With only one state championship in its 33-year existence, the Bay Rivers District is not considered a great girls basketball league. Thanks to Poquoson grad Sondra Fan and Jamestown alum Anaya Simmons, a reevaluation might be in order.
They are NCAA Division III All-Americans and stars of the 30-0 Christopher Newport University team ranked No. 1 in the nation. Their exploits are the biggest reason the Captains have advanced to the D-III Final Four, where they will play Rhode Island College (28-3) at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the semifinals at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Fan, a 5-foot-7 senior who ranked in the top five nationally in 3-pointers a year ago, leads the Captains in scoring at 14.3 points per game. The number is more impressive than it looks when you consider she averages only 22 minutes for the deep Captains.
That’s the same amount Simmons, a 5-10 senior, played before a knee injury sidelined her in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 3. In that time she averaged 13.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and led the nation for a second consecutive season with 68.5% shooting from the field.
“We’re both family oriented and community oriented,” Simmons said. “It gives us a lot of pride, being from the Bay Rivers District, that we can shine a light on it and make the community proud.”
The Captains have been successful from the start of Bill Broderick’s tenure as coach in 2012 — with a Final Four and nine NCAA Tournaments in his 10 seasons — but he wasn’t recruiting players of Fan’s or Simmons’ caliber until he landed them. He said a combination of CNU’s academic reputation and their desire to remain near family led them to Shoe Lane.
Once there, he set about reinventing both.
“Sondra came in as a great talent, but as more of a giant fish in a glass of water,” he said, noting how much Poquoson depended on her. “She had to learn to play as part of a team, rather than just a one-man show, and her adaptability has been impressive.”
Fan adapted so well she became a first-team All-American last year, leading the Captains with a 14.7 scoring average, and was a first-team preseason All-American this year. The Captains’ vocal leader, Fan stepped forward to give her teammates confidence after Simmons’ injury in the win over Brooklyn in the NCAA round of 32.
She walked the walk, too, playing a starring role in the 65-55 win over Elizabethtown the next night with a team-high 13 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals.
“It hit hard because Anaya was our dog in the paint and had put so much work into her craft,” Fan said. “Seeing her in tears really hurt me, so at the end of it we said, `We’re playing for Anaya,’ and went out and won.”
The Captains followed with a 60-51 win over Wartburg in the round of 16, but lost starter Katy Rader to a knee injury in the third quarter of that game. Nonetheless, they won 72-56 at Tufts the next night to earn the third Final Four trip in school history.
“To beat a team on the road, without two starters, both seniors, it’s almost kind of unbelievable,” Broderick said.
Fan said, “I’m so proud of the younger players stepping into Anaya’s position, because she has very big shoes to fill. Hannah Orloff had eight blocks and 12 rebounds against Tufts.”
Simmons has not been forgotten. Broderick is forever grateful that she assented to his suggestion she move from point guard, her position at Jamestown, to power forward her freshman season.
Simmons validated his predictions of greatness with her selection this week as a first-team All-American.
“He had a vision for me and I just bought into the process,” she said. “Helping us make the Final Four means the world to me, and I still have a big role even if it feels bittersweet.
“My role, now, is as a coach and motivator to the post players and the team. I’m upset I can’t be on the floor with them in the Final Four, but I’m excited for them.”
Broderick said, “My heart breaks for her and I literally cried [when she was injured] because of what she’s done for this program. But I tell her, `You’re the region Player of the Year and an All-American, and we wouldn’t be here without you.”
Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, email@example.com. Twitter @MartyOBrienDP
Men’s national championship game, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Mount Union (Ohio) vs. Christopher Newport, 4 p.m. Saturday. CBS Sports Network
Women’s Final Four, Hartford, Connecticut
Christopher Newport vs. Rhode Island College, 5 p.m. Saturday
Smith College (Massachusetts) vs. Transylvania University (Kentucky), 7:30 p.m. Saturday