Midway through Saturday’s third quarter, Vermilion Catholic’s Kaylen Collins outworked three defenders from St. Mary’s of Natchitoches, securing a loose ball with a diving effort near the baseline.
In one continuous motion, Collins, on the right side of the lane, looked back to her left, where a familiar face — Ashailee Brailey — was wide open for a layup and 32-22 advantage in the Class 1A state playoff game.
“I knew where she was,” Collins said. “It’s become second nature. Every time I dive on the floor, she’s somewhere right beside me. If I don’t see her, she’ll scream my name, and I’ll hear her.”
Brailey has come to appreciate the rugged work her longtime friend and teammate endures on a game-to-game basis. When the opportunity presents itself, she wants to reward Collins’ efforts with what could include a rebound, blocked shot or steal, an assist in transition or nifty feed in the post.
“She’s basically the person that will get our offense going,” Brailey said. “She has to get the rebound on defense, and that helps us get the ball to push it up the court. She starts it on the defensive side, but also finishes on the offensive side.”
Vermilion Catholic’s 41-30 quarterfinal victory not only punched the team’s ticket to this week’s Top 28 tournament in Lake Charles but brought to a close the decorated home careers of one of the school’s most successful tandems.
Brailey, a 5-foot-9 guard, and Collins, a 6-foot center, lead the No. 2 Lady Eagles (24-4) into Class 1A state semifinal competition against No. 6 White Castle on Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. at Burton Coliseum.
“They’re both extremely valuable because they both know their roles,” Vermilion Catholic coach Kim Guidry said. “They kind of complement each other.”
Their four years together at the school have produced 108 victories, including a state championship in 2013, and countless memories along the way for Brailey and Collins, who first met as fourth graders playing for the Vermilion Biddy All-Star team.
They didn’t attend the same school elementary or middle school but were often part of the same summer teams, that eventually included AAU competition that helped accentuate their respective careers and bolstered their friendship.
“We’ve always been close,” said Collins, whose mother, Keeyada Robinson, was an all-state player at Vermilion Catholic. “We clowned a lot. There were always funny moments, and then we ended up going to the same school, and it was a constant friendship.”
They both moved into the starting lineup as freshmen, and a year later, and played significant roles in the Lady Eagles’ second state championship.
It was Collins who produced the game-winning shot in the team’s state-title victory — 54-52 over West St. John — and that combination evolved into a cornerstone for the program.
Brailey has scored more than 1,500 points and has earned first team Class 1A all-state acclaim the past two seasons. Collins has produced more than 1,300 points and more than 600 rebounds with a chance through this year and join Brailey on the all-state team.
A year after dealing with the disappointment of a three-point quarterfinal loss to Arcadia, Vermilion Catholic has moved a step closer to the program’s third overall state title.
Brailey, who has a 3.6 GPA, has led the Lady Eagles with a 22-point scoring average, while Collins, a 3.8 student, averages a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) an outing.
“We wanted to build ourselves back up and make a strong run this year,” Collins said. “We made it to the Sweet 16, so why not us. Why can’t we go all the way again? Let’s win state for the second time in three years and make history.”
Brailey, whose cousin, Chamicka Levine, also played at Vermilion Catholic, realizes the potential finality of her career and time as a teammate with Collins is drawing near. After the Top 28, they will both play in the LHSCA All-Star game March 21 and then make plans for college.
“This is the last two games we’ll be playing together, so it’s sad,” Brailey said. “We’ve grown up with each other. We’ve made it this far and we’re still not satisfied. We want to be there Saturday (in the 2 p.m. title game). It’s another moment we want to have together.”