LAFAYETTE — Brooklyn Arceneaux and Sylvana Okde saw the smiles and hugs that came with postseason success.
That was in the aftermath of the Ragin’ Cajuns winning the Women’s Basketball Invitational last year.
As the Cajuns prepare for an opening-round WBI clash against in-state foe Northwestern State, Arceneaux and Okde have a different view of this season’s proceedings.
“I am excited to physically be a part of it,” Okde said.
As the Cajuns were making their way past four opponents on the way to the championship, Arceneaux and Okde were working their way back from knee injuries. The change from cheering to being a candidate for playing time is a welcome one.
“It was hard watching from the bench,” Arceneaux said. “But it’s exciting to play with them now.”
The current challenge comes from Natchitoches. The Cajuns (21-10) begin defense of their title at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Cajundome against a Northwestern State (19-11) squad that has been strong at home, posting a 14-1 mark. But the Lady Demons have been less potent away from Prather Coliseum: They are 5-8 in road games and 0-2 at neutral sites.
“They are so guard-oriented,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “They run that Princeton offense with back cuts that are hard to guard.”
The main catalyst for the offense has been senior Janelle Perez. The 5-foot-2 point guard from El Paso, Texas, has twice been named first-team All-Southland Conference. Although she is the Lady Demons’ leader in points (15.8 per game) and 3-pointers (84), Brodhead has seen and heard in a short time many other things that stand out about Perez’s game.
“I hear coaches talk about how she is such a team player and she has helped turn that program around,” Brodhead said. “She can handle the ball, shoot, pass, and she is hard-nosed.”
The shorter scouting time of a nonconference opponent is a different dynamic than when the Cajuns are facing a Sun Belt opponent for the second or third time. The quick turnaround could benefit the Cajuns.
“You don’t have a lot of time to prepare for them, but our philosophy has always been more about us and what we do,” Brodhead said. “We get to play somebody else rather than the Little Rocks or the Troys. Those teams are more prepared for us, and it’s more of a grind.”
The Demons come in scoring 63.7 points per contest. Their quick pace comes in a different package than some other squads that utilize a fast-break attack.
“They are explosive in a different way than somebody like Troy,” Brodhead said. “In their halfcourt sets, they want you to chase them so they can get dribble penetration.”
For a couple of Cajuns, playing in the postseason after recovering from injury has its own rewards — regardless of the opponent.
“I just like playing good teams and challenging teams,” Okde said. “I’m excited and hope we bring in a lot of fans. It gives the seniors a chance to continue making their legacy.”