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WOONSOCKET â€“ After losing several valuable starters from last yearâ€™s state championship squad, Woonsocket High coach George Coderre considers this season a rebuilding year for his Division I squad and heâ€™s not quite sure how his Villa Novans will respond against the upper-echelon of teams.
In terms of league-openers, Coderre couldnâ€™t have asked for a better way to determine the makeup of his players when they take to the courts tonight. Facing the Villa Novans at Savaria Gymasium will be perennial power Bay View Academy.
The contest will be a rematch of last yearâ€™s semifinal tilt when the Novans knocked out the Bengals, 58-48, to earn their trip to the finals where they defeated three-time defending titlist La Salle Academy. Not surprising, Coderre expects his young squad to be tested right from the opening tip-off.
â€śThey are loaded,â€ť he said. â€śThey are definitely very strong. They are deep. They have some good talent. They are well-coached. Itâ€™s a very tough opener for us.â€ť
Woonsocket has three strong returnees from 2009-10, which won the championship after copping the Div. II title the year before. That trio consists of senior Ashley Dubois, junior Michelle Brayboy and junior Kailey Fugere.
But this yearâ€™s team will experience some growing pains, according to Coderre. In June, he had more than a handful of his players graduate, including his daughter and two-time all-stater Brooke Coderre, Lauren Masse, Andria Harnois and Kofu Olowookere. While heâ€™s confident in his returning players, he knows it will be an adjustment.
â€śWe are trying to rebuild,â€ť George Coderre said. â€śIt will definitely be a challenge. We are lacking depth. I definitely see some progress, but itâ€™s not going to happen over night.â€ť
â€ś(Dubois, Brayboy and Fugere) are three very fine players that most teams would love to have,â€ť he added. â€ś But theyâ€™ll have to adjust to different roles this year and thatâ€™s difficult.â€ť
Bay View has certainly had its share of success over the years. The Bengals captured the team plaque during the 2005-06 season and finished as a runner-up in the stateâ€™s top division the next three years before it was stunned by the Novans in last yearâ€™s playoffs.
Key players from last year that are back for bay View are junior Johanna Dombrowski, all-state junior Vandel l Andrade and all-division junior Rachel Baptisa. Andrade and Baptista combined for 31 points in the Bengals loss to the Novans in the semifinals.
â€śThey got a good point guard in Dombrowski,â€ť Coderre said. â€śThey got a nice shooter in Baptista and got an intense player in Andrade. They are not the only players, but three prominent returning players.â€ť
Woonsocket kicked off its season last week when it defeated South Kingstown, 51-40, in a non-leaguer. The Rebels were 15-0 during the league season last year and were ousted by La Salle in the semifinals.
But this yearâ€™s team, like the Villa Novans, has lost a multiple of players to graduation.
â€śThey are not the same team,â€ť Coderre said. â€śTheyâ€™re pretty young. It was a good win for us, but South Kingstown is also rebuilding.â€ť
The Woonsocket coach is not predicting a win tonight, but knows the only way it will be possible is if his young players and veterans can stay focused as well as establish their ground right from the start.
â€śWe got to withstand the pressure that they are going to throw at us,â€ť he said. â€śThey like to run, they have depth and they have good people that can shoot and rebound. They have a lot of weapons.â€ť
It will be a tough league-opener, but Coderre is looking forward to the contest. He does like the fact that at least itâ€™s a home.
â€śIâ€™d prefer not to play them anywhere now, but itâ€™s always nice to start the season on your home court,â€ť he said. â€śBut itâ€™s going to be a real challenge. They got a really good ballclub.â€ť
Tip-off tonight is 7 p.m.