In the last ten years, 45 Lady Crusaders have gone to college on athletic scholarships, and some have gone on to play professionally in the WNBA and overseas.
It’s a few weeks before Christmas, and Richardson has been traveling a lot with the team and hasn’t had much time to decorate or shop. She’s not sure how she’ll get everything done by the 25th.
Not that she’s complaining—Richardson likes to be busy. The Crusaders opened the season with games in Jacksonville, Florida, and later they’ll travel to Hampton, Virginia; Erie, Pennsylvania; the Bronx; and, for the Nike tournament, Arizona. By the season’s end in March, the team will have played 35 games, 15 against nationally ranked opponents. An ESPN writer called Riverdale’s schedule “perhaps the most murderous in the country.”
Richardson smiles at the comment. As the schedule’s architect—the Crusaders don’t belong to a league, so it’s up to the coach to schedule games—she doesn’t want the season to be a cakewalk for her kids; she wants to challenge them even if it means taking some losses. It’s part of her coaching philosophy: You’re only as good as the teams you play. “And we want to be the best,” she says.
For Riverdale, that means spending lots of time on the road. While there are good teams in Washington, many are reluctant to play the Crusaders—coaches worry that their best players might be lured by the shiny Nike gear and the team’s success. Their fear isn’t completely unfounded: Eleven of this year’s varsity players transferred to Riverdale from other local high schools. Richardson swears she doesn’t actively recruit kids from other schools—meaning that neither she nor her coaching staff makes the first contact—but some coaches don’t buy it.
Absent from the 2010–11 schedule are such Washington powerhouses as Holy Cross, Good Counsel, and Bishop McNamara. The Crusaders won’t play any public-school teams from Prince George’s, Montgomery, and Fairfax counties, either. Their biggest local matchups are with Anne Arundel’s Archbishop Spalding, to which the Crusaders lost 69–58 at a tournament in early December, and DC’s St. John’s High School, another nationally ranked team they will play in February. If they’re able to beat St. John’s, which outranks the Crusaders on both local and national lists, it’ll give them hometown bragging rights.
But Richardson doesn’t want to get ahead of herself. Her team isn’t coming together as much as she’d like, and she’s not getting the consistency from her players she’s used to. She has tried several variations of her starting lineup—Maya Singleton instead of Deja Hawkins at the 5 position, Jonquel Jones for Jennie Simms at the 4—but something’s not clicking.
Then there’s Tyonna Williams. She’s a natural leader—one of the reasons Richardson made her a captain—but she has that razor-sharp feistiness that can either fire you up or dissolve you into tears, depending on the day. Without knowing it, Tyonna can send the team’s morale into a tailspin.
“She’s had to fight for everything—that’s where she gets it,” Richardson says. “She’s just like I was growing up.”
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