Winning the district title for a third straight year was hardly a charm for the Slidell Lady Greyhounds.
But through injury, personal loss and near tragedy, the Lady Greyhounds pushed forward to capture the 17-A Division title Friday with a 42-31 win over Saint Jo.
“We didn’t just beat Saint Jo. We beat all the adversity,” said senior post Brooke Rhodes, who scored 20 points in the title-clinching game.
The Lady Greyhounds (18-11) tried to close out league play with a perfect record Tuesday at Bellevue. Slidell took a 38-district game winning streak into the regular season finale.
“Even though we have the district title, we want to go undefeated,” said Katy Stephens, who scored 12 points Friday.
Stephens scored seven points in the second quarter as Slidell took a 25-16 lead. Saint Jo fought back to get within six, 29-23, going into the fourth quarter.
Slidell closed the game with a 13-8 run.
Entering the season, the Lady Greyhounds faced an uphill task to keep their district dominance going. Slidell’s top two scorers – Allie Staub and Hannah Pakulat, who averaged a combined 30 points per game – graduated.
Slidell coach Cody Vanover had to look to several freshmen to step in along with veterans Sarah Davis, Stephens, Ashton Stroope and Rhodes.
“The freshmen have come in and done well,” Vanover said.
The team’s veterans also put a lot on their shoulders to boost the scoring.
“We knew we had to step up and score more,” Stephens said. “Everyone did a great job stepping up.”
The Lady Greyhounds won their first four games, including impressive victories over Muenster Sacred Heart and Throckmorton.
Then the first of several setbacks hit Slidell. While averaging 25.7 points per game to start the year, Rhodes suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her knee against Santo.
The Lady Greyhounds’ leading scorer was knocked out the rest of non-district play.
Also during non-district play, Stephens’ lost her grandfather, who had been a fixture at her games throughout her career.
“It was definitely tough,” Stephens recalled. “It was a tough beginning to the season, but my teammates were great through it all.
“I feel like I’m playing for him and want to make him proud.”
Even with her ACL tear, Rhodes rehabbed to regain strength in her leg and returned to the team two games into district play. She scored 10 points in the Lady Greyhounds’ 59-38 win over Midway.
The worst appeared to be behind the Lady Greyhounds. Then on the second day of the New Year, four-year starting point guard Sarah Davis was injured in a car accident near Sanger. She was ejected from the truck she was riding in with Slidell boys’ players Trent Garrett and Tyler Maynard.
Davis spent five days in a Plano hospital with a skull fracture but escaped any lasting injuries. However, her basketball season was ended, another blow to the Lady Greyhounds.
She did return to the Slidell bench to cheer on her teammates eight days after the accident in an emotional 49-42 win over Saint Jo.
Vanover struggles to explain how his girls have pushed through the season.
“It’s taken an emotional toll, but they’ve shown a lot of toughness,” he said. “They’ve handled it better than I have. Their character and toughness impress me every day. I’m lucky to coach a great group like this.
“It’s something that our younger kids will all remember, seeing how our senior leaders have kept going.”
While she’s been part of two previous district champions that made trips to the regional tournaments, Stephens said this year’s team will always be special.
“It’s been a difficult year, and it made it mean even more with everything we’ve been through,” Stephens said. “We kept playing and never quit. I don’t know how we have. But we had goals. Just because things happen, doesn’t mean you can’t reach them.”
As the District 17-A champion, the Lady Greyhounds will have a bye to the area round of the Class A Division II Region III playoffs. Slidell will open the playoffs Feb. 17 in Aledo against the winner of the bi-district contest between Aquilla and Covington.