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Senior Arianna James and the Cowgirls had a lot of ups and downs during the season. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Senior Arianna James and the Cowgirls had a lot of ups and downs during the season. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Young Cowgirls find their way

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:01 PM

By Albert Burford / American Press

McNeese State began its season with one glaring question— who would step up in the absence of Allison and Caitlyn Baggett?

The Cowgirls didn’t quite replicate the success of their three previous seasons with the Baggett sisters, but they were able to find some answers to that question.

McNeese wrapped up its season with a 19-14 record, which was its lowest win total since the 2010-11 campaign, but the Cowgirls managed their fourth consecutive postseason tournament appearance.

“This group accomplished so much,” said head coach Brooks Donald Williams. “They accomplished much more than anybody outside of our team or program expected. We lost so much when we graduated the twins. That really motivated the kids when they heard so many people talk about it. ... They fell short of some of the goals they expected and wanted to accomplish, but in the same sense they did some really good things in a transitional year.”

Allison Baggett picked up where her sisters left off, leading McNeese with 17.9 points per game, good for third in the Southland.

Inside, the Cowgirls relied on Cecilia Okoye for 12 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in her senior campaign.

Jayln Johnson also established herself in the McNeese backcourt with 4.3 assists per game and a conference-best 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“(Baggett and Johnson) had incredible years, both of them,” Donald Williams said. “Allison did it as a go-to scorer. She stepped up and knew her role and accepted her role and night in and night out, did it extremely well. Jayln stepped in and did some big things as a point guard. She filled the shoes of Caitlyn Baggett, wno is probably one of the best point guards I’ve ever been around at any level. Jayln did that with a lot of confidence and led this team and all the young kids and inexperience in it.”

The Cowgirls had three seniors on this season’s team, though NeTanya Jones was the only one who had spent four years at McNeese. McNeese will lose seniors Okoye, Jones and Arianna James, the team’s top three rebounders.

McNeese dealt with all the ups and downs that come as a result of youth during the season. Freshmen Victoria Rachal, Amber Donnes and Haily Jenkins all averaged 14 minutes a game, while fellow freshman Hannah Cupit averaged nearly 10.

“All of them had such bright moments throughout the year, similar to Jayln and Allison,” Donald Williams said. “They all had great opportunities and big minutes. That’s important for the future going into their sophomore season.”

McNeese won two games in the Southland Conference tournament before falling in the semifinals to Stephen F. Austin. The Cowgirls’ season ended with a first-round Women’s Basketball Invitational loss at Northern Kentucky.

“Postseason experience, you just can’t explain it,” Donald Williams said. “You can’t put a price on it. “It’s something they’ll take into next year and they understand what it means to go to postseason play and they understand what the conference tournament is all about.”

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