Holden, Madison Prep, Parkview Baptist and University were top-tier girls basketball teams area all year long. They piled up enough victories and accolades to fill a gymnasium.
But now there’s a new role for the four teams — underdog. And it’s one each team is confidently embracing going into Wednesday’s semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament.
“We are the underdog, and I actually like it,” U-High coach Bonita Johnson said. “We’ve been the favorite before, and we’ve been unbeaten before. There’s a lot of pressure involved.
“It’s nice to not have that. No one expects as much from us this year. That’s motivation, and it also takes some of that pressure off.”
Action begins at 1 p.m. at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center in Hammond with third-seeded Anacoco (28-10) taking on No. 2 Florien (36-4) in the first of two Class B semifinals. Four games involving Baton Rouge area teams follow — No. 4 Holden (24-6) vs. top-seeded Lacassine (34-0) at 2:45 p.m. in Class B, fourth-seeded Parkview Baptist (24-10) vs. No. 1 Iota (27-5) at 4:30 in 3A, No. 3 U-High (27-8) vs. second-seeded Jewel Sumner (33-0) at 6:15 p.m. in 3A and sixth-seeded Madison Prep (30-4) vs. No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas (24-6) at 8 p.m.
It is the tourney debut for Madison Prep and Parkview Baptist. University is a two-time defending state champion, and Holden makes its first tourney appearance in a decade.
Madison Prep’s story is perhaps the most intriguing. This is the third varsity season for the Chargers.
MPA coach Dwayne Hayes said he’s leaned on the school’s boys program for support and notes that four fan buses are set to follow his team into an atmosphere that may favor hometown STA.
“We talked to the kids about what it’s going to be like,” Hayes said. “It’s a bigger arena, but we won’t change what we do, which is go in and defend, run the floor and play as hard as we can. We are playing in Hammond, but this is a neutral site.
“(St. Thomas Aquinas) has two players who signed Division I scholarships. They’re solid. We can’t make mistakes, and we have to box out underneath and get rebounds. We can’t let them have second-chance points.”
Parkview coach Christina Anderson cautioned her team to not make the stage bigger than they are.
“We have some scouting reports and know what to expect,” Anderson said. “Iota is a No. 1 seed, and when you get to this point, everybody is going to be good. More than anything else, I want my team to play with confidence. And execute.”
Holden played defending champion Lacassine twice early in the season.
“I feel like the moon and stars are aligning correctly for us,” Holden coach Pam Forbes said. “We’ve got the experience. Most of these girls have played together for three years. Since the playoffs started, we’ve really turned it up a notch on defense.
“One big advantage Lacassine has is that they’ve been here, and we haven’t. I like the underdog role. Can we execute and do what we need to do? That’s the big question.”
Sumner’s inside duo of Bre’Ashlee Jones and 6-foot-2 Diamond Brooks averages 28 points and 18 rebounds and will be a challenge for UHS. The Cubs’ Chelsea Verrett averages 15 points a game and Kaila Anderson adds 11.3 points and 9.1 assists.
PBS’ Skyler Goodwin averages 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Whitney Landry leads Iota with averages of 13 points and seven rebounds.
Sherry Porter (19.0 ppg) and Alexis Augustus (18.0) lead Madison Prep. Regan Bolton (18.0) and Courtney Dawsey (13.0) power St. Thomas Aquinas. Sydney Hayden averages 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds for Holden. Lacassine’s Madyson Brasseaux is at 20.8 points and 15.7 rebounds.