It’s adding up for under-the-radar Lady Raiders

ENERGY SOURCE: Huntington senior Kalea Dean leads the Lady Raiders into Thursday’s semifinal game of the Class 4A playoffs.

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

There is an interesting pattern developing with the Huntington girls’ basketball team. If the pattern holds up, the Lady Raiders will be bringing the LHSAA Class 4A championship trophy back to Shreveport this weekend.

Huntington’s 65-62 loss to Warren Easton in the semifinals in 2020 was followed by the Lady Raiders’ 49-42 fall to LaGrange in last year’s championship game. It seems like the magic number is three.

To make matters even more interesting, Brian Shyne is in his third year as the Huntington coach. You do the math: year one, semifinals; year two, finals. Year three? Shyne gets a smile on his face thinking about the possibility.

For that to happen, the Lady Raiders (20-6) would have to put up two more victories. The first comes in Thursday’s 2:30 semifinal game against No. 1 seed Warren Easton (14-7) at SLU’s University Center in Hammond.

If the Lady Raiders make it to Saturday’s championship game, they would face the winner of the other semifinal matchup between A.J. Ellender and No. 2 seed Bastrop.

Even with their success at the previous two state tournaments, the Lady Raiders weren’t getting the respect this year that senior Kalea Dean thought they deserved.

“I’m excited because I know we did things that people didn’t think we could do this season,” says Dean. “I was hearing the talk around me at school. But we knew we could do it. We were just our own worst enemy.”

For the Lady Raiders, their fate seems to have been orchestrated by the senior.

“She’s our leading scorer,” Shyne says of Dean, who is averaging 17.3 points per game. “She’s an energy person. She does it all for us – defense and offense. I’m hard on her but this team goes where she goes … if they’ll follow.”

That hasn’t been the case all season, however, because it took Dean some time to acquire the leadership role.

“Early this season she didn’t think she could be a leader,” recalls Shyne. “She is humble and didn’t see herself in that role. But then she started owning it.”

Shyne remembers exactly when he noticed the change happening. “After we lost four in a row (back in December), she just seemed to blossom like a butterfly. Ever since we lost that last game, she’s been very vocal, very dedicated. We learned from those losses and found our identity.”

Any doubts about the Lady Raiders were silenced when they closed out the regular season on a 12-game winning streak. After playoff wins over South Terrebonne, North Vermilion, and South Lafourche, Huntington finds itself in the semifinals against the 2018 state champion Lady Eagles from New Orleans.

Ending four years on the varsity team and following two close calls in the playoffs, the Lady Raiders’ leader is determined that this year’s team leaves a lasting legacy at the Shreveport school. For Dean and fellow seniors Shuntianna Ellis and Jayla Allen, that means winning a state championship.

“This is very important,” says Dean. “I want to know that I left here after doing something that had never been done at Huntington. We feel different this year. We didn’t bond last year the way we’re bonding now. We’re gonna win it. I just have to make sure I’m on point. If I bring it, they’ll bring it.”

Nothing would make the Huntington coach happier.

“I think it would be major for them,” says Shyne, “especially after their work over last summer. They have put in the work. It would mean the world to them to get it done this year.”

Photo by LERONN BURRIS