DENHAM SPRINGS – In some regards second-year Denham Springs coach Blake Zito believes his current team is ahead of last year’s team at this juncture of the summer.
Of course, it’s not hard to point out the missing pieces of last year’s team that went on to a Class 5A state runner-up finish to Captain Shreve.
“The older girls know that we weren’t very good in the summer compared to where we are now,” Zito said. “We’ve still got room to grow. That’s the hope and potential.”
Part of that process of bridging the gap and evolving with a new cast is the two-day team camp which Denham Springs hosted and capped Friday with a 32-26 victory over Fontainebleau at Grady Hornsby Gymnasium.
The Lady Yellow Jackets opened play Thursday with a win over Thibodaux, which reached the state regionals last season.
“It’s been different,” Denham Springs senior forward Kate Thompson. “We’ve gotten a lot better over the summer and each game we play we’re just growing.”
One noticeable difference in this summer’s Denham Springs team is a lack of overall size, having graduated post players Desiree Jones and Jala Robinson. The Lady Jackets also lost second team All-State point guard Alexius Horne, who signed with Southeastern Louisiana.
In an effort to test his team throughout June, Zito entered Denham Springs in team camps at the University of Alabama, Southern Mississippi and Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) They will attend a similar event next week at Southeastern Louisiana.
“You’re always trying to win, but the main goal of the summer is about getting better,” Zito said. “We’ve played some good teams, some that were bigger and more athletic that we needed to go against. We kept getting better and better. I feel good about what we’re doing, but we still have a long way to go.”
Denham Springs was slow out of the starter’s blocks, turning the ball over seven times in the first 16-minute half and trailed for eight minutes until guard Violett Jackson’s steal led to a Maddie Howell basket that tied the game at 8-8.
Thompson followed with a three-point play after a nifty up-and-under move and the Lady Jackets, who shot 47 percent (8 of 17) went on a 10-4 run for a 18-12 lead after Sheneka Taylor’s steal and layin and held a 20-17 halftime edge.
The lead changed hands for the third time on a 3-pointer from Fontainebleau, who opened a 26-23 lead at the nine-minute mark, when Denham Springs answered.
Two free throws from Treneisha Muse provided the spark and Thompson, who had 11 of her team-high 16 points in the opening half, stepped outside Fontainebleau’s zone and buried a 3-pointer for a 28-26 lead.
The Lady Jackets, who limited the Lady Bulldogs to 2 of 15 shooting in the second half, wound up scoring the final seven points of the game with Thompson scoring inside followed by a turnaround bank shot from her younger sister, freshman Libby Thompson with 3:20 remaining.
Libby Thompson and Howell each added five points.
“We’ve got a good group that’s here,” Zito said. “We can be better in some ways than we were last year. It’s going to take a lot of work to get there.”