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Osborne (Roxbury), LaFrance Boyce (Avery Point) chose the junior college route to chase the dream

Groton — Charee Osborne of New London wore the black Roxbury (Mass.) Community College No. 21 on Saturday afternoon for a junior college game at UConn Avery Point. Taty LaFrance Boyce of Stonington had the home uniform, Avery Point's white jersey No. 13.

Both freshmen, they looked like their old selves, too.

Osborne, playing for the second-ranked NJCAA Division III team in the country and the defending national champion, backed in to the basket on a few defenders, though struggling with foul trouble.

LaFrance Boyce, an all-state selection last year, as was Osborne, played relentlessly until the final buzzer in Avery Point's 95-84 loss. She made one last steal and tried to get to the basket as time expired, even though, with the Pointers competing with only five players, LaFrance Boyce had been on the floor for the entire game.

The question asked of both the former Eastern Connecticut Conference favorites: Why? Why take this route through junior college and not accept one of their original offers from four-year programs coming out of high school? What is to be gained from it?

"I've been chasing the dream since forever," said Osborne, a 5-foot-10 forward, who helped lead New London to a Class L state championship berth last year and was named The Day's All-Area Player Girls' Basketball Player of the Year. "Some days are hard. Then you just think about the bigger picture.

"My goal is basically to get in better shape and to improve my game. I've been taking it outside more. It's a hard road. You've got to appeal to coaches (of four-year programs). It's a different intensity even from high school. We train like we're going (Division I)."

Osborne is averaging 14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for Roxbury (8-1), which plays its games at the prestigious Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. The Tigers are averaging 94.4 points per game, leading the nation, having recently completed a three-game road swing through Virginia and Maryland.

Osborne, one of eight new players on a nine-player roster, was named a Roxbury captain prior to the season.

"She's well-liked on campus. Everybody knows who she is," Roxbury coach Mark Leszczyk, said of Osborne. "I think she might have been a little bit nervous today to play here, at home. They're all works in progress, but they give it all they have. She works hard."

Leszczyk, in his 10th season with the program, has the best answer to "why?" It's not because of grades, either. Seven of the Tigers' nine players, including Osborne, were NCAA qualifiers coming out of high school.

"Thirty-five of the last 37 kids (on the Roxbury team) have gone Division I or Division II with scholarships," Leszczyk said. "It's not easy. Up here in the Northeast, there's a stigma that junior college is for failures. We have an elistist attitude (in our region of the country).

"I like saying the kids come in with a mission. Some of them want to improve academically and they want to improve basketball-wise."

Meanwhile, Osborne, who is taking classes in social sciences and will pursue a degree in sociology, is getting a taste of college basketball. She scored a career-high 20 points in the Tigers' victory over Quinsigamond on Nov. 17.

"It's really intense," she said. "You have to stay hydrated, you have to stay rested. As soon as you get done with one game, it's time for another one, then you get on the plane. I thought coach (Holly) Misto (of New London) was hard, but nooooo. We're out there running miles."

LaFrance Boyce, a 5-8 guard who finished her high school career with 1,699 career points, second all-time to Heather Buck at Stonington, had 39 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists Saturday for the Pointers (8-4).

She leads Division III junior colleges in scoring, averaging 33.1 points per game, and scored a program record 51 points on Nov. 15 against Bristol, shooting 16-for-31 from the floor that day and 15-for-17 from the foul line.

LaFrance Boyce, who lives on the Avery Point campus and who plans to major in biology is also pleased with her decision to play for the Pointers.

"I know the reason I came here and I still have the same purpose," LaFrance Boyce said. "I came here for a scholarship (offer down the line). I came here to be on a team where I know we're going to work hard. And we work even harder because we only have five people who can play right now."

"She's been the best player on the floor the last 12 games and she'll be the best player on the floor the next 16 games," Avery Point coach George Hardison said of LaFrance Boyce. "It's fun to watch. She's disciplined, hard-working, she done everything I've asked her."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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