No shortage of talent for title defenses
Published 6:00 pm Sunday, March 7, 2021
Just getting to the finish line of the high school basketball season would qualify as an accomplishment given the extra hurdles that were required this season due to the coronavirus pandemic and damage from two hurricanes.
Area girls programs went much further, with a half-dozen teams reaching state championship games and four bringing home championship trophies.
The season closed on the highest of notes with the return of actual loud crowd noise from Lake Arthur supporters as the Tigers claimed the Class 2A state title in dramatic — probably too much so — fashion, holding off a second-half surge by defending champion Doyle.
Given the geography it should have been a home-court advantage for Doyle, located about 20 miles from Southeastern Louisiana University’s Hammond campus, where the game was played. But, Lake Arthur fans took full advantage of the bump in number of fans allowed, packing one side of the University Center and producing a pregame roar that was quite jolting after a season spent in mostly empty gyms.
Two of the area schools reaching Hammond, Division II champion St. Louis and Class C runner-up Reeves, went the entire season without a gym at all. Reeves coach Mark Dronet spoke after his team’s semifinal win of having to wait until 5 p.m. to start practice at neighboring schools.
St. Louis won each of its four playoff games at a different site, hosting home games at Hamilton Christian and Washington-Marion after the Louisiana High School Athletic Association prohibited it from using its temporary regular-season home, Burton Coliseum, for home games because the building would host semifinal games.
The Saints also gained a bit of revenge by beating Liberty for the title. Each of the past two seasons, Liberty had beaten St. Louis in the championship game.
The win gave head coach Tony Johnson his first title in 22 years at the school and ends a run of near misses for the Saints, who lost to the eventual state champion each of the past three years and to the state runner-up in 2017.
Like Johnson, Lake Arthur coach Vickie Sketoe was all too familiar with close calls, having made nine previous trips to the state tournament with three schools — Lakeview, Pickering and Lake Arthur — before finally taking home the title Friday night.
Sketoe had to sweat out Doyle’s massive comeback — Doyle chopped a 21-point Lake Arthur lead to three and had a chance to tie in the final seconds — but held on for a 62-61 win.
After the game Sketoe joked about being worried about setting a record for most trips to the state tournament without winning one, but a brilliant shooting performance from Katherine Leonards and spectacular all-around play from Deonna Brister helped make her a champion at last.
The area’s other two champions, Fairview and LaGrange, were not great surprises as both repeated as champs from last season.
The road back wasn’t easy for either — the Gators’ players and coaches were scattered by Hurricane Laura and began practice for the season unable to use their own gym. On the court, the Gators had to replace defensive stalwarts Alona Gray and Nadailyn Carrier from last year’s team. The returning starters — Aasia Sam, Jeriah Warren and Deja Tanks — delivered their usual high standard of play and the team got a boost from players such as Miah Alexis and Mckenzie Shaw taking on larger roles.
Fairview had to fend off another challenge from Hathaway, which has quickly emerged as a top Class B program under Courtnee Young, a former star player at Fairview. The Panthers used a second-half rally to hold off Hathaway in the championship game, its second consecutive championship game win over the Hornets.
The two could well be facing each other on the big stage again next season, with a slight role reversal. This season Fairview had the experience edge with four senior starters.
While the Panthers will be working in a new set of starters around leading scorer Rylee Cloud, Hathaway returns all five starters and will have three seniors in its starting lineup after having just one on the roster this season.
This year’s trophy haul will be tough to match, but there will be no shortage of area contenders to bring home some hardware next March.
Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at