Updated Wed, Jan 22, 2014 12:33 pm
Prior to the 2013-14 season, the Rio Grande RedStorm (13-5, 6-1) were viewed as an inexperienced team that stood no chance in the daunting Mid-South Conference. Picked to finish tenth in the preseason rankings, the RedStorm have proven their critics wrong. Rio is currently tied with the Pikeville Bears for first place in the MSC and is now a nationally ranked squad.
Boasting its best record in five years when it was still in Division II of the NAIA, No. 20 Rio Grande received 102 points in the latest NAIA Division I Coaches Poll released Tuesday night. This marks Rio’s first time in the Top 25 since it was ranked No. 17 back on Jan. 19, 2009 when it was a member of the America Mideast Conference.
“Being ranked definitely gives our guys some added confidence,” head coach Ken French said. “It’s nice and all but it doesn’t mean anything because our ultimate goal is to be in the national tournament at the end of the season.”
The RedStorm not only have more wins than the 2009-10 and 2010-2011 seasons combined, but they have also shattered several winning records under Coach French.
“There were guys with great personalities, the chemistry was incredible, and the work ethic on that [2008-09] team was unmatched,” French said. Our team this year has many of those same qualities that made us so good a few years ago.”
For the first time under French, the RedStorm won back-to-back games on one road trip. Both road victories came in Kentucky with the first being an exhilarating 66-65 win over Cumberland on Jan. 2. The second was a 79-72 upset over the No. 2 Georgetown Tigers back on Jan. 4.
To go along with consecutive road victories, Rio has defeated three nationally ranked opponents, a feat it had never accomplished until this season. Before this year, the RedStorm had never defeated three straight teams in the MSC. Now, five out of Rio’s past six wins have been over conference foes. Four teams from the MSC currently hold a top 25 spot in this week’s poll, the most ranked teams from one conference out of all 10 conferences in the NAIA.
“We just found ways to win and we were long overdue for the ball to bounce our way,” French said. “This conference is tough and one of the best in the country but we’ve been able to stay the course and play our game.”
This impressive season has been highlighted by senior guard Jermaine Warmack who leads the team in free-throw shooting, assists per game, steals per game, and assist to turnover ratio. Warmack is also just 28 points away from 1,000 on his career with the RedStorm. To complement Warmack’s big year, Rio Grande has two players that have won Player of the Week honors in the MSC in junior Josh Reagan and sophomore D.D. Joiner.
Rio Grande enters its Thursday night matchup against No.4 Pikeville to determine first place in the MSC.