While Angelica Ariola can’t take all of the credit for the unprecedented success the Roger Williams University women’s basketball team has experienced the last two years, it’s also probably not a coincidence the Hawks have posted their best two seasons ever since the Prospect resident and former Holy Cross standout joined the team.
After winning a school-record 19 games last season with Ariola starting at point guard as a freshman, the Hawks have posted the first 20-win season in program history her sophomore year.
“She knows that we need her to be that leader in order for us to be successful,” Roger Williams coach Kelly Thompson said. “She has really taken it as a challenge, and I am really how proud of how far she has come. It is really only the tip of the iceberg for her. That kid is going to get better and better in her skills and her leadership. I feel incredibly lucky to be coaching her.”
Ariola is third on the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game while leading the Rhode Island school in assists (84), free throws (110) and average minutes (31.0). She’s also second on the team in steals (40) and third in 3-pointers (25). In the process, she’s earned all-conference honors.
“I have improved since high school in a couple areas,” Ariola said. “One is leadership and the other is making offense a bigger part of my game. Personally, I love setting my teammates up and I believe that is what a point guard’s primary job should be, but we also lost a lot of scoring from last year’s team so I knew I had to work on my shot to become more of a threat.”
She has improved her scoring nearly 30 percent over last year’s 8.7 ppg and scores in a variety of ways.
“She has a great midrange game that not a lot of kids have these days,” Thompson said. “She not only has that nice little pull-up jumper, but she is also lightning-quick so she can get to the rim in a heartbeat. She is small (5-foot-4), but she can score in traffic. She also has a pretty good 3-point shot, and she’s been to the free throw line more than anyone on our team.”
Ariola has also improved her ball handling, passing and decision making. She’s fifth in the conference in assists at 3.2 per game and third in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.8 with 84 assists and only 46 turnovers. She said it took her a full season to get used to the Hawks’ offensive system and develop chemistry with her teammates, but she is very comfortable now.
Thompson is comfortable, as well, because she loves Ariola’s confidence and the great balance she has developed between making plays for her teammates and creating opportunities for herself.
“It is great feeling to trust that the person who has the ball the most can make plays for herself or somebody else,” Thompson said. “And it is nice to know that in end of the game situations I can run a play for her.”
Roger Williams made a run in the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament before falling in the final last Saturday at the University of New England. Ariola scored a team-high 12 points in that game, and the Hawks’ success helped them clinch their first-ever NCAA Division III tournament appearance.
Ariola has played no small role helping the team into such a position. The former All-Naugatuck Valley League player and NVL tournament MVP entered college wanting to lead her team to a conference championship while making a name for herself. She said she felt like she fit right in at Roger Williams from the time she stepped onto campus.
“I came in last year and the girls on the team sat us down and said, ‘These are our goals. This is what we want to accomplish,’” Ariola said. “Our coaches did that, too, and talked about family and leadership. The fact that they incorporated me into all that from the moment I stepped onto the campus really carried over and is instilled in me now. What we are trying to do is lift our program to a new level, and I strongly believe we can keep doing that.”
Roger Williams will face Plattsburgh State in Friday night’s NCAA first round. The winner will advance to the second round Saturday. Both rounds will be held in Brunswick, Maine, on the campus of Bowdoin College.