WATERVILLE — Ted Rioux kept notes as he watched the high school basketball tournament game. Every time a player did something he liked, Rioux would jot her number down. Near half-time, he noticed the same Nokomis player’s number over and over. That player was Emilee Reynolds, and that’s when Rioux decided she’d be a good fit for the Thomas College women’s basketball team.
“I just kept seeing her number,” Rioux said. “I called her the next Tuesday.”
Now in his second season as head coach of the Terriers, Rioux has a team that more suits his style of play. It should. He built it. Nine freshmen recruited by Rioux fill out the roster. The only senior, 6-foot forward Jasmine Bishop, played for Rioux at Waterville Senior High School.
“We’ll push the ball in transition. We have that 30 second shot clock. We don’t want to have to worry about the shot clock,” Rioux said. “We can put five players on the floor who can play wherever, any position.”
Four freshmen could be in the starting lineup when Thomas opens the season Friday night at home against the University of Maine at Augusta, Rioux said.
“We’re fitting together quite well,” said Ashleigh Gagne, a 6-foot forward from Waterville who should be one of the newcomers in the starting lineup.
Just as players make an adjustment from the high school game to college, so to did Rioux. Prior to coming to Thomas, Rioux was the head girls basketball coach at Waterville, where he went undefeated and won three consecutive Class B state titles in his first three seasons.
Last year, the Terriers went 5-20, 5-13 in North Atlantic Conference play, and the biggest thing Rioux learned was preparation is king.
“It was interesting to see how different coaches do their thing,” Rioux said. “Preparation, you’ve got to be on top of it. What I noticed about coaches at this level, they take something and do it very well.”
For Thomas, Rioux hopes that something is man-to-man defense and running the floor. Gagne, who played for Rioux in high school, said she sees subtle changes in Rioux’s approach, but the big picture with her coach is the same as it was when he coached her on the Purple Panthers.
“He’s still Coach Rioux and I love his coaching style,” Gagne said. “He’s a hustle coach.”
Rioux knew Gagne would be a fit for his system, because she’s played in it before. In recruiting others, Rioux said he looked for athletes from high schools that played a style similar to Thomas’.
“Gagne, I had her for three years, and she was getting better and better. I said ‘She’s not going to reach her potential until college,'” Rioux said.
Gagne said she was already considering Thomas before Rioux was hired. Playing for him again, Gagne said, is just a happy coincidence.
“I had practically made my decision, and Coach Rioux as coach, it made it better,” Gagne said.
In Messalonskee graduate Megan Pelletier, another member of the Terries’ large first-year class, Rioux has a player with size and versatility.
“She’s 6-1, but she can play guard. She can play the post,” Rioux said of Pelletier.
The Terriers’ offense will look quite different, in that Rioux expects the scoring to be more balanced. Karin Bird, who led all of Division III in scoring with 24.5 points per game, graduated. Junior forward Elizabeth Goodall is the leading returning scorer, at 7.3 points per game. Bishop averaged six points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season.
“Karin was just a huge part of our offense. Even the ones she didn’t get, she probably passed it there,” Rioux said. “This season, it won’t be keying on one girl.”
With so many new players coming from so many different systems, early season practices have been a mixed bag, Rioux said. One day, the Terriers are chaotic. The next, their running the court as if they’ve been teammates for years.
“It’s been pretty obvious they’re still learning what each likes to do,” Rioux said.
Added Gagne: “As soon as we click, everything fits.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242