North Central girls basketball coach Vanessa Taylor is consumed with trying to keep her team focused on the rest of its regular season.
For a team that’s increased its average margin of victory 12 points during District 5-1A play, Taylor realizes she must be compelling and creative in her approach.
“It’s hard until we hit the playoffs,” said Taylor, now in her 20th season at the LeBeau-based school. “Predistrict was very tough with the tournaments. I told them to have fun, take a deep breath and work on things and if they make mistakes, just get it right the next time.”
North Central (18-2) seemingly hasn’t taken its foot off the gas pedal since winning the school’s first Class 1A state championship last season.
The Hurricanes won their first seven games this year and brushed aside midseason losses to Class 4A power Rayne and Class 5A Scotlandville, reeling off seven straight victories.
North Central’s traditional up-tempo style, rooted in its pressure defense, has helped the Lady Canes average 65 points and reach the 80-point plateau three times.
“I asked them Tuesday if they felt they could do it (win another state championship) and they said, ‘yes,’ ” Taylor said. “I have to keep them interested. I keep telling them about the playoffs.”
Taylor’s question to her team about their state-title aspirations came after Tuesday’s 81-44 victory over St. Edmund, keeping North Central perfect through four district games.
Junior guards Quaniqua Joseph and Jade Duncantell matched the output of their opposition with 44 points, with Joseph pouring in 26 and Duncantell 18 on the strength of six 3-pointers. Sophomore Latrachaui Tyler added 14.
The Lady Canes, who visit Westminster Christian on Friday, find themselves six games away from the regular-season finish line and eager to embark on another postseason run.
They reached the state semifinals in 2013 and were state runners-up two years ago before breaking through behind state MVP Jazlyn Robertson last season against Vermilion Catholic 54-50.
Taylor said before the start of district play she ramped up the intensity of practice, going against either of North Central’s varsity or junior varsity boys teams. There’s also been careful scrutiny of the team’s offense and defense, along with potential time/score situations they could face in the postseason.
Anything to keep them vested in fine-tuning their game with an eye on the ultimate prize.
“We use this time to work on things we need to work on,” she said. “Whatever I feel is a weakness, we work on that so that we can be prepared once we hit the playoffs.”
Duncantell’s 22-point average tops North Central’s offense. Joseph, a returning second team all-state selection who has started since the sixth grade, averages 14.5 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds, 7.6 steals and 6.2 assists.
Tyler averages 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds. Frandreka Kellar — one of three eighth- graders in a playing role — contributing 6.1 points and 3.2 assists.
“I know what the girls are capable of doing,” Taylor said. “We’re looking forward to getting into the playoffs and playing really good competition.”