When Al Berger was taking over the Salem State women’s basketball program before this season, he started by watching tape of his 6-foot-1 junior center.
What he saw was inconsistency, a common trait among collegiate sophomores.
What he’s seen through 14 games this year has been nothing short of a leap forward in consistency for Kia Fernandes, a Wareham High graduate who is averaging 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds through 14 games for the Vikings.
“I had watched some film and there were games where she was a little inconsistent,” Berger said. “That’s been the biggest thing for her this year is finding that consistency on both ends of the floor. She’s gone from being an average defensive player to an outstanding defensive player. She’s been really good about having a good mental focus this year on both ends.”
Fernandes has 30 blocks through 14 games, already topping the 24 blocks she had in 25 games as a sophomore.
“She’s our backbone in the way she’s able to be a rim protector,” Berger said. “The games where we’re good defensively are the games we come out on top. She’s been a big part of that.”
Fernandes’ ability to alter shots at the rim has long been evident. She averaged 7.0 blocks a game as a senior at Wareham, earning her second-straight South Coast Conference All-Star nod and a spot on the Standard-Times Super Team after averaging 16.8 points and 7.0 rebounds.
She immediately found herself starting at Salem State, scoring 10.0 points and pulling down 7.2 rebounds in 25 games (24 starts) as a freshman. She also blocked 71 shots while shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 27.8 percent on 54 3-point attempts.
Some of those numbers took a dip her sophomore year, when she averaged 9.6 points and 5.0 rebounds while playing 4.6 fewer minutes per game. Her blocks dropped to 24, although her overall field goal percentage improved to 42 percent and she still hit 28.2 percent of her 39 3-point attempts.
When Berger first saw her this preseason, he knew she was a player he’d build around.
“I was blown away by how polished she is,” he said. “On film she looked a little raw, but over the summer she put a lot of work in with some skill coaches. It’s definitely paid off.”
So far this season she’s racked up several dominant games, including 29 points and 16 rebounds against Colby Sawyer on Jan. 2; 27 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks against Plymouth State on Dec. 7; and 22 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against Mount Ida on Nov. 30.
“She’s a gifted athlete,” Berger said. “With her size, it’s rare to be as athletic and mobile as she is. She’s one of the few players who can catch a rebound and put it back in off the jump, or off a lob pass. She’s also one of our best shooters.”
The numbers bear that out. She’s increased her field-goal percentage to 49 percent and is hitting 33 percent from deep on 30 attempts, as well as a career-best 66.7 percent from the charity stripe. She’s leading the Vikings in scoring by about four points a game.
“I thought our attack was going to be more balanced, but to some extent she’s forced my hand,” Berger said. “We struggled with scoring early on and she emerged out of it. It was a feeling out process for me and the team. I kind of wish it didn’t take me as long as it did to realize how much we could utilize her.”
Berger, who took over at Salem State after spending last season as an assistant at Wheelock, said Fernandes isn’t close to her ceiling.
“The sky is the limit for her,” he said. “I really feel that’s true if she continues to grow as a leader and is consistent with her effort and approach.”
There’s even a growing sense Fernandes could earn All-American honors by her senior season, an award not earned by anyone in the Salem State program since Estrella Kuilan in 2006. The Vikings have a storied basketball history, having won a Division III national championship in 1986 and 20-straight MASCAC titles from 1986-2006. Their last MASCAC crown came in 2006 and they last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2008.
After going 19-33 with a 7-17 mark in league play over Fernandes’ first two seasons, the Vikings were 6-8 with a 2-0 league record coming into Saturday.
“We’re growing right now and our confidence is growing,” Berger said. “We’ve been a little Jekyll and Hyde over the course of the year, but we’re trending in the right direction. We can win our league as long as we’re consistent and play tough and physical.”
Junior Ryan Beatty (Old Rochester) totaled 10 points and two rebounds in three games this week for the University of New England. He's averaging 7.1 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. ... Sophomore Ben Holding (Dartmouth) totaled 10 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in two games this week for Emerson. He's averaging 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. ... Freshman Matt Valles (Old Rochester) totaled four points, three rebounds, four assists and a block in three games this week for Gordon. He's averaging 5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds. ... Sophomore Eric Demers (Acushnet/Falmouth) averaged 24.0 points and 5.3 assists in three games this week for Gordon, adding five total rebounds, two blocks and eight steals. He's averaging 21.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
Senior Breanna Muir (Wareham) totaled 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in two games this week for Mount Ida. She's averaging 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. ... Senior Mariah Nicholas (Fairhaven) averaged 21.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games this week for Roger Williams, adding two assists, eight blocks and two steals. She's averaging 16.0 points and 7.1 rebounds. ... Junior Mikayla Roderick (GNB Voc-Tech) totaled four points, four rebounds, two assists and four steals in two games this week for Salve Regina. She's averaging 1.2 points and 1.9 rebounds. ... Junior Kailyn Aguiar (Bishop Stang) averaged 9.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in three games this week for Bridgewater State, adding three assists and four steals. She's averaging 3.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Senior Ryan Gouveia (Dartmouth) recorded a hat trick against Skidmore on Saturday for Babson, giving him four goals in two days after he scored against Hobart on Friday. He has eight goals and five assists on the season. ... Junior Brett Strawn (Wareham) scored a goal and added an assist for Southern New Hampshire on Tuesday. He has two goals and 10 assists on the season. ... Sophomore DJ Goldstein (Wareham) notched an assist for Southern New Hampshire on Tuesday. He has two goals and three assists on the season.
Follow Brendan Kurie on Twitter @BrendanKurieSCT. To add a student-athlete to our watch list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.