All-Southwest Louisiana Basketball Small Schools: Norris, Vital show leadership

Published 2:00 pm Sunday, March 31, 2024

Rosepine’s Kelly Norris took the reins of her girls high school basketball team and guided the Eagles to a second state championship. Hamilton Christian’s D’Ray Vital rapidly matured to lead the Warriors to the state tournament.

The pair are the American Press All-Southwest Louisiana Small Schools MVPs.

Norris was at her best in the playoffs. In the final, she scored 15 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and had four steals as she led the Eagles to a fourth-quarter comeback and a 50-46 win over Amite to win the nonselect Division III title. Norris was the championship game and District 4-2A MVP.

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“She was amazing in the championship,” Rosepine head coach Charles Kiely said. “I am lucky to have her on my team.

“You don’t have many guards that can go out there and get you 15 to 18 points, get you 10 assists then get you 17 to 20 rebounds a night.

“She was amazing in the playoffs. It is her hard work and competitive nature. You might be more athletic and you might have a little more skill, but she is going to outwork you. That competitive spirit takes over.”

She averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds, 8.7 assists and two steals a game. She scored more than 2,000 career points and led the Eagles to the state tournament three consecutive seasons.

“Even going back to when I got here I said the best players are going to play,” Kiely said. “Walking into the gym as an eighth-grader, I met her and she was going to play.

“She just kept building and building, putting in time to get better. Every single year she wanted to improve. She is such a competitor she rubs off on people. She hates to lose at checkers, I bet. She is going to do whatever it takes to win. She works her tail off. She is a huge building block for this program. She is a great example to these younger ones to strive to get to that level.”

Vital went from a timid freshman to a big-time contributor for the Warriors as a sophomore.

Girls Coach of the Year

Kiely is the girls Coach of the Year after leading the Eagles to a second consecutive nonselect Division III state championship. After a three-game losing streak in early December, the Eagles went on a 22-game win streak.

Kiely is 60-12 in his last two seasons at Rosepine.

Boys MVP

“On who he is and who he has become, I think D’Ray had a phenomenal season,” Hamilton Christian head coach Dexter Washington said. “He was actually the difference maker in our team early on when we struggled to find our identity.

“He is a great kid and worked hard. He delivered. He was a lot more aggressive. You could see the growth in him. We are excited about his future. Hopefully the college coaches that have been looking at him early on are excited as well.”

Perhaps one of his most impactful performances was the Warriors’ upset of No. 3 Southern Lab on the road in the quarterfinals. Vital scored nine points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked seven shots.

“This was his first year full basketball all year,” Washington said. “This year he probably led the team in minutes. Out of 32 minutes, D’Ray was averaging 27-29 minutes a game. He weathered that storm condition-wise and he gave us everything he had.”

The 6-foot-11 District 5-1A MVP averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks a game with 15 double-doubles and five triple-doubles.

“If you were talking to him, the first thing he would tell you is his mental change,” Washington said. “It was always the mental.

“One of the things that I tell him all the time is there is no question whether you are a good basketball player, just the mental part of the game has to catch up. This year he grew mentally and matured a lot. He can play through mistakes, he can play through situations that would have bothered him last year.”

Boys Coach of the Year

Hamilton Christina’s Dexter Washington is Coach of the Year for the first time since 2016. He led the Warriors to the state tournament for the sixth time in eight seasons.