A year after surprising many by winning the Division III girls basketball state championship, the Northlake Christian Wolverines aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore.
Coach Aaron Agresta’s squad is off to a 20-1 start after a 34-18 victory over Cohen on Tuesday night. In the most recent LHSAA Division III power rankings, the Wolverines have a stranglehold on the top spot, nearly two full points ahead of St. Thomas Aquinas (15.25-13.48), the squad they defeated last year for the Division III crown.
“The message from the beginning has been we are back to square one to start the season,” Agresta said. “While it was amazing, what we did last year is last year. We have to move forward and play with the mentality that you are fighting for the first one again.
“The message the entire year has been that there is a target on your back. Work as hard as you can every day to get better. I know it's coaches speak, but it is one practice at a time and one game at a time. If you look ahead, that’s when you get in trouble.”
The biggest change this season for the Wolverines has been the production increase from the other NCS players not named Natalie Newberry and Kyren Whittington. Only a sophomore, Whittington, who was named the Class 2A All-State first team last season, is the leading scorer once again at 17.4 points and Newberry is second at 10.6.
Despite battling the flu, Whittington finished the game against Cohen with a game-high 23 points, outscoring the Hornets herself.
A pair of juniors, Kaitlyn Walker and KeraGrace Watts, have shown significant improvement this season. Walker is averaging 7.6 points per contest and Watts at 6.8.
“(Freshman) DaNina Sorapuru has also really paid off as well in the fifth starting spot,” Agresta said. “We now have five players on the court at the same time that can make a play whenever we need it. If one girl has an off night, their teammates can pick them up. We are a much more balanced scoring team this year. I feel like we are really hitting our stride right now.”
For the Wolverines to make a return trip to the state tournament, Agresta knows that he will still have to rely on arguably the best 1-2 duo of girls basketball players in the Greater New Orleans area in Newberry and Whittington.
“Those two are undoubtedly our cornerstones,” Agresta said. “But we know that if we try to go 2-on-5 we are not going to win. It was the same last year. We had girls make shots, DaNina for example drove baseline and made a big free throw. The other girls are extremely important and hold very big value towards our success.”
After wrapping up the regular season on Friday at Amite, the Wolverines to return to Amite to take part in the District 9-2A tournament next week.
“We are excited about the immediate future that is coming,” Whittington said. “The team is a lot more balanced this year and my confidence in my teammates continues to grow. Bring on the postseason and I’m ready to see what we are capable of doing.”