Ursuline Academy’s season came to an end last season with a loss to Rayne in the opening round of the playoffs.
Ursuline gets another shot at Rayne on Saturday night, but this time the stakes are higher.
The eighth-seeded Lions (26-5) and sixth-seeded Wolves (31-2) meet in the Class 4A state championship game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Top 28 Tournament on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana at 8 p.m.
“This was our goal last year,” Ursuline coach Andrea Williams said. “We set goals last season. We wanted to win district (last year), but we didn’t get that. We got that this year. We wanted to get past where we got last year (the first round) and we got that.”
And now they get a chance to do what has never been done in school history: win a state championship in basketball. The closest the Lions have come was in 1995 when they lost in the title game.
They reached the final this year as a No. 8 seed, the lowest-seeded team in any classification to reach the Top 28. They also did it with a starting lineup consisting of three sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader.
Williams said the team had its share of growing pains to start the season.
“At the beginning of the season, I wanted to pull my hair out all the time,” Williams said. “This is my first time having such a young team. But I told myself that you have to be patient. We’ve got to take baby steps. So we started making small goals at the beginning of the season and capitalizing on those. Then they just started clicking. Once that happened, it made it easier for me not to pull my hair and scream all the time.”
Both teams used big second-half rallies to win in the semifinals. Ursuline went on a 15-0 run to pull away from Karr in Thursday’s all-New Orleans area semifinal. Rayne went on an 18-7 run in the third quarter to beat No. 2 seed St. Michael.
Rayne defeated Ursuline 62-45 last season in the opening round of the playoffs before eventually falling to Salmen in the quarterfinals.
“This is a different team from last year,” Rayne coach Chester Randall said about Ursuline. “They have much more around (Kourtney Weber and center Kennedi Jackson). It’s going to be a tough matchup.”
The Wolves are going for their second state championship and first since winning Class 3A in 1990.
Rayne comes in as one of the hottest teams in the state. Their lone two losses this season were back-to-back defeats to Barbe and St. Thomas More in early December. Since then, the Wolves have reeled off 26 consecutive wins.
Senior guard Charlesha Dugas leads Rayne, averaging 21.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Dugas is one of three starters averaging double figures, joining sophomore guard Tasia Duhon and senior forward Whitley Larry.
Ursuline counters with the sophomore trio of Kourtney Weber, Brooklyn Mitchell and Giordin Johnson, plus freshman Kenndi Jackson and eighth-grader Kiersten Nelson. Senior Allison Ulrich provides a spark off the bench.
“From November when we started playing to where we are now, it’s a totally different team,” said Williams, a former player at UNO. “They are more accountable now.”
That maturation has put the Lions one win away from bringing a state title to the Uptown school.
“The next step is here,” Williams said. “You have to go get it. At this point in the season, it’s who wants it more.”