Lady Rebels, Wildcats prep for 1st round

Published 11:45 pm Friday, February 15, 2013



RESERVE — For two girls basketball teams that call Reserve home, this season has showcased programs on the upswing.

Both East St. John and Riverside look for their respective successes to continue on Monday night as each readies for an initial playoff test. The No. 20-seeded Wildcats will travel to face McKinley, while the 10th seeded Rebels will host Capitol. Each game tips off at 7 p.m.

For Riverside, the No. 10 rank represents the highest seed the Lady Rebels have ever earned. The team’s 21-9 record stands as the best record in school history.

But Riverside has its eyes set on another potential program-best mark now. The Rebels have won just one playoff game in school history, a mark Riverside can better with a pair of home victories over the upcoming week.

“There’s a lot of excitement and buzz around the school,” said Riverside coach Kristy Hebert. “There’s been great support from the community. I’m really excited for our girls. People are coming out to see them play now and not just the boys. It’s nice to see for all of them.”

After a Sugar Bowl tournament slump that saw the Rebels drop all three of their games, Riverside regrouped to put together a strong end of the season run. The Rebels went 8-3 over their last 11 games, finishing second in District 10-2A to John Curtis.

Riverside’s starting lineup boasts a pair of tough interior players in Kendra Turner and Jaimaya Bolden and a terrific backcourt comprised of Kelsey Joseph, Channan Simmons and Toni Hebert.

Last season’s perimeter-oriented Rebels lived and died with its guard play. But the addition of Turner, a junior transfer from Houma Christian, gave Riverside the frontcourt scoring and extra rebounding punch it needed to take the next step this season.

The Rebels have also committed to defense.

“Our defense has been there from day one,” she said. “We’re able to play nine to 10 girls and save our legs throughout the game. I’ve always believed that defense is what wins championships.”

Capitol enters with a 12-15 record. It’s won its last three and boasts wins over Hahnville and Northeast.

Hebert said Class 2A looks to be pretty open.

“To me, with Class 2A this year, you just don’t know. Throw the top 10 teams in a hat and toss it up. Anyone can win on a given day.”

East St. John, meanwhile, has a rich basketball tradition to look back on. But district and playoff success have been elusive in recent seasons.

East St. John clinched the first district championship of the Jackson Manuel-era last week, splitting honors with Destrehan in District 8-5A.

“It’s big for us,” said East St. John coach Jackson Manuel. “Real big. It’s a sign of things to come. We feel like we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

Manuel spoke this season of his intention to bring East St. John back to the level of success it enjoyed in the heyday of “Coach Troy,” referring to the late Troy Giordano, who passed away in an automobile accident in 2009. Giordano built ESJ into a state powerhouse in his time at the school.

The current Ladycats showed some potential to do just that. East St. John (21-8) won eight straight games to close the regular season, five of those coming by double figures.

The team’s backcourt of Jermani Thompson and Da’Rae Taylor has led the way offensively. But this Ladycats team is a deep one; Nya Duhe, Kariontae Victor, Brishane Haynes and Kannisha Brooks are among those that lead a stellar Wildcats rotation known for its stellar defensive ability. Over its eight game winning streak, ESJ has held four teams to 30 points or less.

“This team plays together,” said Manuel. “Last year’s team may have been a little more physically talented. But it never gelled into a cohesive unit the way this team has. They execute very well.

“We’re not playing completely to our potential yet. But we’ve come a long way.”

McKinley (21-5), the No. 13 seed, represents an interesting matchup for the Wildcats and Manuel specifically: Mustangs coach Corey Grant played for Manuel at John McDonogh.

“Their team is very similar to ours. We’re kind of like mirror images,” said Manuel. “He likes to press and generate offense just like we do. They use a 1-2-2 zone press that they’re pretty effective with.”

If East St. John wins, it will face the winner of No. 4 West Monroe and No. 29 Captain Shreve.