The Rhode Island College women’s basketball team will have a difficult time defending their first-ever Little East Conference championship from last season after graduating five seniors, including four starters and the teams three leading scorers. However, head coach Marcus Reilly has re-stocked his roster with an infusion of elite local talent from R.I., leaving the Anchorwomen poised to make another run in the NCAA Tournament this winter. The three recruits expected to make an immediate impact for the Anchorwomen are Vandell Andrade and Rachel Battista from Bay View Academy, and Danielle Le Blanc from Pilgrim High School.
LeBlanc began her high school career playing for the Division II Pilgrim Patriots. She led her team to the playoffs during her freshman and sophomore years. The Patriots won a state title during her sophomore year, which bumped the team up to Division I the following winter. The summer before her sophomore and junior year, however, LeBlanc tore her ACL and meniscus while playing for her AAU team, the RI Breakers.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to play my junior year, but I bounced back fast and was able to start the season,” said LeBlanc.
Despite a healthy return from Leblanc’s devastating knee injury, Pilgrim failed to win a game during her junior year; although she was able to lead the program to their first two Division I wins during her senior year. LeBlanc became the sixth player in school history to eclipse 1,000 career points, a feat she accomplished in December of her senior season, in which the Providence Journal named her a First Team All-State selection. A standout on an under- dog team, LeBlanc will compete for a starting role at RIC this winter.
Battista started her career has a member of the state championship junior varsity team as a fresh- man at Bay View, and quickly made the move to a starting varsity spot the following winter. During her three years on varsity, the Bengals made it to the Division I semi-finals and the championship game, and played at the Ryan Center located on the campus of the University of Rhode Island during her senior year where they lost to LaSalle Academy by four points. Battista closed out her career by being named a Second Team All-State selection by The Providence Journal.
Andrade was plagued by injuries throughout her high school career, and has traveled the toughest road of the three recruits to get to RIC. Andrade missed all of her junior year after two knee surgeries, the first in May of 2010, and the second during the middle of the season in January of 2011. Andrade was a varsity player at Bay View for four years, and started alongside Battista as a sophomore. Andrade was heavily recruited by a number of Division I programs, including URI, prior to her two knee surgeries.
The trio already has a strong connection on and off the court, which will help them make the transition to the collegiate ranks and gel together as a group on the floor. Andrade and Battista were teammates for three years at Bay View, and Battista and LeBlanc played together with the RI Breakers.
One thing the three recruits have in common is how much of an impact Reilly has had on their decisions to stay in the Ocean State and choose RIC. Andrade and LeBlanc didn’t have RIC on their list for possible destinations to continue their basket- ball careers until Reilly stepped into the picture and showed them around campus. The same can be said for Battista.
“Coach Reilly is a great coach and I respect him,” said Battista.
Seeing the Anchorwomen win last season also played a role in the three recruits’ choices.
“I was motivated to go to RIC when I saw them win,” said Andrade. “They have a strong foundation, and they’ve built the type of team I want to go into.”
All three recruits will be living on campus, while LeBlanc and Battista, both intended nursing majors; will be roommates in the fall.
“She’s the smart one,” said LeBlanc of her new roommate. “She will help keep me focused on studying.”
Andrade intends on double majoring in criminal justice and communication.
If the trio has a major impact for the Anchor- women this winter, then the team may have a legitimate chance to repeat as Little East Conference champions.