Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
When Keith Haywood said having played for a girls’ basketball championship last week was the shot of adrenalin his St. Mary’s Academy program badly needed, he was also speaking for his counterpart at St. Katharine Drexel Prep, Terry Wilson.
St. Mary’s last state championship came in 1998 during an era in which Haywood’s Cougars were queens of the local high school basketball court. That ended in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
On the other side of town, Xavier Prep (now Drexel Prep) had not seen such success on the hardwood. But their rivalry with St. Mary’s was legendary.
The long drought for both programs seems to be over, to the joy of coaches Haywood and Wilson, who see the March 3 Division III championship game played between St. Katharine Drexel Prep and St. Mary’s as a rebirth of their respective programs.
Wilson’s Yellow Jackets defeated Haywood’s Cougars, 43-42, for their first division championship ever.
The game was part of the final day’s package of championship games at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA girls’ basketball tournament in Alexandria.
Despite the loss, Haywood envisions this past season as an opportunity to rejuvenate St. Mary’s to get it to the level it once enjoyed.
Wilson has the same thing in mind for Drexel Prep.
Both coaches have an excellent selling point to prospective students.
The two schools were beneficiaries of the LHSAA’s separate playoff system, which no longer combines public and non-public schools in a set of common brackets.
Drexel Prep entered the playoffs as the Division III No. 6 seed. St. Mary’s was seeded eighth.
It’s a tribute to both coaches whose teams defeated higher seeds to meet for a championship for the first time in their long, storied rivalry.
Drexel Prep eliminated No. 3 Dunham, 35-31, and No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas, 48-41, to gain a berth in the finals.
St. Mary’s shocked No. 1 Northlake Christian, 62-57, then took down No. 5 Riverside Academy, 41-39.
The championship game was the first between two seeds ranked below No. 4.
But what would have been the result of a Class 3A (or Division III) tournament had there been just one playoff?
According to the final power rankings, Drexel Prep would have been the No. 24 seed instead of No. 6, and St. Mary’s the No. 31 seed in a 32-team tournament.
But that’s the last thing on the coaches’ minds today as they display their new champion and runners-up trophies.
Drexel Prep overcame an 11-3 deficit and was actually outscored in three of the four periods. But the 14-5 margin Wilson’s team enjoyed in the second period put the Cougars in a hole.
Significantly, the victory came on the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel, who died in 1955 on March 3.
How good will the ‘Jackets be in 2018-19?
They return all 10 players on their roster, including the starters made up of three sophomores, one freshman and an eighth-grader.
And they play in an antiquated, claustrophobic gym that Wilson proudly says gives his team decisive advantage because it makes the opponent uncomfortable.
St. Mary’s must replace three seniors but returns a freshman who may develop into one of the most dominant players in school history in the mold of Shondra Johnson, who led the Cougars to their last state championship.
Tomyree Thompson was outstanding last year as a 5-foot, 10-inch eighth grade guard. She’ll only get better.
St. Mary’s roster has just eight players, three of whom will return. Haywood looks to increase that number significantly.
Lions roar again
A year ago, Ursuline Academy played without its star player, Kourtney Weber, who, after leading a young Lions team to the Class 4A championship in 2017, was sidelined with a torn-ACL that cost her her junior season.
Another junior at the time, Brooklyn Mitchell, and an underclass-laden team, carried Ursuline to the Division II semifinal round, but the Lions’ season ended there with a 52-50 loss to eventual champion Parkview Baptist.
Kourtney returned, but Mitchell also suffered a torn-ACL in practice and sat out her senior campaign.
Coach Andrea Williams returned enough veteran talent to overcome another serious loss of experience. With Weber playing at full throttle again and returning starters Giordin Johnson, Kiersten Nelson and Kennedi Jackson a year more mature, the Lions reeled off a 24-3 record and won the Division II championship via a 70-43 blowout of Lee Magnet.
Weber was named the division’s most valuable player after scoring 48 points in the final two games, including 30 points against Lee.
Dominican made it 4
Dominican’s fine 24-8 season ended in the semifinal round of the Division I tournament. The fourth team from the Archdiocese of New Orleans to earn its way to Alexandria, Dominican fell victim to McKinley’s red-hot shooting. The Lady Panthers rained 10 three-point baskets to roll to a 61-33 win on March 1.
The game marked Dominican’s second consecutive trip to the semifinals. The last time the team with no nickname had made headlines was in 2005 when it lost to Southwood, 39-32, for the Class 5A title. Head coach Ryan Reuter was an assistant on that team.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.