It might have been a given that Doyle girls basketball coach Sam White was selected the All-Livingston Parish Coach of the Year by her peers, but she didn’t want to take all the credit.
“I never want to make it about me or anything, but I think that’s a testament to the girls and how well they bought in and how well they’ve done, so I’m pleased with that for sure,” White said after guiding the Lady Tigers (32-3) to the Class 2A state championship this season and the school’s first state title since 1979.
Getting to that state title was part of a plan for White, who took over the Doyle program after Guy McDonald stepped down in 2014 after the Lady Tigers advanced to the state title game. The team also lost Taylin Underwood, a two-time All-Parish MVP, to graduation, and White knew there would be some rebuilding ahead. She also developed a vision for the program.
“I knew that I wanted our game to be fast-paced,” White said. “I knew that in girls basketball especially, I think that’s kind of where the game is going, and I saw potential there with some of the girls coming up that that was going to be a great style for us to play. I feel like you have to pretty much coach to your personality, and that kind of fits mine and it fits them, so that’s kind of where we went with it … and it happened to work out six years later.”
Things really began to take hold last season, when the Lady Tigers secured the No. 1 seed in the Class 2A playoffs after holding that spot for virtually the entire season. The campaign ended with a home loss to Rayville in the quarterfinals and established this season’s motto – ‘Unfinished Business’.
“I think we all bring it back up,” White said of last season’s playoff loss. “It was such a devastating loss when you were supposed to, I guess on paper, do more. I guess it just wasn’t our year, but we did learn from that. The girls were super-motivated after that -- so motivated that I never felt like motivation was an issue for us this year, ever.”
There were challenges along the way, with Doyle winning the Livingston Parish Tournament championship – its first since 1997 -- with Presleigh Scott hitting a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining to seal a 59-56 win over Denham Springs in a hard-fought game by both teams.
“At the beginning of the year, we talk about some things that we want to accomplish,” White said. “I guess winning state was obviously top of that list, but (winning the parish tournament) was right underneath that. That is something that we wanted to do that we knew that it was possible for us to do, so we set that as a goal.
“That game was a very good game. It was back-and-forth and we kind of found a way to win there at the end, and I think good teams do, so I think once we did that, we really started to believe, ‘hey, you know what? This is our year, so let’s just kind of go ahead and take it by the horns …”
Doyle’s next challenge came in the Sugar Bowl Classic with Doyle going 1-2 for its first two losses of the season. The Lady Tigers won an 87-85 thriller over Fairview and followed with losses to District 10-2A foe St. Thomas Aquinas and Evanston Township (Ill.). A 74-66 loss to Lee High at home in early January was the Lady Tigers’ last of the season.
“St. Thomas played us great that game,” White said of a 76-72 loss to the Lady Falcons. “They really did, but I’d have to think that had a little something to do with. Fairview runs and guns. We had a track meet the night before.
“Even the loss to Lee, it still felt like this team is different, this team is special – to me,” White continued.
“I just think from last year to this year, you could see the growth, you could see the determination,” White continued. “Man, they just ran with it – literally – we just ran with it. We just decided that losing really wasn’t an option for us anymore, and it was a great thing to watch as a coach.”
That set in motion a 10-0 run in district play, helping win the league title, including a pair of wins over St. Thomas Aquinas, which captured the Division III state championship.
“We played them here and we played them well, really well,” White said. “We were able to take care of them here and we had some momentum, and then going over there and beating them was huge. I don’t know the last time we beat them at their place.
“When we beat them there, that was like, ‘OK. We’re ready. We’re ready to do this playoff thing. Let’s get it going.’”
The Lady Tigers did just that, going into the postseason as the No. 1 seed, winning games over North Caddo and St. Helena Central by an average of 41 points, setting up a quarterfinal game with No. 8 Franklin at home. There, the Lady Tigers turned up the defensive pressure in an 88-49 win which propelled them into the state tournament.
“That was the game that we had lost out on last year, so this was the game that we really, really wanted to just go ahead and put it away,” White said. “We clicked and it all clicked.”
Doyle scored a 59-49 win over Lake Arthur to advance to the state championship game against No. 2 Red River.
“They like to have fun and hang out and goof off and dance around and stuff, but once it was time to play, I felt like after we got over the first few minutes of jitters in that semifinal game, we pretty much played the way that we expected to play, which was good to see, because sometimes you get over there and it’s a little bit of a shell-shock, and I thought we handled that well,” White said. “I think it’s because we put them in situations earlier in the year trying to play at big places and big games where it was just another game where they didn’t feel overwhelmed by it. They handled it really, really well.”
Doyle relied on team basketball to get to the championship game, and it did the same to win the state championship as four players – Elise Jones, Meghan Watson, Claire Glascock and Scott scored in double figures in a 73-66 win. Jones earned Most Outstanding Player honors with 26 points after Scott, the Class 2A and All-Parish MVP, fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
“It was a win, and we were happy to get it,” White said. “I don’t even know if I could even tell you a lot about the game. It’s almost like a blur. I just know when the time was ticking down right at the end that we were going to win it …”
The championship was the culmination a journey White set out on six years ago.
“I guess when you come in and I guess you start the program that you want to see, then you have to expect that it’s going to take a little while for people to understand it and adjust, and this team just really kind of sunk their teeth into it and believed in it, and you saw the outcome of that,” White said. “Super proud of that.”
But with that state championship, White said her team shouldn’t get complacent.
“My goal for them the entire time I’m going to be there is to win and win big,” White said. “We will always try to give ourselves a chance to be very, very good, and we will always try to go win a state championship. That will always be something that we try to do – our No. 1 goal. Next year’s just as capable of doing it as this year, so that is the goal, and that is what we’re going to do.”