No more 'butt whoopings': Northwood girls in LHSAA state tournament for first time

LaMar Gafford
Alexandria Town Talk

LENA — The emotion that Northwood coach Lashonda Cooper showed  Thursday night was five years in the making.

The Lady Gators defeated Elton 52-31 in the Class 1A quarterfinals for their first trip to the LHSAA girls basketball state tournament. Northwood will face Merryville in the semifinals in Hammond at noon Monday.

All Cooper could talk about though, was how the journey started – a 2-22 record in 2016-17 when Northwood went winless in district play.

“I just remember walking into Northwood and I was like, ‘All we have to do is win some games? Oh yeah, I got that,’ ” Cooper said. “And I walked in and I was like, ‘This is truly a humbling experience.’ We started from rock bottom. A lot of these girls I’ve had since sixth grade and we were taking those butt whoopings over and over, and I was like, ‘Your time is coming.’ I just had to stay the course.”

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Slowly, but surely, Cooper and her husband, Darius, did just that and built pieces to build the program.

One of those pieces was senior Ayleyah Winn, who did not play as a freshman in 2017-18 due to an ACL injury, but has developed into one of the best players in Central Louisiana. While she was held scoreless Thursday, she found ways to contribute with assists, rebounds and steals.

Northwood coach Lashonda Cooper instructs her team from the sideline as the Lady Gators defeated the Elton Lady Indians, 52-31, Thursday, Feb. 25 in the Class 1A quarterfinals.

“Coach would tell us, ‘You girls can’t dribble,’ ” Winn said. “She had to build our passion before she could build their skill. (My teammates) were so used to people telling them that they couldn’t do stuff. Coach really done a lot. She helped us from the bottom. We have the best coach in the gym, I can tell you that.”

Going off the motto “Changing the mentality, while embracing the process,” it culminated with Northwood’s first playoff win in program history last season and the first district title in 32 years this season.

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The Lady Gators should have continued success as all their points Thursday were scored by players that are expected to return next season.

Junior guard Elondra Williams scored 17 points to lead Northwood, while freshman point guard Rhianna Battles had 14 and sophomore Na’kiyah Allen added 12 points.

“Even though I wasn’t able to score, they scored,” Winn said, “It really makes me proud to know that they have my back.”

“It’s a great experience,” Allen said. “We worked really, really hard for it. Knowing that we’re here now, we can’t stop, we have to keep going.”