Long-range shots, tough defense spark St. Thomas More victory _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD KEMP St. Thomas More's Hailey Seymour shoots a 3-pointer over Iota's Whitney Landry last season. Landry is a two-year starter for the Bulldogs.

It wasn’t the most advantageous of scenarios for the Iota High School girls basketball team to begin a season.

The Bulldogs were without four seniors and three starters from the previous year’s team that reached the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.

To compound matters, fourth-year coach Meghann LeJeune had to wait until Iota’s volleyball team completed its season — a 26-16 record that ended in the Division III regionals — before welcoming her team for practice.

“We start out at such a disadvantage because almost our entire team plays volleyball and they’re very good,” LeJeune said. “I literally don’t get them back until the week we start playing games.”

That Iota’s won 15 of its first 17 games and held the LHSAA’s No. 1 unofficial power rating before Christmas is still almost without explanation to LeJeune, whose team faces two big challenges before the start of a competitive District 4-3A schedule.

Iota (15-2) hosts Barbe (15-2) — one of the top teams in Class 5A — at 6 p.m. Wednesday before traveling to Acadia Parish counterpart Rayne (14-2) on Jan. 5.

“I’m pleased with our record,” LeJeune said. “I feel were in a good place, but I’m glad we have these two games coming up before district. Our record looks good, but (these games) will be the true tests.”

LeJeune’s playing career (2000-03) at Iota spanned two of the program’s greatest coaches in Danny Miller and Stan Baggett.

LeJeune’s first season as coach came after the Bulldogs lost in the 2012 Class 2A state title game to John Curtis. She’s been able to retool the youthful roster she inherited and make consecutive state regional appearances the past two years.

“We’re a lot like the teams when I was in school,” she said. “It’s a good mix between the two coaches I played for. We’re sticking to tradition. We like to play hard. We’re very fundamental and we work hard on that.”

Despite a later-than-usual start with full-team practices, Iota didn’t look like a team trying to play catch-up.

The Bulldogs began the season 6-0, including a key 46-43 win over Northside in what’s been the Lady Vikings’ lone defeat.

Iota’s early win streak was stopped Dec. 3 by St. Thomas More (46-33) in the Acadiana tournament. The Bulldogs then reeled off eight straight wins before running into Carencro for a second time, only to lose 41-39 in the Midland Holiday Spectacular.

“I don’t know if it was cockiness, but we needed to get knocked down to reality,” LeJeune said. “It showed that anyone can beat us if we don’t show up.”

It also magnified LeJeune’s biggest concern with a roster that totals eight freshmen and sophomores — a lack of depth where junior guard Shydee Johnson has been the team’s top reserve.

Junior forward Whitney Landry, a two-year starter, is the team’s leader in scoring (13 points per game) and rebounding (7 per game). The Bulldogs’ balanced effort also includes nine points each from sophomore guard Madeline Gatte and junior guard Avery Wriborg along with five each from sophomore point guard Becca Fantroy and guard Cambri St. Andre — the team’s lone senior.

“The credit goes to the girls for playing hard,” LeJeune said. “That’s something you don’t need God-given ability for. If you outplay someone, you give yourself a better chance every single time.”