Many high school girls basketball coaches believe playing a tough regular season schedule is the best way to prepare a team for the playoffs. Finding tough opponents in the Baton Rouge area should be no problem for local schools.
District 4-5A is a case in point. All six teams — Belaire, Central, Denham Springs, Scotlandville, Walker and Zachary — made the playoffs last season.
Led by 6-foot-2 post player Maia Robinson, Denham Springs advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals. It was the Yellow Jackets' fourth deep playoff run in five seasons, including a title game loss to Mt. Carmel in 2016.
Zachary returns its entire roster from a team that advanced to the regional round, including Bryana Langford and Rayah Haynes. Langford missed part of last season with an injury but has worked her way back into the Broncos lineup.
Walker, which reached the Class 5A final two years ago, also will be a factor.
“Our district is great,” Zachary coach Tami McClure said. “Anyone can win on any given night. You have to be ready, because we’re only playing each other once. The good thing is that our district is so strong that it really prepares you for the playoffs.”
As for college-bound scholarship players, there are a few. Southern Lab's Cailain Williams signed with Southern and three players — Holden's Kaylee Hughes, DSHS' Robinson and Zachary's Haynes — all signed with McNeese.
McKinley helps lead a strong contingent from District 5-5A, where Dutchtown, East Ascension and St. Joseph’s Academy joined the Panthers in the playoffs a year ago.
The Panthers advanced to the Division I select championship game before falling to John Curtis. East Ascension put together one of its best-ever regular seasons under coach Dennis Chandler but was upset in the second round.
“We look better this year, so I’m really excited,” McKinley coach Krystal Flowers said. “We expect to be back in the championship game and bring it home this time.”
The Panthers lost only one starter and are led by guards Alexius Horne and Erica Lafayette. Also putting in big minutes is 6-7 post player Kiara Perry.
District 6-4A has the biggest transformation. Lee High will contend in the seven-team district along with Parkview Baptist, Plaquemine and St. Michael. The Patriots return their entire roster from a squad that reached the Division III semifinals last season, including all-state performer Diamond Hunter and 6-6 center Mikaya Spears. Lee moves up from Class 2A, while Parkview, the Division II champion last season, moves up from Class 3A.
Despite moving up to Division II this season, Patriots coach Valencia Wilson said her team’s approach will be the same.
“We’re just going to do the same thing we did last year,” she said. “We’re going to work hard and stay healthy. As far as our schedule, we want to be the best so we play the best.”
Despite graduating point guard Kaila Anderson, now at Tulane, University is part of the 3A pack that also competes in Division II select. Junior guard Alyssa Fisher is among the returnees for coach Bonita Johnson's team.
Madison Prep started slow last season, and then won 21 consecutive games on its way to the Class 2A title. The Chargers of coach Dwayne Hayes move up to Class 3A this season.
Southern Lab advanced to the Division IV semifinals but will start a new era after head coach Henry Combs moved to Capitol.
In Class B, Holden reached the semifinals a year after it defeated Florien for the state championship. The Rockets are accustomed to deep playoff runs having advanced at least as far as the quarterfinals the past four years.