Every time the Albany High girls’ basketball team practices, they receive a history lesson.
They look to walls that are decorated with accomplishments from past seasons and pictures and banners celebrating a basketball program that has won five state championships and contended for several others.
They take instruction from coach Stacy Darouse, an All-State point guard for the Hornets who won a state championship herself in 1992 and whose mother, JoAnn Smith, began Albany’s run of dominance during 28 years as the school’s coach.
“Nobody wants to be the team that breaks the tradition,” Darouse said. “We just do what we have to do to get where we need to be.”
With only two seniors among their top seven players, the Hornets are again right where they want to be in what most would have labeled a rebuilding year.
Albany returned from the Christmas holidays with a 14-5 mark after scoring nine wins over a 10-game stretch, and its visit to Denham Springs on Friday night looms as maybe the most compelling nondistrict matchup of the season in Livingston Parish girls’ basketball.
Denham Springs (15-2) entered the week on a nine-game winning streak, a run that included the Livingston Parish tournament championship.
Albany will get a second crack at the Yellow Jackets after falling 67-44 in the semifinals of the parish tournament.
“They’re going to come in with their ears pinned back for us,” Denham Springs coach Shelly LaPrarie said. “We have to be ready. We can’t overlook them because of what happened before.”
Lexi McMorris and Tremeeka Spikes average 12 and 11 points per game, respectively, to lead the Yellow Jackets.
In the Denham Springs tournament over the holiday break, the Yellow Jackets defeated Covington, Plaquemine and Dominican high schools.
“We’re playing pretty good defensively to keep us in games when we’re struggling offensively,” LaPrarie said. “The biggest thing to me is these players are playing well together and doing what they need to do to win. We’re playing as a team.”
As expected, Albany has grown stronger as the young group has had time to gel.
The Hornets lost only three starters after reaching the Class 3A quarterfinals last year, but those three seniors contributed 1,200 points and 650 rebounds.
Albany’s success this season has come on the strength of a high-paced offensive attack and a “get-in-your-grill” defensive approach, with a deep rotation allowing the Hornets to wear down their opposition late in games.
Sophomore Mahogany Williams has been a force in all phases, averaging 15.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.7 steals. Junior Kiara Johnson’s average is 5.5 points and 8.1 rebounds.
“I don’t think the expectations were very high for anybody but ourselves and the kids,” Darouse said. “I have a group of kids that work their tails off and are extremely coachable. I hope we can keep it up.”
Denham Springs and Albany will both use Friday’s game as a late tune-up before entering highly competitive district schedules.
In 4-5A, Denham Springs will contend with three teams that made the playoffs last year, including 2015 state runner-up Walker.
Albany’s road to a 7-3A championship will likely go through Jewel Sumner, which was unbeaten through 17 games after reaching the 3A semifinals last year.
Denham plays Walker at home Tuesday night to start 4-5A play. Albany travels to Amite on Jan. 15 in its 7-3A opener.