Lady Eagles get rematch with West St. John
By GEOFF STOUTE
Central Catholic senior Makayla McDaniel didn’t know.
Senior Caroline Byrne guessed correctly.
But junior Meo Knight knew when asked what happened a year ago Wednesday.
On Feb. 27, 2012, the Lady Eagles, then ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A postseason, fell to No. 8 seed West St. John, 69-62, in the quarterfinal round at home.
Now, almost a year to the day later, Central Catholic (24-7) will get its shot at redemption when this year’s edition of the Lady Eagles, the No. 4 seed in the postseason, face the now top-ranked West St. John Rams (28-1) at 6:15 p.m. today in the state semifinals at the University Center on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
McDaniel may not have recalled what happened a year ago Wednesday, but she sure remembers what it felt like after.
“It was kind of a heartbreaker,” she said. “(I) couldn’t sleep that night, but this year, I think we have a lot of motivation. We have five seniors and we all want it really bad, so we’re just going to go out there and work for it.”
Much of Central Catholic’s team from a year ago, headlined by guards Knight and Randi Brown, return this year for another go-round with West St. John.
Brown has postseason per-game averages of 17 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 4.7 steals and 1.3 blocks, while Knight enters today’s semifinal with postseason averages of 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, two assists, five steals and 1.7 blocks.
Sure, they make the headlines but without others, the Lady Eagles would have been hard-pressed to make the semifinals.
Among those standouts are Abbie Bergeron, who is averaging 8.3 points per game this postseason, while Megan Landry is averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest and McDaniel, 7 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 steals.
Byrne has helped the Lady Eagles with key shots, while she and senior Courtney McGuire have provided solid defensive effort.
“Honestly, I don’t think they have enough players to match up with our good players,” Knight said. “I don’t think we’re going to repeat what happened last year at all.”
She explained that last year the squad got frazzled during the contest.
While the same thing could have happened when Knight was sidelined for much of the third quarter during Monday’s quarterfinal victory against Tensas, it didn’t, as the Lady Eagles turned things up a notch with Bergeron, Byrne and Landry all getting key buckets as well as Brown and McDaniel. The latter two were just as lethal dishing out assists.
“That really showed how much we improved over the last year,” Knight said.
The coaching staff also is confident they have prepared themselves for this moment considering earlier season opponents they have played. The coaches point to Class 4A’s St. Thomas More, who the squad lost to in a close contest, and Class 2A’s University High, who the Lady Eagles knocked off late in the regular season.
The squad also competed with Vandebilt Catholic, who had advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals before it was removed by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association for use of an ineligible player during its season.
Their lone blowout loss to a team still in the running in a higher classification was to St. Michael the Archangel, another Class 4A semifinalist.
Despite the loss, the experience could do nothing but help the Lady Eagles.
But as of now, the attention turns to West St. John, who again features the play of senior guard and University of Louisiana at Lafayette commitment Jaylen Gordon.
In the 2012 quarterfinal contest, Gordon scored 32 points.
“She’s real good,” first-year Central Catholic coach Jamarr Garrett said. “She scored 32 points against us last year.”
Freshman Maya Trench, who as an eighth-grader scored 15 points against the Eagles, also returns.
While those two are the ones he knew by name, Garrett said any of West St. John’s players are dangerous.
That doesn’t mean the Lady Eagles’ coaching staff and players don’t like the matchup, though.
“I’m very excited for some redemption, and I feel like this year we came together a little better than we did last year,” Byrne said. “Last year we had a lot of talent but I think everyone was kind of playing for themselves. This year it’s like everyone’s playing for each other and a lot of us have gotten better, so I know a lot of us are ready to play them again.”
They’ve seen what West St. John has before. Now, it’s a matter of taking care of business.
While West St. John advanced to the state semifinals in Class 1A a year ago before falling to eventual state runner-up Tensas, Byrne and Knight both said they thought their experience as well as that of Bergeron and Landry in the Pontchartrain Center will help them.
“I think it was more loud playing volleyball than what it’s going to be playing basketball,” Knight said, noting that in volleyball, the Lady Eagles had to block out crowd noise and referees’ whistles from two other games while playing their contests because the three games are played in the same arena at one time.
In last year’s contest, the Lady Eagles struggled from the free throw line as they converted just 13 of 29 attempts. West St. John didn’t do much better as they made eight of 15.
“I think that’s going to be key to this game — turnovers, free throws and foul trouble,” Garrett said. “Foul trouble’s been our worst nightmare as of recently, especially last game Meo sitting out basically the whole second half. But I think the girls came together after that. They knew, ‘OK, look, she’s gone, we got to do this ourselves’ and they did it.”
Assistant coach Joe Jones, who was on the sidelines last year, said West St. John, like many teams, will be taller than the Lady Eagles.
“Everybody is taller than us,” he said. “We don’t worry about the height or anything like that. We can play with them and we can win. … If you’re strong and you play together, you get the win.”