From The Sidelines Column

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 11, 1998

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / February 11, 1998

A school-record 24 victories. The program’s first outright districtchampionship. The program’s first playoff victory. Keeshawn Carterbecoming the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Those were the accomplishments of the 1996-97 East St. John Lady Catsbasketball team. That team finished with a 24-7 overall record, capturingthe District 7-5A title and defeating Archbishop Chapelle in the bi- district playoffs. The dream season ended in the state regionals with aloss to powerhouse Denham Springs.

I was talking to East St. John head coach Troy Giordano before the seasonand we were joking about how the 1997-98 version of the Lady Cats could possibly top that season.

Well, how about a 26-2 record, the best in school history. A 25-gamewinning streak heading into the Lady Cats’ game at Central Lafourche last night, another school record and currently the longest winning streak in the state. A third place ranking in the state in Class 5A. A perfect 12-0record in District 6-5A, gaining the Lady Cats their second consecutive district championship. Victories in the Lady Rebel Classic and BelaireChristmas Tournament, the first tournament championships in school history.

Not bad for an encore.

The team set five goals for itself before the season started. Three -winning a tournament, a 20-win season and winning the district title – have already been achieved. The fourth – an undefeated record at home -could be achieved this Friday with a victory over Destrehan. The fifth -winning at least two playoff games – begins next week as the Lady Cats host a wild card team to be determined.

That the Lady Cats have been able to achieve their goals so far is a testament to their dedication and hard work. This was a team that lostfour seniors from a year ago, including two starters – Carter and Veyond Williams – who had combined for 37 points a game. Then the week beforethe season started, the Lady Cats had two players leave the team, including one potential starter.

East St. John began the season with two seniors, Tamika Williams andDanya Duhe, five sophomores and three freshmen. The inexperiencedshowed early as the Lady Cats dropped consecutive games to Amite and Mandeville in the Hammond Tournament after opening the season with a victory over Loranger. With a 1-2 record, Giordano and many others figuredthis was going to be a rebuilding season for the Lady Cats.

But then something clicked and the Lady Cats began growing up in a hurry.

The Lady Cats defeated West St. John to win the Riverside Lady RebelClassic, the first tournament title in school history. One week later, EastSt. John rallied from 15 points down to upset tournament favoriteSouthern Lab on its way to winning the Belaire Christmas Tournament.

Giordano said that victory was the turning point of the season.

“That got the ball rolling,” Giordano said.

The wins kept coming. The Lady Cats went down to Galliano to defeatSouth Lafourche on the road. They traveled to defeat Hahnville, Destrehanand Thibodaux. And they kept winning at home and have not lost on theirhome court the past two years.

One of the team’s strengths is its depth. That has allowed the Lady Cats tokeep winning in spite of injuries to Williams, the team’s leading scorer with 17.3 points per game, Kavona Reese and Duhe. Williams, freshmansensation Kinya Watkins, Ginina Louis and Reese are all averaging double figures in district play and each has had at least one game of 25 or more points this season.

“If you shut down one player, we still have three others to pick up the slack,” Giordano said. “It makes us not a one dimensional team.”Williams leads the team on and off the court as the team captain. She saidthe young team had to overcome first game jitters early in the season but has since really come together. She said the goal now is to advancefurther in the playoffs than last year.

“If we play together and listen to coach, we will be fine,” Williams said.

“If we play our game, I don’t think anybody can stop us.”Already, there is predictions of the Lady Cats reaching the Final Four this season. Giordano said there are a number of factors that could affect thathappening. But, Giordano said, even if the Lady Cats do not go that far, itwill still be a season to remember.

“Even if we lose our first playoff game, it still would have been a successful season,” Giordano said. “It was a once in a lifetime type ofyear.”

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