MONROE — The Southwood Lady Cowboys have returned to the mountaintop.
Led by dominant post play and MVP Jessica Ellis, the Class 5A girls powerhouse claimed its first state championship since 2008 with a dominant 62-34 victory over Natchitoches Central at Fant-Ewing Coliseum on the campus of UL-Monroe on Saturday.
The victory was the 11th state championship for Southwood and the largest defeat in a Class 5A girls game since Chapelle defeated Lafayette, 47-25, back in 2009. The victory also helped snapped a title game losing streak for the Lady Cowboys, who had lost the previous three championship games.
“I feel like we deserved to win because we worked and played so hard,” said Southwood’s Ellis, who earned MVP honors after scoring 20 points on 10-for-15 shooting. “At the beginning of the game I knew that our post players were going to have a good night.”
Southwood (31-1) came out on fire as Ellis made a jump shot at the top of the key, which ignited a 10-2 run for the Lady Cowboys. NCHS aided to that run with sloppy play as the Lady Chiefs committed seven turnovers and five fouls in the opening quarter. At the end of the first, Southwood held a comfortable 16-8 lead.
“The game started off exactly how I didn’t want it to,” said NCHS coach Emma Boozman, who after 36 seasons at Fairview-Alpha, Campti and NCHS is retiring at the end of the school year. “They played great defense. It made it difficult for us to get a shot off.”
Things proceeded to get worse for NCHS (27-5) in the second period as Southwood continued its dominance inside the paint. Both of Southwood’s 5-foot-9 senior forwards, Kourtney Pennywell and Keona Favis, scored with ease in the first half. The duo combined for 18 points and six rebounds in the first two quarters.
“I think that was big factor,” said Southwood head coach Steve McDowell, who has led the Lady Cowboys to all 11 of its state titles and five state runner-up finishes. “They have worked hard to get better every day. Kourtney and Keona just played tough.”
“They were so much bigger than us,” said Boozman. “We were overmatched on the boards.”
NCHS continued to suffer from cold shooting and turnovers in the second period. The Lady Chiefs committed seven more turnovers in the second and did not score until 1:17 left in the half, when Keona Favis’ two-point jumper fell.
In the opening half, NCHS shot only 35.3 percent from the field as Southwood entered the break with a 34-12 lead. The Lady Cowboys would never look back on way to a 28-point victory.
“We had too many turnovers,” said Boozman, whose team committed 21 turnovers in the loss. “We started shooting ourselves in the foot. I think the defensive pressure got to us.”
“We just didn’t come out focused and get after it like we wanted to do,” said NCHS senior Victoria Rachal, who had 8 points and 7 rebounds in her final game for the Lady Chiefs.
Southwood’s Ellis led all scorers with 20 points, while Pennywell added 18 and Favis chipped in a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Gabriella Cortez paced NCHS with 12 points and 7 rebounds.
While Southwood celebrated yet another state championship, NCHS was left dealing with a disappointing finale to its longtime respected coach’s career. Boozman left the court with an career overall record of 865-370, six Top 28 appearances, three state championships and two state runner-up finishes.
Yet afterwards, Boozman promised that Saturday’s game was not about her.
“It’s really not about me,” said Boozman. “These girls deserve all the awards they are going to get for what they have done. I’m excited to just get here.”