Center Of Attention: Lawrence’s Breakout Year Helped Lead Ridgefield To Breakout Season

 

Rebecca Lawrence (left) celebrates with a teammate after winning the FCIAC championship last month. (Photo: J. Gregory Raymond)
Rebecca Lawrence (left) celebrates with a teammate after winning the FCIAC championship last month. (Photo: J. Gregory Raymond)

RIDGEFIELD — Perhaps the best way to think of Rebecca Lawrence is as a contemporary basketball version of a Swiss Army Knife, an all-in-one tool who led Ridgefield to one of the best seasons in team history.

Want a 15-foot jumper? Check. An inside stop? Check. A putback or blocked shot? Check-check.

“I always talk about a special prepare,” said Tom DiMarzo, who in his first season led the Tigers to their first FCIAC title since 1996. “There are certain players you have to have a special prepare for, and Rebecca is one of them. Do you have someone 6-3 who can step out and shoot or block shots? Tiana England is a special prepare. Rebecca poses that for certain teams.”

Ask opposing coaches to name the top players in what was a stacked FCIAC this season, and Lawrence’s name is at the top of a list that includes England, Stamford’s star guard, Greenwich’s Abbie Wolf and Wilton’s Erin Cunningham.

Lawrence, a junior, finished the season averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 blocks, numbers that only partially measure her ability to dominate.

“The big thing for me is to be humble,” Lawrence said. “I don’t go out not to score 20 points. If I could score 20 points, I would. I don’t want to be a ballhog or make my game sloppy just to get more points in the book. I don’t want to be a showoff or ever put myself ahead of the team. It puts a bad light. I don’t want them to look at me and say she has a big ego. I want them to say she’s a good player and she deserves it.”

That sentiment is a consensual view, both inside and outside the program. Ridgefield won games where Lawrence was at center stage or ceded it to her many talented teammates.

In the FCIAC championship win over Greenwich, Lawrence scored seven straight points in the first quarter, then was held scoreless until the final quarter, when her eight points helped seal the win and earned her most valuable player honors.

Lawrence can influence a game without shooting, though that is often not in the Tigers’ best benefit.

“When we won that was the best feeling,” Lawrence said. “Everyone was so happy and screaming. That’s the goal we really wanted. From the first day Coach was saying lets hang a banner this year.”

Ridgefield was considered a preseason contender last year, but got off to a slow start, facing and losing to just about all the other teams that would qualify for the league playoffs in the opening weeks. It never recovered.

“I felt we came into the season too cocky and expected that it would just come to us and just win,” Lawrence said. “That’s not the way it happened.”

A 15-point performance made Ridgefield's Rebecca Lawrence the MVP of the conference final. (Photo: J. Gregory Raymond)
A 15-point performance made Ridgefield’s Rebecca Lawrence the MVP of the conference final. (Photo: J. Gregory Raymond)

That humbling memory, and the arrival of DiMarzo, who had spent five season with the school’s boys program, proved the right tonic.

“Coach DiMarzo gets so fired up,” Lawrence said with a smile. “His feeling rubbed off on us and we want to work hard for him and ourselves. He has a completely different coaching style than what we were used to. It was a style I was looking for, so I was happy from the start.”

The Tigers finished as the fifth seed in the FCIAC Tournament, the result of tiebreakers and a top-heavy league. But their position belied their talent level, as they proved by defeating first Wilton and then Greenwich, the two preseason favorites.

It has been a great winter for Lawrence, who in November gave a verbal commitment to play at Delaware.

“It is early but it doesn’t feel early,” Lawrence explained. “My process started early. I started getting recruited my freshman year.”

Lawrence said a decision wasn’t on her radar until she fell in love with Delaware, the coaching staff and team members and decided there was no reason to prolong her choice.

Lawrence credits Scott Nails, her AAU coach, with seeing her potential to be an outside threat and diversifying her game from that of a more conventional post player.

“He kept telling me about the potential I had that I didn’t know I had,” Lawrence said. “He thought I was a pretty good outside shooter. Now I have the confidence to take them.”

DiMarzo thinks back to the start of the season and is unsurprised by what Lawrence accomplished.

“The first day of practice you could see the energy,” he said. “She won every sprint.”

The Tigers will come into next season targeted by what should again be a deep league. The one-two punch of Lawrence and point guard Jess Camarda, plus a skilled group of complementary players, will give the team a different kind of motivation than what greeted them this past November.

“This team is getting recognized so much more,” Lawrence said. “We were kind of like a bottom team with potential. Now we showed we did have the potential. I think it will be cool next year that people will be preparing for us. I want to keep this reputation. I don’t want this year to be a fluke.”

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