Baggetts' legacy at McNeese will live on long after final horn

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

Today marks the final home game for twins Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett, but their impact on the McNeese State women’s basketball

program will continue to be measured well beyond the final horn.

There’s still more season to be played, of course — two regular-season road games and the Southland Conference tournament,

not to mention what could come after.

But even when all those games are done, the Baggett legacy won’t be.

It can be found on the sideline with a

coach who took over a floundering program with a plan to build it around

a twin backcourt.

It can be found in the rafters, with banners hanging for back-to-back conference tournament championships — banners that may

still earn more company, not to mention the numbers 10 and 11.

It can be found in the Burton Coliseum stands, where a community has come to support women’s basketball after treating it

as less than an afterthought.

It can especially be found in the

school record book, where you’ll only find the Baggett name if you look

somewhere near the

top. Ashlyn is the program’s No. 2 all-time scorer and Caitlyn is

third. Ashlyn is the all-time 3-point leader, while Caitlyn

has distributed more assists than anyone else to wear the Cowgirls

uniform.

These things will live on, even if the journey is coming to a close. And what a journey it has been.

'Something special’

Brooks Donald Williams wasn’t even McNeese State’s head coach when Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett became her top priority.

She was driving from Hattiesburg, Miss., to Lake Charles for a job interview with a clear vision in mind for turning nothing

into something.

“One of the first people I called driving down here was Stan Baggett,” Donald Williams said. “I said, ‘If I get this job,

I want your girls coming with me. I can’t do this by myself. I want to do it, and I want to do something special with our

Louisiana girls and build from there.’ ”

Though Donald Williams knew what she wanted, selling a 4-25 program to a pair of seniors who recently completed a 43-0 high

school season at Iota took a whole lot of trust.

“We were very honest,” Donald Williams said. “We told them, ‘It’s in bad shape. We’ve got to work together to build it.’ ”

The Baggetts bought into it.

“Coach made us believe. She got us on board,” Caitlyn said. “We really felt we could come over here and contribute to conference

championships and a winning program.”

“What really got us is when we saw other players like us being recruited here,” Ashlyn said. “It made everything she said

feel like it was going to come true.”

‘Just so different’

With the Baggett twins in tow, the expectations and excitement for Donald Williams’ second season far exceeded her first game

as coach.

“We had maybe 65 people here, including both teams,” Donald Williams said of her coaching debut.

The twins put up good numbers for first-year players — Ashlyn averaged 10.7 points per game and Caitlyn 8.4 — and McNeese

moved toward respectability with a 14-16 record.

But the expectations wore on the sisters. Playing the college game, not to mention for a coach who wasn’t their dad, felt

worlds different than basketball as they knew it.

“It’s just so different from high school. It’s more of a job,” Donald Williams said. “They came into a program that was not

very strong at the time. We were trying to set the bar, and I think they questioned things as most freshmen do. And there

have been very few times where they haven’t been successful. I think that was hard on them and their competitive nature.”

When the season ended, the Baggetts decided they were done. All that promise was going to flame out after one year as they

left the program to become plain-old college students.

The twins regret quitting, but recognize that it became a blessing in disguise.

“At the time I regretted it a lot,” Ashlyn said. “But I’m kind of grateful for it because it made me love basketball again

and play with a lot of passion. But I regret quitting. I wouldn’t suggest anyone doing that, ever.”

Back in the game

The year without a Baggett was rough. The Cowgirls regressed to 7-22. The program went from steaming ahead to steaming toward

the edge of a cliff.

But midway through the 2009-10 season, Ashlyn realized she wanted to be part of the team again. Donald Williams welcomed her,

though a health scare kept Ashlyn in warm-up gear as she awaited medical clearance.

Caitlyn was back, too, though only watching her former teammates from the stands and occasionally doing her homework during

timeouts.

Never one to be separated from her twin for long, Caitlyn rejoined the team in the offseason.

The table was set for history.

Gaining respect

Some players might not accept the return of two teammates who walked away from them a year before. Donald Williams said that

wasn’t the case for the Baggetts, who worked hard to regain the respect of their peers.

“They came back so humble and so fired

up,” Donald Williams said. “It made them better players. It made them

appreciate the

game so much more, and it was fun to see them love it again so

much. They just had grown up so much and earned every bit of

respect they got.”

With chemistry issues nonexistent, the Baggetts came out of their off-year with a vengeance and helped orchestrate the biggest

single-season turnaround in NCAA history.

McNeese won 19 more games than in 2010, finishing 15-1 in league play and following it with the conference tournament crown

to send the Cowgirls to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Last year’s journey was different, with

a pair of losses against Central Arkansas keeping the Cowgirls from

defending their

regular-season crown. But McNeese turned it on again in the

postseason, winning the conference tournament for a second consecutive

NCAA berth.

Smooth sailing

This season hasn’t looked anything like

the previous two as the Baggetts are surrounded by a younger, mostly

inexperienced

cast. There have been unexpected and almost inexplicable losses to

the likes of Northwestern State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Yet somehow the Cowgirls are back within a game of first place and in two weeks could find themselves in the same position

that they’ve been in the past two years.

“It’s kind of great the way the team

comes together at the end (of the season),” Caitlyn said. “Each season

has been a different

experience with different pressure. It’s a different journey to

get to the point where we are now, but it’s equally exciting.

I’m looking forward to the postseason just seeing what our team

has in store.”

Part of this year’s new feel comes from

playing with their younger sister, Allison, for the first time ever. It

wasn’t even

mathematically possible until the twins redshirted a year, and

wasn’t going to happen until Allison backed out of a commitment

to Louisiana-Lafayette because of a coaching change.

“It’s been so fun to play with them just for one year,” Allison said. “It’s been awesome to learn from them and now to get

to play with them. Everything happens for a reason, and obviously this is one of the biggest cases of that.”

Their own freshman trials and tribulations have allowed Ashlyn and Caitlyn to guide Allison and the rest of her classmates

on how to handle things.

It’s just one more way the Baggett legacy will live on.

“The advice I would offer to any

freshman at any program in any sport is that it’s going to be very

tough,” Ashlyn said. “You’re

going to want to give up many times. But as soon as you get over

that hump everything gets much better, and it’s fun. That’s

the hardest part. Once you get over that, it’s smooth sailing.”