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Senior-laden RFA girls basketball team led by McLeod looking to next step

Steve Jones
Sports writer
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Posted 12/1/22

The Rome Free Academy girls basketball team is loaded with seniors and looking to take a step beyond last year’s Section III semifinal appearance.

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Senior-laden RFA girls basketball team led by McLeod looking to next step


ROME — The Rome Free Academy girls basketball team is loaded with seniors, including one bound for Division I next season, and looking to take a step beyond last year’s Section III semifinal appearance.

The team opens the season at 6:45 tonight at West Genesee in non-league play.

Last season, the Black Knights went 15-7 with a playoff loss to Baldwinsville, 62-57 in the Class AA semifinals.

Head coach Al Bevilacqua is in his sixth season. His career record is 51-41.

Gone is the lone senior the team had at the end of the season, Tailyn Frost. “That’s a big loss for us,” said Bevilacqua. “First of all she was a four-year starter, captain, a three-point threat that could stretch the defense out.” She was also a good ball handler and a better defender, he said.

The team returns seven players, key among them are the three senior captains.

Five-year player Amya McLeod leads the way in her last season before heading off to play at Youngstown State. “Everyone in the Section knows who Amya is,” he coach said of the Tri-Valley League first team all-star and Colonial Division player of the year. “And we know who everyone is trying to stop each and every game.” But she has a different role this season as she adjusts to be ready for the college game. “She knows from talking with her college coaches what they’d like to see from her in growth in her senior year,” he said. And that means a move to point guard from shooting guard. He’ll “let her do her thing, which is create.” He continued: “I think that’s going to be a tough transition because of what she’s used to doing for us. She can do it, she just has to know she has teammates around her, that she doesn’t have to do it on her own. We have a team that if we can play together we’ll be very successful.”

McLeod is chasing history for the Knights. Despite playing her sophomore year in a COVID-shortened, six-game season, she now has 1,235 points, third in program history. She’s 109 points behind Lori Keys (1986-91). Catching all-time leading scorer Nikki Jo Rotolo might be out of reach at 2,030 points.

One player who is expected to score plenty this season is fellow captain Alysa Jackson, a returning three-year varsity player and second team TVL all-star, her coach noted. “She had a good season last year but we’re looking for her to step up even more this season,” as a shooting guard. She’s certainly capable, having hit 28 three-pointers last season.

Mia Mirabelli, also a captain, is also shifting roles a bit this season. The four-year varsiy player who was first team TVL last year was often down by the basket but is moving to more of a perimeter role. She was second on the team with 270 points last year, behind McLeod’s 533. She led the team with 242 rebounds.

Amiyah Ferebee will take over some of Mirabelli’s responsibilities from last season as a more traditional center. “She’s a sophomore but has grown a lot over the course of the off-season,” Bevilacqua said. “Probably our most improved player in the off-season.” He said he’s hoping she’ll be a dominant post presence for RFA.

The fifth starter spot is a toss up right now, but Raelyn Dole might be the one. The senior guard is new to varsity.

Senior guard Emma Wright, who started in the post-season last year, is back for her third season and will start or come off the bench.

Junior Nijae Matthews-Brown grabbed 60 rebounds last season and is back as well. The coach noted that he is looking for her to make an impact this season, and likened her game to Mirabelli’s as someone who can play inside or outside.

Alana Jackson, a junior, came up from junior varsity late last season. After what the coach called a great off-season, he’ll be counting on her off the bench “for that spark when needed.”

Returning senior guard Isabella Cain and senior forward Elora Hawkins, new to varsity, are also options for the Knights.

The team must building continuity and create an identity, Bevilacqua said. “Offensively, we’re best in transition when we play fast. We’re aggressive and attacking the rim.” The team must share the ball and make extra passes, he said. “We gotta be able to finish.”

Defensively, he said, it’s all about “just playing together and sound, principled man-to-man defense.”

After the team’s 15-win season last year with a playoff win, “Team expectations are … if we do things right we should be able to compete for a league title. And expectations are to make a deep playoff run,” the coach said. “We just have to continue to get better every day, work hard and play as a team. If we build on what we did last season — we did well last season — I think we can make a good push come Sectional time.”

It’s not exactly a make-or-break season, but with seven seniors there is a window closing. “It’s hard to miss the fact that a majority of them are returners and are seniors,” the coach noted.

“Many of the girls returning were major contributors to our success so we want to build on what we did last year.” He added, “The expectations of ourselves are high.”


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