The New Iberia Senior High girls basketball team is in much the same situation it was a year ago heading into the Class 5A state playoffs.
The Yellow Jackets are seeded No. 11, hosting a first-round game at 6 p.m. Thursday against No. 22 Ruston with hopes of a deep postseason run.
“We sat down before the season and had great expectations,” NISH coach Robert Pinckney said. “Those are to play for a state championship. That’s our goal, and we take it one game at a time.”
Pinckney, in his 14th season as head coach, said that’s been the prevailing sentiment in recent years with the elevation of the program that’s ranked among the Acadiana area’s best.
They’ve managed to reach a level of consistency in competing for district championships and making playoffs appearances despite a rash of injuries that have ranged from serious to moderate.
“We’ve been dealing with this for the past four to five years,” Pinckney said. “I don’t know if it’s the basketball gods are picking on New Iberia or what.”
Since the summer when a torn ACL took away junior forward Alexis Olivier for the season, Pinckney and assistant Jeremy Bonin have done their best to navigate NISH around an assortment of setbacks to another winning season and postseason appearance.
NISH wound up with a 16-13 record after 5-9 and 9-12 starts to the season, but the Yellow Jackets showed their mettle during the teeth of a difficult District 3-5A race with a second-place finish to Sulphur.
“This is where it really counts,” said Pinckney, whose team has won five straight and eight of its past nine. “I give a lot of credit to Jeremy for keeping these young ladies together when we had a lot of adversity. When you get in that playoff game and you may be down, what are you going to do? Pack it up or fight? These girls have been through so much this year. I’ve seen them fight through adversity.”
The injury bug was unrelenting in the first two months of the season, sidelining two-time Class 5A all-state selection and Louisiana Tech signee guard Kierra Anthony, for up to 10 games with an assortment of knee/leg and back ailments.
NISH missed Anthony’s 22 points per game, defensive presence and leadership qualities during that span, while also having to persevere without additional starters Urionne Jolivette and Keily Joseph at times this season.
Jolivette, who suffered a torn ACL last season, is the team’s second leading scorer at 10 points per game.
Moreover, freshman guard Bailey Antoine returned after the Christmas break after an early-season knee injury, while Joseph was slowed by a meniscus tear and didn’t play until midway into the season, forcing the Jackets into seven starting lineup combinations.
“I give a lot of credit to these seniors,” Pinckney said of Anthony, Jolivette and Reneisha Alfred. “They were just not going to let the team fall apart.”
Pinckney said the one silver lining throughout the turbulence was the opportunities seized by such players as sophomore guard Taylor Jacob, sophomore guard/forward Morgan Carrier and Antoine to positively impact the team at a time of need.
With the exception of Jacob, who is a starter, the remainder of the aforementioned players have extended NISH’s bench and allows Pinckney to play between eight to nine players.
“Any coach around the state would want to be where we are right now,” Pinckney said. “You’ve got your team healthy and I know not every team’s 100 percent healthy, but healthy enough to put out the five starters you started the season with.”