Lady Rams look to earn 1st state crown

Published 11:45 pm Friday, February 15, 2013



EDGARD — Excitement is at a fever pitch in Rams country these days.

West St. John earned the first No. 1 seed in the Lady Rams’ program history this season, cemented officially when the LHSAA released the state playoff brackets Thursday. The Rams won their third consecutive district championship this season and rewrote the school record books in the process.

Needless to say, they’re hungry for more. Five more wins, in fact — that would make the Lady Rams state champions for the first time in school history. That quest begins Monday night at 7 p.m. when the Rams host Houma Christian in a bi-district playoff game.

West St. John went to the Class 1A Top 28 tournament for the first time last season, bowing out in the semifinals to Tensas, 63-54.

“I think that gave them the incentive to work even harder,” said West St. John coach Lester Smith. “They knew then they could play with anyone in the state, and now they all want to get back there.”

The Rams shot just 27 percent in that loss to Tensas.

“I think for the players, playing in that kind of spot for the first time, they came in a little amped up,” said Smith. “We missed five or six layups real early in the game, and that could have made it pretty close.”

Smith has coached the Rams for 27 years and has now molded WSJ into a state powerhouse. A state championship would be his first as a coach.

“It feels good,” said senior guard and leading scorer Jaylyn Gordon after last week’s win at home over White Castle. “He’s been here for so long. We all want to get him a ring before he retires.”

Gordon certainly seems to sense the opportunity. She scored 42 and then 35 in the team’s final two home games, both victories. In WSJ’s season finale at Ascension Catholic, she scored 28. Those games represented three of the Rams’ tightest games this season, wins of nine, seven and five points respectively.

“I think she’ll continue to play at a high level,” said Smith. “She knows this is her last chance to win it all as a high school player.”

Gordon, who said the atmosphere around school this season has been like “football season all over again,” said the community’s support has been inspiring.

“Everyone is standing by our side,” she said. “They have our back.”

The Rams backcourt is among the very best in the state. Gordon leads the way with an average of 22.1 points per game. Maya Trench — a freshman and Gordon’s cousin — is scoring 14.9 points per game while junior Jujuan Nicholas has chipped in 10.7 a night.

“I think our backcourt can match up with anyone in the state,” said Smith. “With Jaylyn, Maya and Jujuan all there, it’s really tough for teams to press us. That takes a lot of the table defensively for other teams, which is a big plus for us.”

Houma Christian is 9-9 this season and finished tied for third in District 10-1A. HCA shares a district with 10th seeded Country Day and 18th seeded St. Martin’s. It lost all four games, but each came by 11 points or less.

The Rams have won 14 straight games since their lone loss this season, a 74-54 loss to Warren Easton, Class 4A’s top-seeded team.

Smith has consistently warned his team about overconfidence, however, since the first Class 1A poll was released this season. West St. John topped those rankings for the first time ever, and have sat atop them since.

He’s reminded his players how fleeting a ranking can be: As an eighth seed, the Rams upset top-ranked Central Catholic in the state quarterfinals last season.

“Everyone is hollering, ‘championship’ in our community, and that’s great,” said Smith. “But a 16 can beat a 1 if you don’t have your A-game. We have to stay focused.”

All 18 of West St. John’s non-district games have come against higher classification foes, and the Rams have played just eight home games this season.

WSJ has almost certainly played its most difficult schedule ever this season, yet has already won the most games in team history.

“We wanted to put together the best schedule possible. We had to get ourselves ready for this,” said Smith. “I never would have expected the record we have right now.

“But I’m glad we have it.”