,” she said. “We all knew what it felt like, we know that’s where we want to be. And now we have to work to get there.”
Raymond said he is excited to work with Ricchiuti this season and will hopefully translate her talent and potential into victories on the court.
“Working with an individual who has that athletic ability plus the determination to excel — the sky’s the limit,” he said.