Wildcats' seniors find a perfect ending
Senior Brandi Mason shows emotion after her team put the finishing touches on its championship victory Saturday.
“It all just feels so surreal to me,” Kiki Kenner said.
Kenner, fellow team captains Cara Ursin and Brandi Mason and teammates Jerlicia Morris, Kali Mealey and Aja Graham are part of a six-player class of seniors that have set some downright unapproachable benchmarks for players who will follow them in years to come: a 120-8 record over four years of play; a Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Basketball Classic championship; a perfect 52-0 mark in district play; three state basketball tournament appearances and, of course, a perfect 35-0 state championship season. All of it while competing in Class 5A, comprised of Louisiana’s largest schools.
“I feel like we made history for our school,” Mason said. “To go 35-0 … it’s unbelievable. You never see a team go undefeated, ever. It’s very rare.”
Coach Angi Butler called this senior class a truly special group of players that formed the core of a team that has accomplished remarkable things.
“You look at the record and know, oh, they’ve gotta be good,” Butler said. “You don’t know until you see them. People ask, can you hold onto that No. 1 rank? You don’t even know these kids. Their will to win is like none other. They have a pact that no matter what, they were gonna finish it.”
The players have fought together for four years at Destrehan, and some have played with one another predating their high school years, be it in AAU ball or in middle school.
“That definitely helps,” Ursin said. “We know each other’s abilities. I know I have Lele (Morris) who can hit the big three. I have Brandi who can post up, Kiki who can get the job done on the wing … I have 100 percent faith in all of them. Playing with them so many years, knowing what they’ll do, it played a part.”
Added Kenner, “with us being so familiar with each other, there’s no second guessing what we can do.”
While always talented — Destrehan lost just two games when these seniors were freshmen — late-season heartbreak brought them closer together each season. In 2014, Destrehan fell in the state championship game to Mount Carmel, 69-60. A year later, a more-experienced Ponchatoula team turned back Destrehan in the state semifinals, 47-41. In 2016, the Wildcats had to go on the road to play Natchitoches Central in the quarterfinals, and the host Lions left Destrehan’s title hopes denied again, 77-67.
“For so many years, we were so close and we never finished it off,” Kenner said. “It made it our goal to come back and finish.”
It was a goal they took very seriously. The Lady Cat players came together and vowed to do whatever it would take to make 2017 the year they would break through.
“We knew this was our last year together,” Mason said, “and we had to prove we could finish. It was taken three times from us already. We didn’t want to let anyone ever do that again.”
Nobody ever did. That quarterfinal loss in February of last year represents the last time anyone has felled the Lady Cats in any way on the basketball court. Destrehan went 10-0 in summer league play, then won all three of its preseason scrimmages.
Then, of course, 35 more wins followed.
As Destrehan’s winning streak got longer, teams amped up their intensity to be the one to bring it to an end. And some came close. John Curtis had Destrehan down 10 in the fourth quarter. Ouachita Parish took an eight-point lead into the second half. East St. John led at 10 at halftime. And in the championship game, Barbe threatened for all 32 minutes to deny the Wildcats their championship one last time.
Destrehan refused to lose, each and every time.
“We knew they wanted to come at us harder, and that made us go at them even harder because we wanted to keep the 0 at the end of 20-0,” Ursin said.
And now they enjoy the spoils of victory.
“It ain’t done,” Kenner said with a broad smile of the celebration.
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