LARGO – The Riverdale Baptist girls basketball team is loaded with talent heading into this season and despite departing players and injuries, second-year Head Coach Mike Bozeman feels this year’s team can beat anybody in the country.
From top to bottom, this Lady Crusaders team is full of skill. After tough offseason workouts and preseason, Riverdale (23-5) showed a clear understanding of Bozeman’s system of play for the upcoming year.
“Over the summer, I saw a togetherness and desire to be great within our team,” said Bozeman. “I saw them mimicking words they would hear me say on the sideline but in the fall, I had an opportunity to see them play and not coach. I just felt it was better for me.”
Starting at point guard will be senior Yanni Hendley, who ranked in second on the team in assists (95) and first in steals (60). Bozeman calls her an “Atlantic-10 type” of guard for her ability to move the ball around to create scoring plays for her teammates.
The wing guards will be provided extra help for Riverdale. First, helping out in the wings this season is Synia Johnson, a transfer from North Point High School. She will be joined by Riverdale’s assist leader Kaylah Ivey, rated as one of the best passers in the country according to her head coach.
“She sees the floor better than any other guard I’ve seen and that’s saying a lot because I’ve been around for a while,” said Bozeman.
Riverdale also add tough junior guard Paris McBride from Richmond, Virginia to be a role player off the bench to lead the second group with freshmen Jalyn Brown and Kirah Dandrige. Brown, a six-footer from Baltimore, Maryland, is already receiving attention from college scouts due to her versatility in playing any position from point guard to small forward.
“With all that talent, that makes us really deep,” said Bozeman. “We also bring in Lauren Banks from Capitol Christian, she is a strong guard and really good defender and these are the girls that are going to make us a tough cover for everyone.”
The impressive haul of talent will have to quickly mesh together to produce results and replicate last year’s success of their former teammates. Riverdale lost their top two players from last season in forward Shakira Austin (University of Maryland) and post presence talent Lauren Ebo (Penn State University).
Injuries have plagued the Lady Crusaders’ chemistry build as they will be playing their most athletic player, senior forward Jayla James after she tore her ACL and will be sidelined for the season. Riverdale will also be playing without their star guard Elizabeth Martino, rated as the eleventh top-ranked guard in the class of 2020 according to ESPN. Martino is coming off an ACL tear of her own but Bozeman said Martino might be back in February.
As of Dec. 6, Riverdale is on a hot start, winning their first four games. They will compete in two games in the local She Got Game Tournament before traveling to the John Wall Invitational in Raleigh, North Carolina. They will travel to a few more states throughout the season, including Delaware and New Jersey, to play the best competition in the country.
On Dec. 1, the Lady Crusaders team handily defeated Markham from Ontario, Canada 61-24 in the COBRAS United Tip-Off at Bishop McNamara High School. The stunning result showed that Riverdale is ready for all teams and that they are “going to surprise a lot of people” this season Bozeman said.
Junior power forward Taniyah Greene, who finished with a double-double performance of 11 points and 14 rebounds against Markham, agreed.
“With the team we have now, I see us going really far and winning a lot of games,” said Greene. “In the conference, we will have some tough games but with the adversity we have faced on this team, we will be able to beat them.”