After the Arcadia girls basketball team went through a 4-4 stretch midway through the season, folks around north central Louisiana began doubting whether the 2013-14 version of coach Ruby Qualls’ team had what it took to go much further.
But doubting Qualls and her Lady Hornets is never a good thing. Behind a stout starting lineup with quality depth, Arcadia has reeled off 15 consecutive victories and is headed to the state semifinals for the 16th time in the last 26 years.
The Lady Hornets (27-5), who rampaged through District 1-1A with a 10-0 mark, will meet top-seeded North Central (27-2) at 1 p.m. today in Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles. A victory there would give Qualls a shot at her sixth state title in Saturday’s 2 p.m. state championship contest.
“A lot of people wrote us off, so we surprised some folks,” Qualls said. “I never doubted however, because I knew the makeup of this team and the background of the individual players.”
The team is built around seniors Tywunn Henderson and Larodica Harris, junior Courtney Mills, sophomore Khelsea Foster and freshman Letricia Baker. Also providing quality minutes are Raven Sampson and DeAndrea Alexander.
“It’s the same’o, same’o with us,” Qualls said. “Pushing the ball down the court inside and outside in combination.”
The biggest boost in the season came when Qualls elected to move the 5-foot-11 Baker from the perimeter to the low post.
“She kept begging to go there, so we made the move and she has done very well inside,” Qualls said. “Moving her there has made all the difference.”
Henderson creates openings across the court for the Lady Hornets, while Mills, who moved from Byrd to Arcadia with her mother’s teaching position change. Mills has played guard, point guard and low post.
“Khelsea is also a diverse player and she came back to us after moving to Gibsland,” Qualls said. “Baker’s nickname is ‘Trouble’ – she’s something else, but a very strong player.”
The Lady Hornets have plenty of homegrown talent since Sampson is the niece of Arcadia principal Jeffery Sampson, while Alexander is the daughter of Arcadia assistant coach Deandre Alexander.
The Lady Hornets had to go on the road to win a tough second-round game at Vermilion Catholic 62-59 on Thursday to make the semifinals.
“They were a very good, very strong team, but we fought back from 10 points down in the second half,” Qualls said. “It wasn’t pleasant. That’s the second time I’ve had to go down there and win a playoff game.”
Qualls’ secret to long-term consistency is getting contact with her charges early. She teaches PE, so she gets to impart her philosophies to sixth graders on up.
“I teach them to play and learn and we play through the summertime,” she said.
The fifth-seeded Lady Hornets don’t seem bothered about playing the top team in 1A in the state tournament opener. Qualls has been around the block often enough that she knows what to expect in a championship setting.
“North Central is a young team, but they aren’t all that big – and they like to run and gun,” Qualls said. “We’ll try to stop them. Just so we get ours, we’ll be alright.”