It’s almost a rite of passage for Southwood seniors to start preparing themselves for the LHSAA state playoffs this time of year.
And for four Lady Cowboys seniors, including Chelsea Tieuel, the only returning full-time starter off the reigning Class 5A state championship squad, this year is no different. In a transition season under Terry Josting after the surprise resignation of long-time coach Steve McDowell last fall, the Lady Cowboys have had to find their way as the season progressed.
“It’s been tough on everyone. The team had its way of doing things with McDowell, and I wanted to stick with that, while bringing in some of my stuff,” Josting said. “We’ve gotten to know each other and we understand each other better now.”
Tieuel said the contrasting styles between the coaches wasn’t difficult for her to adjust to due to her experience playing AAU basketball.
“Coach McDowell was more reserved and coach Josting is more animated,” Tieuel said. “It was easy for me, because some of my AAU coaches have a personality like coach Josting.”
The Lady Cowboys, who will find out sometime after lunch on Monday who their first playoff opponent will be, won’t roll into the 2014 playoffs as the prohibitive favorite, as they did last spring. But they have enough firepower to win District 1-5A yet again. They are 23-6 overall, 10-0 in the league and ranked No. 8 in the LHSAA Power Ratings.
Against second place Airline on Thursday, Southwood displayed the tools that will make them difficult to stop in the early rounds. They can muscle up and play a physical game or they can light it up from the outside, as they did in pumping in 13 from behind the arc against the Lady Vikes.
The scoring threats are multiple and they have enough speed to shut down an opponent that struggles getting the ball up the court. With Tieuel, who can score from anywhere at any time, and the multi-talented Michelle Parker, the Lady Cowboys won’t be an easy out for the teams on their side of the playoff bracket.
“We have discussed making the playoffs and we are looking forward to the competition,” said Parker, who started some games last season as a defensive specialist. “We know we have to work hard to get to the playoffs and then we have to work harder once we’re in.”
Along with fellow seniors Ashlyn Jackson and Alexus Howard, Tieuel and Parker provide a punch few teams have been able to contend with this season. The teams the Lady Cowboys have lost to, which include No. 2 (5A) Ouachita (24-4), No. 1 (2A) North Caddo (27-1) and No. 1 (4A) Warren Easton (30-3), have a combined record of 143-35. But since a Jan. 10 loss to Rayville, Southwood has won 10 straight.
“We maybe lost to some teams we shouldn’t have, and I think we could have done better this season,” Tieuel said.
Howard is especially deadly on the left wing, when teams show too much attention to Tieuel or Parker. Left alone behind the arc, she can drive a spike in the heart of an opponent with her 3-point accuracy. Josting indicated he believes his seniors had a tougher time adjusting to him, than they’re willing to let on.
“Those kids had been with (McDowell) a long time and we changed the way they played ball the last three years,” Josting said. “But we’ve adapted and developed our own kind of identity.”
Parker hasn’t attracted a lot of recruiting attention, but her play has been unselfish in deploying multiple positions, even though most aren’t her strengths.
“Michelle is the one player in our lineup playing out of position,” Josting said. “She’s a normal 4, but we may ask her to guard the other team’s best player or their 5, even though she’s not as tall or heavy as her opponent. We might also have her step outside. She’s the player we don’t have a defined role of as an inside or outside player.”
And Parker has evolved into the type of senior leader Southwood can depend on to set an example for a starting lineup that often includes two freshmen and a sophomore.
“She does a lot by her actions. We ask and she just does it,” Josting said. “She makes sure the other kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the weight room when we aren’t there.”
Tieuel is getting some looks from junior colleges and will take the ACT again in March to raise her score. She was a key component in the Lady Cowboys last state title under McDowell.
“Chelsea can be as good as she wants to be and she’s one of the best players I’ve seen around here in a long time,” Josting said. “When we need her to, she can step up her game. She can shoot outside or drive and finish.”
Tieuel is also improved in getting her teammates involved in the game so that all of the pressure doesn’t fall on her shoulders.
“She is excellent with that, although sometimes she passes too much,” Josting said. “She basically can shoot almost any time she wants.”
Josting was thrust into the girls’ coaching role when McDowell stepped down, but he hopes to continue at the helm, regardless of how long the postseason lasts.
“I’m really enjoying it now that things have settled down a bit,” he said. “I’ll sit down with (principal) Jeff Roberts at the end of the season and discuss the future.”
The unblemished mark in district play looks pretty good on that resume, but a long run in the playoffs, perhaps even a title, would make it look a lot better.