WALKER - Walker High’s second-year coach Hali Fletcher said the byword going into the 2019 season was grit.
For a team that had won 10 games the previous season, coupled with a distinct influx of young players, the catchphrase served as a reminder of what it was going to take for the Lady Cats to reach their own lofty goals.
They talked about competing for the District 4-5A championship and reaching the Class 5A state tournament, something that appeared out of their grasp going into the season but became part of this year’s team legacy.
“It was a true reflection of the culture we’ve created,” Fletcher said of her team’s mantra. “I knew what the goals were for the girls and the coaching staff. We knew that was going to be an option as long as they stayed focused, continued to push and they did that from the beginning of the season until the end. They started developing an internal confidence; a motivation to be able to push themselves to continue to succeed.”
Walker nearly willed itself all the way to the top of the mountain in Class 5A.
The Lady Cats (24-10) completed their precipitous turn, winning 14 more games over a year ago, claimed the District 4-5A title and reached the Class 5A state tournament for the first time in 16 years where they were stopped, 2-1, by eventual state champion St. Amant.
For all those achievements Fletcher, a former Walker High player and member of the program’s last district championship team, was selected the All-Parish Coach of the Year.
“The girls had to put in the work and the effort,” said Fletcher, who was assisted by Kaylee Guidry and Madison Jannise. “Having them see that hard work does truly pay off and buy into what we have going on, was awesome for them. I’m very excited for the future years to come. I’m excited to see them to continue to develop.”
That sentiment’s understandable.
Walker started one senior and one junior in its everyday lineup.
Of the Lady Cats’ six selections on the All-Parish team – both first and second team – three were freshmen, one a sophomore and the other a junior.
That’s what makes the achievements of this year’s group even more special, a unit that catapulted a program from a 10-win team the year before to a legitimate state championship contender.
“To have the confidence in the person that’s next to you, that helped to create that team chemistry,” Fletcher said. “That helped to create that team success we had this year. They all trusted each other.”
The season to remember was slow to develop with Walker going 8-5 in its first 13 games.
There were competitive losses to Sam Houston and St. Amant involved in the road to success, a journey that began in the second half of the season.
The Lady Cats went 15-6 over their last 21 games, truly catching fire during the second half of district play. They stormed their way to the league title with four straight wins, outscoring their opponents 41-2.
Walker extended that win streak to seven games, going on the road in the postseason with two consecutive wins over Captain Shreve (10-2) and top-seeded Sam Houston (8-2), to reach the state semifinals, where they went toe-to-toe with St. Amant in a 2-1 nail-biter.
“I couldn’t express to them how proud I was, but I think they know,” Fletcher said. “Now that they have a taste, they’re excited to get back to work. It makes you happy as a coach they’re excited to keep pushing and to keep goal chasing.”