By Malcolm Butler
Cedar Creek coach Gene Vandenlangenberg preaches the concept of team.
Team this. Team that. Team everything.
It’s always about team with the long-time Creek head man.
And there were plenty of questions surrounding this year’s Lady Cougars girls basketball team entering the season with the graduation of all-state guard Sara Adams. Plenty.
Even Vandenlangenberg wasn’t 100 percent sure what to expect way back in October when official team practices began.
Coming off the program’s first ever appearance in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state title game – a loss to Southern Lab in the Select School Division IV championship – could the Lady Cougars make another run?
The answer to that question will start tonight when Creek hosts No. 10 seed Hanson Memorial. Tipoff at the Brickhouse is set for 6 p.m.
One thing Vandenlangenberg does know is that if the Lady Cougars are to make it back to the state title game, his senior class will have to lead the way. The trio is combining to average 35.0 points, 17.0 rebounds and 12 steals per game on the season.
“Without a doubt they are the ones who have to make the big plays and set the tempo and be tough,” Vandenlangenberg said. “They have been there. They are not going to be intimidated. They are not going to be nervous. They have been tested in big games. We have played a lot of big games in their four years. There is no doubt that we aren’t getting to the state tournament unless these three do what they have been doing.”
“They” are guards Allie Furr and Lizzie McAdams and forward Lillian Soto – the 2022-23 Cedar Creek senior class.
And “they” do believe last year’s experiences will help if they are to make another magical run.
“They waited until it was their turn to lead the team,” said Vandenlangenberg. “They all three picked up their games. They have provided the leadership that we have needed. They transitioned into a leadership role on and off the court just like seniors are supposed to do. It’s been fun to see them grow.”
The trio of upper classmen sound like a broken record when asked about their goals for this year’s playoff run.
“I feel like we have had a taste of what it’s like to go that far,” said McAdams, who is averaging 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. “We are just going to work as hard as we can to get back to that position. I think we do have the potential to make it back to the finals. We just need to play the same way we have played all year. We just need to keep our focus right and take it one game at a time.”
“We got a feel for the atmosphere and how fun and exciting it was to play in that environment,” said Furr, who leads the team with 18.0 points, 6.7 steals, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. “We just want to get back to the state tournament and push ourselves to go as far as we can. I really want to make it back. This is my last year, and it would be nice to be a part of more school history and keep a trend alive.”
“I think having gone through it and knowing what the atmosphere is like and what to expect only helps this year,” said Soto, who is averaging 5.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. “To be the first team in (Cedar Creek girls basketball) history to do that has motivated us to push even further this year. We want to actually win a state championship this year. That is what we are shooting for.”
The Lady Cougars won a share of the District 2-1A title this year with Ouachita Christian and enter the second round of the Division IV playoffs following a first round bye. Creek will play Hansom Memorial (19-8, 7-5 in District 7-1A) that defeated Glenbrook 45-29 Thursday night in a first round match-up.
“We played them three years ago in the first round,” said Vandenlangenberg. “We are familiar with them. They play in a good district with Highland Baptist and Central Catholic and some others. They will be well-coached.”
The Lady Cougars (21-6, 7-1 District 2-1A) must overcome some late season injuries if they are going to make a run. Guards Ava Hartwell and Olivia Underwood both suffered injuries over the final month of the season and aren’t expected to be available for the playoffs.
However, neither Vandenlangenberg nor his Lady Cougars senior class are going to use the adversity as an excuse. They are solely focused on what’s next.
“All three of these seniors have been to the state tournament,” said Vandenlangenberg. “They got a taste of it. For me I don’t think it feels like such a do or die. I think we can relax and just play our game. When you have never been there … there is a door, you are trying to knock down to get there. But having been there now, it’s really neat.
“As coaches we are excited about the opportunity, but we are still preaching one game at a time. They know that. Thursday won’t happen unless we win (tonight). Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I think in the playoffs, the players know it’s a momentum thing. We need to get back our momentum coming off a tough loss (to OCS) to end the regular season. We just need to get that first win and ride that momentum to hopefully accomplish our goal of winning a state championship.”
And what a team accomplishment that would be.