Before the 2012-13 prep girls' basketball season tipped off, veteran Riverdale head coach Mick Kopriva's concerns about his team's depth were exacerbated by the loss of one of his veteran leaders on the first day of practice.|
Now, as his 23-2, Three Rivers Conference co-champions prepare to begin their second season, everyone is feeling in the pink as the Rams seek their third Class 2A regional title in four years.
Rolling into Wednesday's 6 p.m. opener at the Sterling Newman Regional with a 14-game winning streak, top-seeded Riverdale has benefitted from the return of senior guard Jess Corson. Sidelined by ankle and hand injuries right after the Rams' third-place state volleyball run, Corson has averaged eight points a game since returning.
"Jess broke her ankle early on; otherwise, that's the only injury we've had so far this year,'' said Kopriva. "With depth being our biggest concern, we've been lucky in that we've also learned to play, and not foul, and everybody's been healthy. Hopefully we can keep that going through the next couple of weeks we've got coming up.''
Led by senior forward and all-time leading scorer Hannah Nimrick's 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, with senior guard and all-time steals leader Elle May checking in at 13 points and five thefts, the Rams overcame a conference-opening overtime loss to Prophetstown by nipping the Lady Prophets in their second league matchup, causing the two to share first for the second straight year.
With four-fifths of Riverdale's starting lineup -- Corson, May, Nimrick and junior forward Sydney Mericle -- having played key roles during the volleyball team's Final Four experience, it comes as no suprise that they are aiming high on the basketball court as well.
"They've got their sights set pretty high,'' said Kopriva, "and that's where they should be set.''
Should Riverdale take care of business Wednesday evening, it could find itself pitted against regional host and No. 2 seed Newman in Friday night's championship game. Owners of a 14-11 record, the Comets took third in the TRAC-9 at 9-5.
Or, the Rams could face No. 3 Fulton (10-19), should the Steamers pull off the semifinal upset behind senior forward Morgan Wierema, who averages a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds per game. The teams met last Friday, with Riverdale rolling to a 73-30 Senior Night victory to end the regular season.
"Fulton has some size to them, and we tend to play better against small teams,'' said Kopriva, whose club topped Newman in their one TRAC-9 meeting. "But we have to worry about getting by our first-round game.''
Steamers ready for opening challenge: As for Fulton, coach Jesse Abbott's club jumps into the deep end of the postseason pool when it plays the Comets in Wednesday's 8 p.m. semifinal.
"Nothing like playing the host school in the first game of regionals,'' Abbott quipped. "But, we did split with them; each of us won at home. We know we can play with Newman, so we've got that kind of confidence. I think our girls aren't going to back down from them.''
Besides Wierema, who also averages three blocked shots per game, senior forward Morgan Sanquist gives the Steamers extra scoring and rebounding punch with her 11 points and seven boards per night. Prior to a pair of season-ending losses, Fulton had reeled off four wins in six games to build some momentum.
"It was nice to bounce back,'' said Abbott, "and get that confidence going into regionals.''