The athletic school year that was 2016-17 produced many great stories and results.
In all, 41 teams from Greater New Orleans-area schools captured team state championships in a banner performance. Of course, that is tempered a bit by the split in football, boys and girls basketball, softball and baseball but it does not diminish the accomplishments.
State champions from the Greater New Orleans area included three schools who accomplished triple crowns, including Mount Carmel (volleyball, soccer, softball), Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II (volleyball, boys powerlifting, girls powerlifting) and Newman (boys and girls soccer, boys tennis).
Double winners include Country Day (volleyball, boys basketball), Landry-Walker (football, boys basketball), De La Salle (wrestling, boys basketball), Newman (boys and girls soccer), John Curtis Christian (girls basketball, baseball), St. Paul’s (boys cross country, boys soccer), Pope John Paul II (volleyball, boys powerlifting), Karr (football, girls outdoor track and field), St. Scholastica (girls swimming, girls bowling) and Riverside (football, baseball).
Schools with one state title included Belle Chasse (boys cross country), St. Martin’s Episcopal (boys cross country), Grand Isle (boys cross country), Academy of the Sacred Heart (girls cross country), Karr (football), Holy Cross (wrestling), Lakeshore (girls soccer), Crescent City Christian (basketball), Destrehan (girls basketball), Northlake Christian (girls basketball), Lutcher (girls powerlifting) and Jesuit (golf).
Regarding individual performances, it is hard for me to get past the play of Landry-Walker quarterback Keytaon Thompson, who staged one of the most memorable playoff runs in recent memory.
Big, fast and with a big arm, Thompson was simply unstoppable throughout the playoffs as Landry-Walker scored at least 50 points in all five playoff games, culminating with a 50-21 win over West Monroe in the Class 5A state title game.
In the aftermath, West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge, a brilliant defensive strategist, stated that the Charging Buccaneers won win all 10 times if the two teams played that many times, simply because of Thompson. I am still mystified that LSU did not offer Thompson as a quarterback.
In basketball, Romin Williams ended his brilliant career as perhaps the most accomplished player in the rich history of Country Day basketball. Williams is a great story. Unlike Thompson, Williams is not big (5-9) but plays big. He led the Cajuns to decisive playoff victories en route to the Division III title and is heading to a great school in Emory University. Certain area schools missed on a really good player and young man.
In baseball, seeing Jordan Loving help lead Riverside to a state championship after he quarterbacked the Rebels to a football state title reminded us about what is good about high school sports, the fact that you can play multiple sports and get the most out of the experience.
Also in baseball, how can you top finishing your state championship with a no-hitter as Ian Landreneau did for John Curtis Christian? While Cade Beloso provided the power with a three-run home run, Landreneau shut down a very good Catholic team. Here is a word to the wise–John Curtis will even better in baseball next year.
In girls basketball, watching Cara Ursin complete her brilliant career at Destrehan by leading the Wildcats to an unbeaten season and Class 5A state title was amazing. Ursin will go down as one of the best players in Louisiana girls prep basketball history. It was a great way for Angi Butler to conclude her coaching stint at Destrehan, as she is moving up in school administration.
Seeing the Crescent City Christian boys capture a state championship in boys basketball in Division V was heartwarming.
The Pios simply do not win titles, at least not historically. That has changed and it may change permanently with the young team Shaun Dumas has. Prized freshman Byron Joshua got in foul trouble in the title game and rebounded with 18 points, all after halftime, to lead Crescent City to the win over Jehovah-Jireh.
Perhaps the most notable accomplishment was by the Edna Karr football team. Brice Brown’s Cougars snapped Neville’s 39-game win streak and two-year reign as Class 4A champions with a 34-21 win over the Tigers.
Aldon Clark ran and passed the Cougars to victory, capping a brilliant senior season. The Karr defense was outstanding. Karr, Neville and Evangel, not necessarily in that order, were the best teams in the state in any classification. That speaks volumes about the Cougars.
Karr won its third consecutive girls outdoor track and field championship, proving that it is a dynasty in the sport. Junior Taylor Harris shined, winning three state titles, including two individual championships. She obviously returns next year.
Pope John Paul II volleyball was nationally ranked all season long. The Jaguars played a very challenging schedule, dealt with very high expectations and met those expectations in glowing fashion in winning the Division IV state championship.
It was the third straight state title for Pope John Paul II. Ansley Tullis and Milayne Danna were outstanding. Tullis will continue to be a nightmare for opponents as she was just a freshman.
Watching Newman sweep the boys and girls soccer championships was a treat. Ben Franklin has done the same in recent years but it is very difficult to accomplish. Izzy Lane did the job in goal for the Greenie girls while Evan DeBlanc had a hat trick for the Newman boys.
De La Salle won its first state basketball title since Dwayne Bryant led the Cavaliers to a title in 1986 as they knocked off University Lab in the Division II title game. Ahmad Taylor was the MVP for Paul Kelly’s team, which has many key players returning next year.
Speaking of De La Salle, kudos to Rod Cusachs for leading the Cavaliers to a second consecutive wrestling state championship. Unfortunately, not many locals saw it since it was in Bossier City once again.
Holy Cross ended Brother Martin’s five-year run as Division I wrestling state championships. It was a terrific accomplishment for Eric DesOrmeaux’s Tigers, who were led by Jake Rando and Joey Foret.
Mount Carmel continued its dynasty in volleyball, winning a third straight state title and its sixth in the last 11 years. Ellie Holzman was a force throughout, earning Most Outstanding Player honors.
It was a banner year and there are so many others that could be cited but witnessing many of them, the performances by Thompson and Ursin, in the biggest sports, on the biggest stages, stand out the most. Both were Gatorade Players of the Year in Louisiana in their respective sports.
Unfortunately, both were not allowed to compete with the best private schools for titles. While we may never get back to the previous format of all schools being united, a better solution must be found moving forward to eliminate the ridiculous number of championships, the absurd playoff brackets on the select side and the awful start times for state championship games.