Obaze-Ford guides youthful Ouachita to district title – Monroe News Star
Amber Obaze-Ford was tired by the time Ouachita’s season ended at Destrehan in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
As rewarding as the last four months had been, they were also draining. All most saw was the Lady Lions’ undefeated record in district play that earned them the 2-5A championship. They didn’t see what it took to get there.
The way Obaze-Ford navigated a season full of challenges with a young roster earned her the News-Star’s 2017 All-NELA Big School Coach of the Year award.
“As a coach, you always wonder if you could have done more but this makes that feeling go away a little bit,” said Obaze-Ford, who took home All-NELA COY honors in 2013 after leading Rayville to a Class 3A state championship.
“We were definitely talented but our mental approach to the game isn’t all the way there yet. We still found a way to get it done some kind of way.”
In some ways, Obaze-Ford’s second season at Ouachita was harder than her first. The Lady Lions had more talented post players — always a plus in Obaze-Ford’s system — than the coach knew what to do with. The problem was they were all freshman and sophomores.
Obaze-Ford had two experienced veterans to lean on while she got Ouachita’s young front line up to speed.
Junior guard DeDe Walker averaged 12 points per game and was named the District 2-5A MVP. Forward Brandi Washington continued to be a stat-sheet filler as a senior by scoring 14 points per game in addition to four rebounds.
“Brandi and I knew they could all play but we just had to make sure we were being leaders out there,” Walker said. “We both played when we were young too so we understood what they were going through.”
Ouachita started to tease flashes of championship form in New Orleans at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic in wins over Salmen and Ellender. A loss to John Curtis in a game the Lady Lions had a chance to win was discouraging, but served as a teachable moment in district play.
To reclaim the District 2-5A title, Ouachita would have to go through Natchitoches Central. It looked like another winnable game was going to get away, but the Lady Lions came from 23 points down to beat the Lady Chiefs on the road.
That win all but locked up Ouachita’s first district title since 2014.
“I don’t think there was one moment where we turned the corner this year, but all the pieces came together in that game,” Obaze-Ford said. “We didn’t fall apart and fought through it all game. That’s why we won.”
Mahoganie Williams and Lafaedria Green settled into the rotation with Bria Broughton and Niya McGuire, while Washington emerged in the go-to senior role Keturah Bingham filled the previous year.
“That was our goal to win district and I really wanted to do it my senior year. It’s just a blessing we were able to do it,” Washington said.
Now that Obaze-Ford has led Ouachita through the growing pains, the real fun begins next season.
“Junior year is usually when it all clicks in their heads and that’s where it takes off,” Obaze-Ford said.
“I’m hoping next year I’ll finally have my strong senior class and we can do something with it.”
Follow Adam on Twitter @adam_hunsucker
2017 All-NELA Big School Girls Basketball
G: DeDe Walker, Ouachita
G: Sha’Quandra Carter, Neville
G: Kenzee McCoy, Madison
F: Brandi Washington, Ouachita
F: Amani McWain, Ruston
G: D’Kira Spivey, Richwood
G: Star’Neisha Johnson, Bastrop
F: Curtessia Dean, Wossman
F: Mahoganie Williams, Ouachita
F: Za’Terrica Williams, Madison