The Suffolk women’s basketball team is well on their way to a high playoff seed this year. After losing their first game of the season, the Lady Rams have gone 17-4 since, as well as having an 8-1 conference record.
Jenni-Rose DiCecco, who lead the Lady Rams to the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) finals last year, is having another career year. She leads Suffolk with 16.8 points per game (PPG) and 4.5 assists per game (APG) over 38.8 minutes per game.
“It’s been a great season so far,” said DiCecco in an interview with The Suffolk Journal. “It was a slow start to the season, however the team has really stepped up and it has been an enjoyable time both on and off the court.”
In his 25th year of coaching, head coach Ed Leyden has shown no signs of slowing down. Leyden’s defensive coaching style has manifested into one of the league’s top three defenses. The Lady Rams rank third in the league in points allowed per game (58.6),and defensive rebounds per game (30), as well as first in the league in blocks (4.8).
“Defense and rebounding is what we hang our hat on,” said Leyden in an interview with The Journal. “Shooting is sexy but playing exceptional defense, controlling the tempo, five people playing as one is what we are looking to reach.”
While the Lady Rams have established their defensive identity, the team has come together to be quite a formidable offensive threat. The team ranks fourth in the GNAC with 68.4 PPG and third in the league with 14.5 APG. This season Suffolk has established themselves as a real force on both ends of the court.
“I was very hopeful after that game,” said Leyden. “That was our best game in my eyes, offensively we shared the ball well and played sharp, while defensively we had all five people on the same page.”
After a 14 point loss to St. Joseph’s on Jan. 26, Suffolk is ranked third in the conference, sitting five games behind the unbeaten St. Joseph’s team and one game behind Emmanuel College. The Lady Rams hold a two and a half game lead over fourth place Albertus Magnus College.
In the GNAC, eight out of 13 teams can make the playoffs and the top four teams in the conference get to host at least one home playoff game. Since two or more teams can share regular season records, conference records help determine seeding.
“In January all the games are big,” said Leyden.“This is the heart to the season and each game is extremely, unbelievably important.”
Three more conference games remain, including matchups with Emmanuel and Albertus Magnus. Leyden’s game by game approach may ring cliché, but the results speak for themselves, with only one conference loss all season.
As February and the start of the post season approaches, the Lady Rams aren’t quite satisfied yet. Last year, as a rookie DiCecco brought Suffolk to the brink of winning the GNAC and making the NCAA tournament. With a year of experience under her belt, lofty expectations have been landing on the team’s shoulders.
“We have our goals set and we just hope that all our hard work pays off,” said DiCecco. “So far we have been outworking our opponents and that is why we have been coming away with wins in the conference.”
For Coach Leyden, who is a five-time GNAC coach of the year and GNAC Hall of Fame member, a championship has eluded him. In his 25-year tenure with Suffolk he has been to “the big game” eight times and has come up empty handed every time.
“We would like to be an NCAA team, we know we are capable of that,” said Leyden, “We are just starting to ratchet it up for February…and to win the league we know we need to be in a higher gear.”
The Lady Rams last home game is versus Emmanuel College on Feb. 12 is also Senior Day. With continued strong showing in conference games like that against Anna Maria, seniors on the Lady Rams look forward to hoisting the GNAC trophy into the air, surrounded by a team and fans who were with them all season.