BATON ROUGE -- A lot has happened to Zachary’s girls’ basketball program since its best showing in just over two decades.
The Lady Broncos graduated seven seniors, including four starters, three of whom are college-bound players, from last season’s 26-9 record that ended with a 61-41 loss to East Ascension in the Class 5A state championship game.
Zachary coach Tami McClure is moving into her third season, and the retooling process has begun, including three-days-a-week weight lifting, open gym sessions, twice-a-week summer league games and team camps.
“This reminds me of St. Michael, when I lost nine seniors one year,” McClure said of her previous stop, where she guided the Lady Warriors to a pair of state championships. “People didn’t expect us to do much the following year and went deep in the playoffs.
“I like this type of challenge when people think we aren’t going to be that good,” McClure continued. “Let people think that. I know what our team’s capable of doing. We’ll be able to compete, we’ll just be a different type of team.”
Center Ty Izzard, a senior, recalled last year’s historic playoff run -- the school’s best since 1996.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It was new for me. It was great.”
Izzard realizes the challenge that awaits her this upcoming season, after watching the trio of Rayah Hayes (McNeese State), Bryana Langford (New Mexico Community College) and Jamecia Profit (Pearl River Community College) deftly handle last season.
It’s the senior season for players such as Izzard, guards Osha Cummings and Mya McDaniels, and the responsibility that comes with a greater on-floor presence, along with the leadership in guiding a 10-member freshman class.
“We have to build their confidence, so when they get in the game they won’t be scared,” Izzard said. “Last year we had older players. Everybody was together, everybody knew what they were doing. I have to take this big role, step up and take the team under my wing.”
McClure agreed Izzard will be a cornerstone of this year’s team and increased production in scoring and rebounding with be of paramount importance.
“She’s improving,” McClure said. “She got better as the season went along last year. We didn’t have that dominant inside force. She has to take on a new role and be able to play a full game. She’s a leader and being able to catch that ball and be able to score.”
McClure said the summer league competition at Broadmoor High has proven beneficial.
Zachary has twice lost to Class 3A state runner-up Madison Prep Academy, whose athletic and pressing style of play wreaked havoc against the Lady Broncos' new-look team.
Zachary has upcoming league games against Lee High, the Division II state runner-up, and two games against East Ascension.
“They were pressing us and that was good,” McClure said. “That’s where we’re going to have our struggles of understanding what we’re supposed to do.”
Another experimental tool in measuring Zachary’s progress has been the participation in team camp settings.
The Lady Broncos have already taken part at McNeese State and are scheduled to attend at Northwestern State.
They also took part in Episcopal High’s team camp on Friday, grinding out a 31-16 win over the host Lady Knights before later losing in overtime to Assumption.
Izzard and Skye Allen each scored four points during Zachary’s opening 12-0 surge before Kasey Askew’s floater off the glass provided a 15-3 halftime lead over Episcopal.
Episcopal rallied behind its full-court pressure, getting to within seven points (19-12) with 7:30 remaining in the game that was divided into a pair of 18-minute halves with a running clock.
Izzard’s two free throws stopped the run and Zoe Adams’ 15-footer from the baseline enabled the Lady Broncos to regain a 23-12 lead.
Zachary outscored Episcopal over the last seven minutes with Izzard scoring six of her team-high 13 points.
“We have a shot to do good things,” McClure said. “It’s whether they can adapt to what they need to do. I’m excited about taking on this group. They’re fun and work hard.”