Senior forward Jenn Escobido guards freshman guard Ali Ricchiuti during their women’s basketball team practice Feb. 6 in Ben Light Gymnasium. Ricchiuti crosses over and Escobido swipes for a steal, losing her handle momentarily but then regaining it. Simultaneously, Escobido offers her teammate some advice and demonstrates techniques, a teaching method which has helped Ricchiuti and her fellow freshmen on the team develop into productive players off the bench.
Senior guards Mary Kate Tierney, Elisabeth Wentlent and Kathryn Campbell join Escobido as leaders for the Bombers. Last season as juniors, the team finished with a 27–3 record, won the Empire 8 Conference Championship Tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the Division III NCAA Championship Tournament before losing in overtime to No. 19–ranked Williams College on March 8.
Ricchiuti said having a solid core of captains with NCAA tournament experience is beneficial to the development of younger players.
“It’s like having a coach on the court at all times,” she said.
Head coach Dan Raymond has applauded the initiative his seniors take to be leaders of the squad. He said each captain brings her distinct personality to the team, and the continued effort to help develop the younger players puts pressure on opponents to improve.
“There are so many facets to what [the young players] provide for us,” he said. “It’s not just what everybody sees here on the game floor, but it’s also in practice. Their continued improvement means that the players have to improve, so it’s that cycle that’s in a really good place right now and cycling up.”
Ricchiuti is not the only first-year player thriving in this system. Freshman forward Erin Ferguson was named Empire 8 Women’s Rookie of the Week on Feb. 10 for her contributions to the team’s three wins from Feb. 4–8. She was efficient off the bench for the Blue and Gold, averaging nearly eight points and four rebounds while only playing 13 minutes per game.
Ferguson said the seniors are supportive of younger players, but they don’t hesitate to take charge on the court if the team is struggling.
“[The seniors] help us when we get down on ourselves, and they’ll take the team on their shoulders if we need them to,” Ferguson said.
The Bombers have now won 12 straight games. From Feb. 14–15, the seniors played their final two regular season home games against Elmira College and Utica College. Junior forward Geena Brady said the energy the captains had during that stretch extended to the whole team.
“Our seniors lead by example and by how hard they play,” she said. “We see how fired up they get, and that makes us fired up. It was great to win for them during Senior Weekend.”
Senior players have encouraged Ricchiuti to be more aggressive when driving to the lane and getting to the hoop more. They also told her to take more shots and trust in her ability. Ricchiuti said the tutelage of her senior teammates has helped her improve drastically.
“They’ve definitely helped me with having more confidence and being more aggressive on offense as well as defense,” she said.
Ricchiuti did not score in her first six games as a Bomber, but as the season went on, Ricchiuti said, she found herself playing more and converting more field goals.
Campbell said she is excited for what Ricchiuti can bring the team by providing a well-rounded scorer on the court while the starters rest.
“I think she can be a huge threat going forward now that she’s got some confidence in her game,” she said. “She can go off of the dribble, she has an outside shot.”
Tierney’s eyes lit up as she talked about Ricchiuti’s talent. She said Ricchiuti’s contributions can continue the team’s string of success.
“She’s athletic, she gets to the basket and she’s just a good hardworking kid,” Tierney said. “That’s something that is always important to have on your team.”