There is a cliché saying that it is not how you start, it is how you finish. And for the St. Mary’s Ryken Knights, the saying rings true.
After starting the 2019-2020 season with five straight losses, the Knights have begun to find their form and had won eight of their last nine games entering Thursday’s scheduled Washington Catholic Athletic Conference contest at Bishop McNamara of Prince George’s County.
“I am excited about the season so far,” St. Mary’s Ryken junior Chalon Miles said. “The team is starting to grow closer as a unit. I am looking forward to the rest of the season and competing with my team.”
To begin the season, Knights head coach Toyja Somerville had to shuffle lineups due to multiple injuries at key positions and a handful of new faces to this year’s squad.
“No coach can prepare for major injuries to four players who played major minutes as starters in the previous season, but that is exactly what we had to deal with,” Somerville said. “Couple that with the addition of several new players that had to adjust to our playing style, the coaches and new teammates and a slow start was the outcome. Since then, we have won seven of the last eight games. This group has begun to gel and the level of effort and desire to improve and win has been constant.”
Since their 0-5 start, St. Mary’s Ryken’s only loss came on Dec. 28 versus St. Paul’s School for the Girls of Baltimore County in the All About The Girls Holiday Hoops tournament at the Seed School in Baltimore. The Knights won back-to-back games last weekend at the She Got Game Classic in Georgia.
“Our short and long term goals remain the same,” Somerville said. “It sounds cliché, but we are interested in getting better every day and to prepare each day to be able to compete at the highest level of high school basketball.”
St. Mary’s Ryken was 8-6 overall, 2-3 in WCAC play, before Thursday’s game at McNamara. The Knights are scheduled next to be at Paul VI High School in Virginia in another conference contest at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
“We look forward to what is a very tough league schedule and we have also have been preparing for the possible return of two players as they work hard to get healthy,” Somerville said. “Our goal is to continue to improve as we move deeper into league play and prepare for our league playoffs.”
Somerville noted that despite the injuries to a handful of players, those individuals who cannot play continue to help lead the team off the court and in the locker room as well.
“The yearlong losses of Katie White, who has led the WCAC in blocked shots for three years, to Selena Balanta who suffered an ACL tear last year has been hard to overcome, however their locker room presence has been invaluable,” Somerville said. “Taylor Vaughn is another senior who transferred here as a junior and quickly became our glue player, providing stability on the floor and in the locker room. We are hoping for a late return to our roster this month as well as from our dynamic junior Chinwendu Irondi who was a double-double machine last year in terms of points and rebounds.”
The Knights have a mixed group in terms of experience with a handful of new players as well as three freshmen and five seniors on the roster.
“On the floor for us this year we have entrusted four-year varsity player Mikayla Hefferon with the task of being our defensive stopper, drawing the toughest defensive assignment each night,” Somerville said. “Junior Drew Pettis has been called upon to bring defensive intensity and as a slasher on offense. Sophomore Destiny Towns has been extremely consistent on both ends of the floor and is averaging almost 10 rebounds a night, while senior center Raevyn Harris has been controlling the paint on the defensive end and steadily contributing on the offensive end.”
Imani Eubanks, a transfer guard from King’s Christian Academy, has stepped into a starting role for the Knights and is excited to compete in the WCAC.
“This is another chapter in my life,” Eubanks said. “Things keep getting better and better. Playing for Ryken and competing in [the WCAC] is a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Our team is awesome, and we continually strive to reach our goals.”
Somerville admitted that some of the younger players on the team this year have also provided the group with leadership on the court.
“Eubanks and freshman Mekhia Chase have provided a major boost of offense and floor leadership. Chalon Miles, our junior guard and three-year starter, has been explosive on both ends of the floor and is one of our team captains,” Somerville said. “She has assisted in leading this group to the recent success we have enjoyed. The additions of transfers Dakota Jones and Makenzie Mayo with the freshmen Nyla Clark and Lourden Banks, all of whom have seen action on the court, complete our roster.”
The Knights have not had a home game since a 75-42 nonconference win over Institute of Notre Dame of Baltimore on Dec. 30 and will continue to be on the road until a scheduled Jan. 24 home date versus conference opponent St. John’s of Washington, D.C.
“I am looking forward to being able to play later this season and showing the world that Ryken is the team to watch out for,” Irondi said.