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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Growing up in Hinsdale, N.H. and watching the UConn women’s basketball team, Angelina Nardolillo always dreamed of one day playing in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in pursuit of a championship title. This weekend, that dream will come true — sort of.

Nardolillo, who attended Hinsdale High School, helped Rhode Island College defeat the University of Chicago and Babson College over the weekend to send the Anchorwomen to the Division III Final Four, making history in the process.

“It’s like unreal. I have probably thought about doing this since I was a freshman in high school,” said Nardolillo. “To be able to participate in it, and make it this far, breaking school history, it still feels like a crazy dream. I was so excited, so happy, because we do a lot of work in the offseason and it just feels like everything was for a reason and it was for such a good reason.”

The team made program history with its win over previously undefeated Scranton on March 4 to advance to the Sweet 16 in Division III. At the time, Rhode Island College’s record of 26-3 was also a historic benchmark for the program.

After that, the Anchorwomen defeated the University of Chicago, ranked No. 10, on March 10 to advance to the Elite 8. The following day, they defeated Babson College 60-47 (on Babson’s home court) to advance to the Final Four, where they will face undefeated Christopher Newport University on Saturday with a trip to the National Championship game in Dallas, Texas on the line.

In the team’s win over Scranton, Nardolillo was the team’s leading scorer with 14 points in 27 minutes. The next game against the University of Chicago, Nardolillo was again the leading scorer putting up 17 points in 34 minutes of play and in 20 minutes of play against Babson, she tallied nine points.

Going into the tournament, Nardolillo said she wanted to change her tendencies so that the scouting report that teams had on her would not be accurate.

“I took a step out of my comfort zone and I started driving more and I started shooting a little bit more, which is what has helped me score the past couple games,” Nardolillo said. “Being able to be the leading scorer in some of the games feels pretty great. I don’t look (to score) a lot. I just look to contribute where I need to and I needed to contribute and I did.”

Nardolillo is part of well balanced scoring attack. In the team’s game against Scranton, teammates Madison Medbury had 12 points, Jeniah Jones had 11 points and Izabelle Booth scored 10 points to help lead the Anchorwomen to victory. In the team’s game against Chicago, Jones and Booth had 15 points each with Jayda Bing adding nine points. In the team’s win over Babson, it was Medbury that led the way with 20 points followed by Booth who had 11 points. Neleesha Meunier, like Nardolillo, added nine points in the win.

According to Nardolillo, the team has a very deep bench, with each player capable of scoring anywhere from 10 to 14 points a game and yet, she said they have trusted her to make plays.

“For them to have that trust in me, when I create and when I score more it makes me feel better because I know that they are putting me in a position to succeed and when I see success it makes me happier,” Nardolillo said.

While the team has had relatively even scoring across the board, Nardolillo said that it is the team’s defense that has really allowed it to advance.

Since she has been attending Rhode Island College, the sophomore said her game has improved dramatically both offensively and defensively. She has extended her range of shooting, grown more confident in her post moves, and is able to handle the ball better than she did in high school, she said. On the defensive side, she has played more man-to-man coverage instead of zone coverage, which is what she played in high school.

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All the hard work for the team to get to this point began with the preseason, which Nardolillo said consisted of two-a-day sessions. The players would sometimes start the day with runs at 5:30 a.m. In addition, she said they would play pickup games three times a week, work out five days a week, and typically only have one off day.

Now, Nardolillo said, the team is reaping the benefits of all its preseason work.

“Seeing the results is amazing,” she said. “It makes up for all the early mornings. All the double session days. It makes me so happy to think about, that that actually paid off and we worked our butts off for a reason.”

At the beginning of the season, Nardolillo said the team struggled, going just 1-2 in the first three games. It was the third game of the season, a 28-point loss to Babson, that turned things around. After that game, Nardolillo said the team had a long meeting, which she estimated took about an hour and a half. After that, the team rattled off 18 straight victories. Its final loss of the regular season was to No. 1 Eastern Connecticut State College, who the Anchorwomen defeated in the Little East Championship to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

During huddles prior to the games in the tournament, Nardolillo said the team has been taking a team deep breath. The exercise is one that she said has helped her to focus and block out the pressure of the situation and instead take a moment to enjoy the experience.

Two of those experiences have been just sharing the moment with her teammates and watching her coach, Jenna Cosgrove, have the success that she is having. Cosgrove was named Coach of the Year for Region 2 and Nardolillo said that she also reached her 100-win milestone recently.

“She’s breaking history and I love that for her because she’s an amazing coach,” said Nardolillo. “Seeing her success makes me happy and it makes me happy to know I will forever be a part of those memories with her, but a lot of it is just, the team’s just great. It’s a great atmosphere, great environment. I want to be there every single day.”

In high school, Nardolillo led Hinsdale to two Division 4 state championships in 2018 and 2021. In the championship game in 2018, Nardolillo had a double-double, scoring 16 points and tearing down 12 rebounds to lead the Lady Pacers to a 32-30 win over the No. 1 Crusaders.

During a quarterfinal game as a sophomore, Nardolillo scored her 1,000th point.

She transferred to Northfield Mount Hermon her junior year and averaged 10 points per game.

Nardolillo returned to Hinsdale for her senior year and led the Lady Pacers to a 63-51 comeback win over Colebrook in the state title game in which she scored 24 points. After the season, Nardolillo was named to New Hampshire’s Division 4 First Team, averaging 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in her senior year. Her younger sister, Addy, is a junior at Hinsdale and has played on the varsity team the last three seasons.

As a freshman in college, Nardolillo was named Fourth Team All-Region by the New England Women’s Basketball Association. She was named the 2022 Little East Conference (LEC) Women’s Basketball Rookie of the Year. During that year, she was named LEC Rookie of the Week on six separate occasions.

Rhode Island College (28-3) will play Christopher Newport University (30-0) at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. on Saturday at 5 p.m. The other national semifinal pits Smith (30-1) against Transylvania (31-0). The National Championship game is scheduled for Dallas on April 1.