River Ridge junior guard Brandi Willard, who is averaging 22.3 points a game, has stepped into the vacuum created by the loss through injury of teammate Ices Utegg, says Coach Joeyns Dearsman.

NEW PORT RICHEY — It’s Year Two in the second stint as River Ridge High School’s girls varsity basketball coach for Joeyns Dearsman. Despite taking some time off and moving away to California, nothing much has changed about the program.

The Royal Knights remained one of the top teams in Pasco County, and Dearsman, in her second season back, has kept River Ridge amongst one of the best in the area. Through 18 games River Ridge was 15-3 on the season and the Royal Knights are eyeing a district championship and a deep playoff run and certainly have the pieces to do it.

“Our district is pretty wide open,” Dearsman said. “We squeaked out a couple close wins. Any one of the teams could win the tournament if they execute. Obviously, we prefer to have that No. 1 seed, but we are well aware that every team is 0-0 come tournament time and nothing is guaranteed.”

One of the reasons why River Ridge has been playing so well is behind the play of Brandi Willard, who is averaging 22.3 points per game. Willard’s effectiveness on the floor this season has led the Royal Knights all the way through.

“Brandi has definitely stepped up and been a big help on the offensive side,” Dearsman said. “She had a lot of pressure the first couple games after we lost Ices.”

Junior guard Ices Utegg has been sidelined by injury.

Joeyns added about Willard: “I’m proud of how she has handled not only coming to a new school, but also stepped into the role of putting points on the board. The core of the girls on this team have been together for a few years and have welcomed Brandi into this family with open arms.

“They have high expectations of her which I told her is a sign they respect her and know what she is capable of. Our senior leader, Destiny Large doesn’t let her get away with much and stays on her like a big sister, which has definitely made her a tougher player.”

With River Ridge less than a month away from district tournament play, the Royal Knights are aiming high, but Dearsman believes her club’s hard work will dictate exactly how far they can go.

“As far as our hard work, focus, and execution will take us,” Dearsman said.