Destrehan girls basketball coach Angi Butler recalls the first time junior forward Cara “Moon” Ursin played a game with the Wildcats varsity, during summer league action at Nicholls State.
“She dribbled it off her shoe and I turned to my assistant and said, ‘She’s such a freshman. Wow, here we go,’” Butler recalled. “But then, with defenders on her, she sprints to get the ball, picks it up and throws up a hook shot from the 3-point line that went in.
“After that, I said, ‘I’m not saying another word. Foot in mouth.’”
There have been plenty more highlights for Ursin, who earned honors last season Louisiana’s 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year. Averaging 26 points per game to go with 13 rebounds and nearly seven steals a game, Ursin has been nominated for that honor again this season.
But that’s not the honor Ursin most yearns for. The Wildcats have gone 82-7 in her varsity career and a perfect 36-0 in district. Still, a state championship has eluded Destrehan thus far, after state runner-up and semifinalist finishes. DHS (23-2) has won 11 straight games, all by 14 points or more. But as the Wildcats embark on what they hope is a long postseason run, Ursin and her teammates know stringing together five more victories is what matters — is what they’ve played for all season long.
“Losing is not an option anymore,” Ursin said.
A DECADE PLAYER
Butler isn’t afraid to put her do-it-all star in some truly rarified air.
“Those are what we call decade players, you see once every 10 to 20 years,” Butler said. “You almost never see players like her come through, like (Destrehan alumni) Ed Reed.. I was lucky enough to get her.”
In a game that often breaks down players into specialists — defenders, long-range shooters, penetrators, rebounders and ball-handlers — Ursin does all of those things on a nightly basis. She’s done it since setting foot onto the court as a freshman just over two years ago and has only refined her play since.
“I earned a lot of awards when I was younger, but I knew in high school, it’s a way different ballgame,” Ursin said. “I understood it from the get-go. But I also realized I only have four years at this level, and when you get to college, it’s even harder to win a championship. I’ve been playing with these girls for a long time, even when we weren’t on the same team growing up. I knew we’d play well together.”
Butler said Ursin’s talent-level dictates she could easily have gone to play at another school, but that she felt this team could do special things together.
”She could have easily transferred out. I asked her one day ‘why did you choose to come here?’ She said, “because this is my squad. I’ve played with these girls since I was little bitty.’ She knew them through AAU and rec ball that they were strong together. Once they got to high school and got that maturity and skill development, she knew what kind of dynamite team they would be. Sure enough, they have been.”
Ursin, who earned MVP honors for her middle school team despite playing in just two of 10 games due to injury, came with a fair amount of hype. Butler didn’t buy in completely at first, but her tune changed quickly once Ursin arrived.
“When it’s hearsay, you’re always like, ‘no, no.’ But my assistant coach at the time had her in elementary school and he kept telling me, ‘Coach B, you’ve got a stud coming. She’s the real deal, on the courtand in the classroom.’ I’m saying, okay, I’ll believe it when I see it … she’s never disappointed me. She’s definitely the glue that keeps us together.”
Everyone asks Ursin where the “Moon” nickname comes from, and their initial guesses were consistently wrong—until they weren’t.
“My aunt gave it to me when I was very little,” she said. “She started calling me that for some reason. But now, people ask, ‘Is it because you can jump high?’ So I started going with that. Yeah, that’s why they call me Moon.”
She began playing basketball at the age of five and found success, and her passion, quickly. After earning All-Star and “Miss Biddy” honors two years in a row, she decided basketball was her calling.
Losses for this “Moon” and her teammates seemingly occur about as often as a lunar eclipse. Ursin says they’re about as memorable, too.
“It’s absolutely devastating when we lose,” she said. “It’s bad. For days, it’s ‘why did we lose this game?’ We’ll see our record 8 games later and still ask, ‘why did we lose?’ Even games last year. We dwell, but we learn from our mistakes.”
The most devastating loss, perhaps, came in last year’s state semifinal to Pontchatoula,47-41. Ursin scored just eight points, a rare down effort in a dominant season.
“We were walking to the podium at McNeese and before we walked through the door, Cara just lost it,” Butler said. “She fell to her knees and it all came flooding out. The lady from McNeese leaned down and gave her a hug. It’s striking to see such a strong athlete buckle to her knees, to crumble to such a little person, but that’s how much it means to her. She said, ‘this is what I prayed for.’”
LEADING THE WAY
Butler has never been afraid to tell her players some harsh truths when needed, but she has a very useful lieutenant in her top player.
“You have to have it,” Butler said. “That extra voice that’s not the coach. Sometimes players look at coach as an authority figure, you don’t know, you’re not out here. She has ability to say those things and build them back up at the same time. I tell them, they carry it a little bit longer.”
Ursin said when she arrived as a freshman, she was hesitant to speak up, but as time went on, she began to understand the value of vocal leadership.
“To win a championship, to win anything, you have to communicate,” Ursin said.
A prime example came last season in a dramatic quarterfinal victory against Mount Carmel. Ursin missed a late layup and returned to the bench for a timeout, believing she’d lost the game.
“She said, ‘I lost it,’ through tears and I told her, ‘You did not lose it. We don’t focus on one play, it’s every piece of the game that leads up … that said, we wipe our face, we come back and we play hard, we play really hard, and if we hang in, we’re gonna win this. She goes to the rest of the team, says, ‘We got this, keep your heads up,’ and we end up pulling it out. She was as down as a player could be, composed herself and gave her teammates that lift they needed.”
CAPTURING THE CROWN
For Destrehan to win a championship, it will likely have to do something it hasn’t had to do much at all this season: win at least one close game.
Over the first month of the season, DHS won four close contests: by one over Mount Carmel, 10 over Karr, five over Ellender and seven over Thibodaux. That seven-point win came in the Wildcats’ district opener on Dec. 22. Destrehan lost by four to John Curtis and by three to Warren Easton, the latter coming on Jan. 8.
In all other games, Destrehan has blistered its competition.
“And that’s hard,” Butler said. “We need those close games. ESJ gave us a run last week. Up 15, then with three minutes left, only up by two … It’s foreign to get out of our comfort zone. We needed that because the problem now is, you lose, you’re done. We really have to focus. Forget record, district standings, we are 0-0. We need to play the next five games like they’re the only time we’ll ever step on the court again.”
Guard Kiki Kenner bolsters the Destrehan attack, averaging 13.5 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals a game. Meanwhile, forward Brandi Mason is posting 11.4 points, eight rebounds, five assists and six steals a contest.
Ursin said she and her teammates have a leg up from the past two seasons because of experience.
The lessons learned?
“Every second counts,” Ursin said. “The walking the ball up the floor has to stop. Everything counts. Not getting past half-court, that rebound we let go … every small detail counts. We lost by six in the last semifinal. What could we have done differently to close that gap?”
Perhaps that awareness — and Moon’s leadership — will be among the factors that close that gap for good this time around.