Vermilion Catholic’s Leah Camel remembers having one foot on the court after Kaylen Collins’ go-ahead basket swished through the net.
The Eagles were seconds away from the school’s second Class 1A state championship, leading 54-52 two years ago, when a last-ditch effort from West St. John fell short, triggering a joyous celebration.
For Camel, then a freshman, that meant a sprint for her older sister Natalie, a senior point guard, resulting in an emotional embrace between siblings.
“I was nervous when the girl from West St. John was going down the court,” Camel said. “As soon as I saw she missed, I immediately looked for Natalie, and we hugged while the team celebrated. It was such a thrill.”
A year after Vermilion Catholic was tripped up by Arcadia in the state quarterfinals the Eagles are back in the Class 1A state championship game, this time with the younger Camel operating as the starting point guard.
No. 2 Vermilion Catholic (25-4) meets No. 1 North Central (29-3) in the title game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
“My freshman year, winning it meant a lot because I was part of it,” Camel said. “Now that I’m a starter it feels great to be a part of this team to help get where we are.”
To most observers VC’s return to the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament is a byproduct of its talented inside-outside tandem of Ashailee Brailey and Kaylen Collins.
However, the Eagles are also a collection of team-first players with a devout belief in hard work and chemistry, where the contributions of complementary players such as Camel are held in high regard.
“You wouldn’t think of someone being 5-2 and being a dominant player,” VC coach Kim Guidry said. “But she overcomes that with a nose-to-the- grindstone type of play. She’ll be the first one to dive on the floor, the one into the bleachers for a loose ball. The heart she has inside of those shoes… You would swear she plays like a 6-footer.”
While they’re both regarded for their steady, heads-up play Leah is considered more of the defensive-minded player, while her sister Natalie was viewed as more of a scoring threat.
Leah has proven to not only be a defensive dynamo averaging four steals per game, but she’s also been efficient on offense end with seven-points and six-assists average.
“I love being in the action,” Camel said of her aggressive approach on defense. “Because I don’t score a lot of points, I find a need to really contribute on defense, getting steals or forcing jump balls.”
Camel displayed some of her toughness in Tuesday’s 57-46 semifinal victory over No. 6 White Castle.
With several starters, including Camel, suffering from a touch of the flu, Camel not only started but played and despite a subpar 1-of-7 shooting performance and two points, her on-floor presence and ball-handling against White Castle’s full-court pressure were immeasurable.
“I tried to play as much as I could,” Camel said. “I could tell I wasn’t playing my normal game, but I tried my best. I wanted to try because if you don’t give it your all, then there’s possibility it’s your last game.”
And because of that persistence, VC will pursue its second state title in three years, which provides an opportunity for Camel to follow in her sister’s shoes as a state-champion point guard and add to the family’s state-title ring collection.
“Having another ring would be great,” Camel said. “When I was a freshman, my sister and I did our own little thing together. Now it’s me with my teammates. It’s a new experience to do it without her.”