ROCKINGHAM — There were times last season when Richmond Senior girls basketball coach Victoria DeFrate had to remind not only herself, but her team better days were ahead.
The Raiders started off strong in DeFrate’s first year on the bench, defeating South Robeson and Douglas Byrd. Then the bottom fell out as the team lost its next nine games.
Richmond finished the season with a 7-18 overall record and were fourth in the Southeastern Conference with a 3-7 mark. The Raiders advanced to the state 4A playoffs where they lost at Southern Durham 66-43 in the first round.
“I remember telling them last year to look how many seniors the other teams had,” DeFrate said. “We have seven seniors this year. It’s like Coach (Ted) Gaskins said the first year is learning the system and the second year is teaching them how to win.”
DeFrate will look to the seniors Shaquail Wall and Kivana Keane to help the Raiders turn the tide this season. Wall was the only Richmond player to earn all-conference honors last season. Keane will look to bounce back from an up-and-down season following knee surgery after her sophomore year.
The biggest question mark coming into the season will be the play at point guard. Davina LeGrande, last year’s starter, according to DeFrate has made big strides.
“Over the summer and in practice, Kivana has her aggressiveness and that drive-first mentality back,” DeFrate said. “The difference for Davina is going from a starting sophomore to being a starting junior. She’s more confident and she’s been more aggressive on offense. A lot of girls worked hard in the off-season and I think they will step up.”
After finishing second in the SEC in 2011, the Raiders fell to fourth last season. DeFrate believes the loss of several top players from schools like Lumberton, Pinecrest and Scotland will help Richmond jump in the standings.
A change in the number of guaranteed bids from each conference this year by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association means the Raiders will need to finish third or better to automatically qualify for the playoffs.
“Realistically I want to be in the top three and I think we can be in the top three,” DeFrate said. “I think it will be a fight to see who’s in the top three. I believe with this group, we are tougher mentally than last year.”
Richmond will begin the season 6 p.m. Tuesday against Cheraw (S.C.) at home.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.