River (Mill) runs through Bishop’s path
Just looking at their roster, the River Mill girls might not make the strongest of impressions — only seven active players, none taller than 5 foot 8, all listed as guards.
But the East Regional champion Jaguars (28-3) are much more than that, which is why they’ve made it to the regionals the last four years and this year finally broke through to the state title game where they’ll face Bishop McGuinness ( 24-7) on Saturday at noon in Raleigh.
“We’re ecstatic,” River Mill coach Hamilton Perkins said during Monday’s press conference in Durham. “We’re looking forward to it. We want to play the best and over the last several years Bishop McGuinness has been the best.”
The challenges of being a smaller team are apparent, even to the Jaguars. But they simply have worked that much harder to overcome them, using an uptempo style that would seem to be in conflict with their lack of depth. But they’ve made it work extremely well.
“We don’t have a choice — we have to make it work,” Perkins said with a laugh. “But the kids work extremely hard, and they have a great work ethic.”
Senior guards Lenaira Ruffin and Marla Crawford have been two of the driving forces this year for River Mill, which lost to the Villains in the regional semifinal last year and regional final two years ago before being pulled into the East bracket this year.
Ruffin, an Elon signee, has scored over 1,500 points and grabbed over 1,500 rebounds in her career. She was named Carolina 12 Conference Player of the Year twice, all-state by NCPreps.com last year and Eastern Regional Most Outstanding Player this year.
Crawford, a Pfeiffer signee, has over 1,250 points, 750 assists and 500 steals in her career and has been selected all-conference four times. Sophomore guard Kayla Burns and senior guard Daijah Faucette were also selected all-regional.
After losing standout Ashley Spivey, a Greensboro College signee, to a torn ACL in January, the Jaguars had to figure out how to continue playing well, in spite of losing one of their top players.
“We had to reinvent ourselves,” Perkins said. “But I think it brought us closer together as a team. … It was a process developing them and them finding their confidence. They just had a lot of focus and determination.”
Now, one big challenge remains in facing the Villains. But, through the challenges of this season, River Mill has been successful in simply reaching the state championship for the first time.
“We’re just extremely proud of what we’ve done this season,” Perkins said.