Finally, the Central Falls boys and girls basketball teams are set to tip off their respective seasons.
For the Warriors, it’s about bouncing the ball in a world of playing games while wearing masks, empty stands, sitting six feet apart while on the bench, and live streams. These changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have been welcomed with open arms after C.F. needed to hold tight before receiving the green light to proceed forward.
How long did the Warrior coaches and players have to bide their time? Official word that the season had been penciled in didn’t materialize until Jan. 25. That was a full three weeks after the R.I. Interscholastic League said it was okay for winter sports teams to begin practicing and two days after teams opened the abbreviated 2021 season.
Why did C.F. wait so long before making up their minds? As one of the state’s hardest-hit communities in terms of COVID-19 cases, school and city leaders needed to see a decrease in the positivity rate before basketball could have a seat at the table.
“It was difficult, but we tried to persevere our way through given the level of the situation we were in,” said Warriors athletic director Anthony Ficocelli. “We got it done. Now we’re looking forward to getting some games in.”
The good news for games was eagerly embraced, yet the Warriors still needed to complete the RIIL’s mandatory 10-day practice period before progressing to the next step of playing for keeps. An additional hurdle emerged after the high school’s gymnasium was turned into a Friday-Sunday vaccination site.
Ficocelli was able to negotiate gym time for his basketball players on Friday, Jan. 29.
“That definitely helped as far as getting to the 10 days,” he said.
Central Falls enters the roundball fray at a time when the regular season has less than two weeks remaining – Feb. 20 is the scheduled last day. It would be impossible, not to mention unrealistic, for the Warriors to squeeze in nine league games in less than two weeks. Nine is the number of league contests that the teams who began the season on time (or soon after) have their sights set on completing before the scene shifts to the week-long postseason divisional tournaments.
Starting Tuesday night at Paul Cuffee, the C.F. boys will play six games over an 11-day span. The Warrior girls open up Thursday night at home against Lincoln School, the first of five games to be held within a nine-day window.
In terms of qualifying for the playoffs, Ficocelli is confident that six games should be enough to decide the fate of the boys. Five games for the girls is going to be cutting it close.
Both teams are lined up to play one home game. This way, per Ficocelli, each program can at least say they were able hold “Senior Night” ceremonies. The C.F. boys welcome Blackstone Valley Prep this Wednesday for their lone appearance at home.
Below are capsules for the last two area basketball teams to swing into action this winter:
Head coach: Jeff Doucette
2019-20 regular-season record: 7-11 (Division III-North)
2019-20 postseason results: Lost to Toll Gate (68-55) in D-III preliminary round.
Returning players: Warner Galva, senior guard; Angel Castano, senior center; Luis Pabon, senior guard; Chunn Anderson, junior forward.
Notable newcomers: Jaiden Alvarado, junior forward; LaRenz Brantley, sophomore guard; Jaiden Perry, sophomore guard; Levar Mathis, junior center; Andrez Maldonado, junior guard.
Outlook: The three seniors – Galva, Castano, and Pabon – represent the captaincy. The trio has been in the Warriors’ fold over the past four years. … A guard-oriented team, C.F. will lean heavily on Galva, who is the lone returning starter. … Castano and Anderson were key contributors when they weren’t injured last season. The hope is that both can take multiple steps forward. The same can be said for several underclassmen on this year’s roster.
Head coach’s take: “We’re beyond excited to be competing this season. I’m especially so happy for the seniors. It was difficult reading about all the other teams practicing and playing games while not having answers for my players, who texted daily for updates on if and when we would be starting. Just when it seemed like we would not have a season due to vaccinations being given in our gym, the administration and athletic director came through for us. We are ready to begin this week with six games in the next two weeks. We know we are behind everyone else in terms of conditioning and games played, but the kids don’t care. They are just thrilled to be out there. I know they are smiling under their masks as this is the most normal thing these guys have done in almost a year.”
Head coach: Nick Lafreniere
2019-20 regular-season record: 4-13
2019-20 postseason results: None.
Returning players: Ameliz Villegas, senior guard; Fata Diallo, senior guard; Savanna Martinez, senior center; Daneisha Manzueta, junior forward; Amayah Bell, junior forward.
Notable newcomers: Pamela Galva, freshman guard; Joana Rodrigues, sophomore center.
Outlook: Experience shouldn’t be a pressing concern as Central Falls returns four starters – Villegas, Martinez, Manzueta, and Diallo. … The three seniors – Villegas, Diallo, and Martinez have been varsity contributors since their sophomore year. … The captains are Villegas, Martinez, and Manzueta. … Depth at the guard spots is considered a strength. … If the Warriors are going to make noise during their shortened season, a commitment on the defensive end is imperative. The importance of getting stops prompted Lafreniere to come up with a clever slogan: “One shot, one rebound.”
Head coach’s take: “It’s great for our seniors to be able to finish out their careers. For them, now is the time to play like tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Although this season is abbreviated, they at least get a chance to have all of their work be showcased one last time. The sky’s the limit for this group. We just don’t have any time to waste. It starts now!”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03