It was almost a no-brainer for Donna Beaudoin to be appointed the Coventry High School girls varsity basketball coach this year. For it is best to call this a welcome back, not welcome home greeting she is receiving in her first year as the Lady Oakers head coach.
Beaudoin, after all, was the Lady Oakers girls junior varsity coach last year, is currently a guidance counselor at the high school and a wife and mother of two children attending school and playing sports in town. Indeed, Donna Rowles, as she was known then, already made town history as a young athlete. "I was the first girl to play in the Coventry Basketball Association," she said. She also played at the middle school and for St. John's & Paul CYO teams.
What a dent Beaudoin later made for CHS. As an All-Division player in her junior year she led the high school squad to the state finals. In her senior year she was an All-State player in addition to being an All-Division selection again. Her career was on target to continue at the NCAA Division One level however an injury kept her from this. "I couldn't play at URI because I hurt my back," she said.
Majoring in Psychology and minoring in Biology, Beaudoin graduated from URI and attained her teaching certificate. "I was a middle school science teacher for 10 years before I moved up to the high school as a guidance counselor," she said of her time spent at the Coventry Middle School and Flat River Middle Schools, as they were called then.
For two years she coached several teams at the middle school and has coached various recreational teams within the community. These experiences led her to where she currently stands as girls varsity coach of her alma mater.
Off to a 3-3 start overall, 2-2 (fifth) in league play thus far, Coventry faces a daunting task in Division I-South. La Salle has been state champs seven of the last nine years and the Rams (and Coventry) have already been beaten by unbeaten Westerly. Chariho has also defeated the Lady Oakers. Other teams include unbeaten North Kingstown, fourth-place Exeter/West Greenwich, South Kingstown, Portsmouth and Pilgrim.
But if Coventry played they way they did in the Coventry Credit Union Holiday Classic- winning the championship with ease by an average of 28 points over Pilgrim and West Warwick, who knows how far they can go.
Starters include seniors Hannah Cole, Gabby Lesnett and Brook Willard. The level of play does not drop when two other seniors- Brittany Els and Tiffany Webster along with juniors Casey Cloutier, Autumn English, or Tianna Cruz-Perry and Erica Ball, when they enter the game. Sophomores MacKenzie Mitchell and Becky LaPlante and freshman Haley Dennis round out a deep roster.
"Hannah just controls the game," said Beaudoin of her savvy point guard. "Gabby operates well in the paint and has averaged over 10 rebounds a game. Casey is also one of our leading scorers. Then Erica Ball exploded for 33 points in being named MVP of the recent holiday tournament, coming off the bench to sink 9-of-11 three-point attempts.
"We moved the ball around, rebounded better and shot the ball much better against West Warwick," she said." They all seemed to be where they had to be, communicated well and we limited them to just one shot."
Assisting her is new junior varsity coach Brendan McGrath, who has coached in the Coventry Basketball Association . The volunteer assistant is Deidre Pesola.
Beaudoin points out, "This is the third (varsity) coaching change in four years." Her ultimate goal is what most teams dream about and aim for. "My goal in two to three years is to make a run at the state title," she said. This is something that has never happened to a Lady Oakers squad.
To do that means upgrading the basketball culture in Coventry a significant notch or two. "I know many of the girls in town who have played in the leagues and we have a lot of very good middle school and freshman players," she said. "Some of their parents went to high school with me. So I want the girls to stay and want them to come here. With a lot of work we can be as good as any other school."
In the meantime, Beaudoin says this squad has a solid foundation of excellent student-athletes and role models for the community. "They are all good kids and all involved in other sports and school activities. I love it. I enjoy and I am learning a lot. I might make some mistakes early on but this is a learning process for all of us."