Not even the Destrehan players or coaches expected to be undefeated at this point – girls basketball coach Angi Butler even admits she planned against it. “Honestly, I scheduled pre-district for us to take a loss, on purpose,” Butler said. “I knew playing those teams would make us better.”
Yet here the Ladycats stand, entering the week with a perfect 26-0 record and ranked No. 23 nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 poll. Destrehan captured the championship at the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic tournament, is squarely on route to earn its fifth straight district championship, and figures to enter the postseason as the favorite to take home the Class 5A state championship.
“I’m astounded,” Butler said at her team’s unbeaten mark. “You know … I can’t even tell you how pleased I am with the girls. I thought we’d have a loss by now. To persevere and overcome (the difficult schedule) and still be undefeated? It shows how talented our team truly is.”
Led by the reigning Miss Basketball in Louisiana and two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Cara Ursin, these Wildcats do boast one of the best players in America. But Ursin is surrounded by a group of very experienced, talented players, including a senior class that has mostly played together for years, dating back before their time at DHS. Destrehan has been to a state quarterfinal, semifinal and championship game in each of the past three seasons.
The one thing that has eluded this group is a state championship, but the ingredients to secure the crown certainly appear to be there. When you combine star power with depth, versatility, postseason experience, proven coaching and a cohesiveness built over many years, you have a special mix—and, in this case, it has added up in the Wildcats being recognized as one of the truly elite teams in the country.
“Especially this far into season, you’d expect we’d take a couple hits in those big tournaments we play in,” said Ursin, a Baylor commitment. “And just to be undefeated, after we went through tournaments we’d never played in before, it’s just a blessing. Great things are coming for us and we have to keep our minds straight.”
Butler believes her players deserve any accolades they receive.
“It’s really a compliment to us,” Butler said. “We do work hard, in the gym, every single day, constantly at the grind, trying to get better. So, finding out our hard work pays off? It’s exactly what we’ve gotta have. It means a lot to us to be recognized nationally, not just metro wide or state wide.”
Destrehan is not just unbeaten, but it has come by a large margin more often than not. DHS has won by an average margin of 24.7 points per game, with just three wins coming by single digits. The Wildcats twice defeated Natchitoches Central, the team that eliminated them in the 5A quarterfinals a year ago. Those wins came by 25 and 22. Old nemesis Mount Carmel was trounced by 36.
But the team’s signature win this year likely came in the Sugar Bowl final against John Curtis, a hyped game in which the two teams entered with just one combined loss. Destrehan trailed by 10 with less than four minutes left to play — an extremely unfamiliar position to this season’s Wildcats — but a ferocious press forced Curtis ball-handlers into a string of mistakes that the Wildcats turned into points — not only coming back, but ultimately winning by seven, 68-61.
“I felt like we all helped each other,” said senior forward Brandi Mason, who along with Ursin and Kiki Kenner are the team’s three co-captains. “Nobody got down on themselves. We truly came together as a team.”
Said Kenner, “It was really like a state championship for us. When you’re down like that, I think it really tests your character. It’s hard to keep your mental game strong when you’re down like that, but we did it.”
Butler said the Wildcats put special focus on winning that tournament, looking at it as something of a practice run for the state playoffs because the slate of opponents would be comparably difficult. As in the state playoffs, Destrehan has made deep runs in the Sugar Bowl, finishing as runner-up and in third place.
This year, DHS defeated Faith Academy, Natchitoches Central and Richwood on route to Curtis and the tournament title.
“We know if that ever happens again, we can do it again,” Ursin said of falling behind. “After winning that one, we feel like we can beat anybody.”
Kenner said the team’s chemistry is a big factor in what makes this group a special one, and Mason concurred.
“This is the same squad we’ve been playing with for years and years and years,” Mason said. “We know each time out, this is our last year playing with one another. We feel like we have to show everyone we’re the best. We want to make history at Destrehan.”
Butler pointed to the team’s versatility as something that really sets the Wildcats apart. This isn’t the tallest team in the region, let alone the nation, but the team has multiple players that can score inside, shoot from the outside, handle the ball, rebound and defend both guards and post players.
“I feel like we’ve just grown stronger together over the years and it’s ended up being something really special,” Kenner said.
Matching up with that group has proven to be an impossible riddle for the vast majority of teams. Stopping Ursin alone is a chore. The 5’7’’ guard averaged 25 points, 12.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 5.5 blocked shots a game as a junior and has only gotten better in her senior year.
Ursin blends an ability to get to the basket at will with elite court vision and an outside shooting touch. Keeping her out of the lane is hard enough; when Destrehan spreads the court with shooters and boasts players like Kenner and Mason who demand and exhaust an opponent’s top defenders, it results in a 26-0 start.
“This is the best year I’ve had in 20 years of coaching,” Butler said. “It has been so much fun to coach a bunch of girls who want to play ball.”
Could a state championship cap all that fun?
“Because it’s our last year, it’s more than a want now,” Ursin said. “It’s basically a need. It’s what we’ve worked and worked for, and we deserve to finish it with a championship.”