Officially there will be a 28 basketball players from St. Thomas Aquinas boarding a charter bus Friday morning for their trip from Hammond to Monroe to compete in the LHSAA/Top 28 Tournament.
Symbolically speaking, though, the pursuits of Class 2A state titles by the school’s boys and girls teams is more of a singular journey to experience high school basketball’s nirvana.
“The basketball program at St. Thomas Aquinas is truly a family,” STA boys coach Errol Gauff said. “I’ve never looked at it as being the boys or the girls programs.”
The No. 2 STA girls (29-5) take the court at UL-Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum at noon Saturday to face No. 4 John Curtis (24-7), the reigning state champion, followed by the fourth-seeded Falcons (27-6) at 2 p.m. against third-seeded Riverside Academy (27-5).
STA’s boys won state titles in 2007 and 2008, while the girls claimed the 2010 crown but never have the two programs pulled off the rare feat of a sweep in the same season.
“We’re not trying to outdo the other. We’re trying to have our teams be at their best level,” STA girls coach John White. “At the end of the day, if they can be at their best, then that’s all we can ask for.”
The two teams taking the three-plus hour trip together is not unprecedented. They will also stay in the same hotel, eat at the same restaurants and conduct their shoot-arounds at the same time.
“That’s very unique in itself,” said White, who is making his fourth Top 28 appearance.
Since the calendar turned to 2013 and the push for postseason play gained clarity, it’s been commonplace for STA’s teams to literally follow in the path of one other.
Since both went undefeated in their own Thanksgiving holiday tournament, the two teams played doubleheaders twice a week during District 8-2A play with the girls playing first followed by the boys, and each team serving as the others built-in support group, especially on the road.
During their seven league road games, the two teams shared the same school bus to travel to games that often had them returning home late but with positive results.
STA’s girls blitzed their way to a 14-0 district mark, with an average margin of victory of 34 points. The boys went undefeated also, winning by an average of 15 points.
During the state playoffs, STA’s girls hosted three games and the boys two, and during last week’s state semifinals at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center in Hammond, the girls exacted a measure of revenge Friday with a 66-60 victory over Pickering, which eliminated them 58-57 in last year’s regional.
STA’s boys played a night later and in similar fashion to the girls, rallied in the fourth quarter for a 49-45 victory over Winnfield to set up a contest with Riverside, which knocked the Falcons out in last year’s semifinals, 63-43.
“We did feed off each other,” said Gauff, whose team has won seven straight and 18 of 19 games. “It’s just a good relationship between the two teams.”
Both teams feature senior-oriented starting lineups with point guard and McNeese State signee Amber Donnes leading the girls in scoring with 19 points and senior guard/forward Cody Adamson — the lone returning starter — scoring 17.4 to pace the boys.
The two programs also share a brother-sister combination with senior Vincent Walker starting for the boys and junior Porscha Walker operating in a role as defensive stopper.
Moreover, with White also serving as the school’s head football coach, four of his starters — Ralph Haynes, Kaylan Richardson, Julius Ashton and Cameron Danzler — fill a variety of roles from starter to reserve under Gauff, who is making his fifth Top 28 trip.
“It’s truly going to be special Friday, when we take off for Monroe hoping that each team can come back with a state title,” Gauff said. “It’s a very proud and exciting time for the school because both teams have this opportunity.”