1989 championship part of life-long friendships for Ward III Lady Tigers

MEMBERS OF the Ward III Lady Tigers in 1989 were: (from left, first row): Tandalire Williams, Jennifer Day, LaJuana Robbins, Ramonia Boley, Linda Ulmer, Louri Biggs, Teronda Gray and Regina Armstrong. Back row: Head Coach Genny Harris Marionneaux, Michelle Lee, Amy Smith, Jennifer Jennings, Sandy Bryan, Wendy Clark, Tonya Reeves, Kitty Ward, Lora Welch and Donna Wolleson, team manager. (Sun photo by Monica Huff)

The journey to the Class C state championship title was one paved with hard work and a love of basketball for the Ward III Lady Tigers.

The Ward III girls had an amazing run through the late 1980s, amassing a 123-6 record in a four-year period.

Every journey has a beginning, and their journey began in 1983 as sixth graders. Coach Genny Harris Marionneaux took the group under her wing and began teaching them the game of basketball.

“We won just one game their sixth grade season,” Marionneaux said in a previous Sun interview. “The main problem they had that year was they were all so little. They took their licks, but never did I see them back down.”

As their stature grew, so did their talents on the court.

“We lost just one game the next year,” Marionneaux said. “By the time they were in the eighth grade, Sandy (Bryan), Tonya (Reeves) and Wendy (Clark) were all playing on the high school team. It was obvious they had the potential.”

The trio would soon be joined by six foot one inch Jennifer Jennings Wall from Ogden. The group would later be called “the Four Horsemen” by Sun sports writer Paul Price Jr. after Notre Dame’s 1924 famed backfield.

“Sometimes you can have too much talent, and that might have a detrimental effect on some teams,” Marionneaux told Price. “But that’s not the case on this team. The other girls on this team seem to admire these four girls.”

During the 1986 season, the group stormed the playoffs and traveled deep in the tournament eventually succumbing to Fairview High School in the championship game, 50-37.

The Lady Tigers would eventually get their revenge, but it would be later in their journey.

Their reputation spreads

After defeating Winnsboro, Wisner and Baskin to claim the prestigious Franklin Parish tournament and racking up a 42-1 regular season record in 1988, the Lady Tigers saw themselves ranked number one in the News-Star World basketball polls. Their next opponent would be number two ranked Block and was hyped as the game of the season.

The Lady Tigers traveled to Jonesville and played Block in front of 1,300 rowdy fans. Along with the fans, there were several college scouts from LSU, Kansas, Auburn and Mississippi State.

“They had a pep band and when (Block) ran out on the court in their blue and white (jerseys) they looked like the Lady Techsters,” said Angie Hoover Franklin, who was the only senior on the 1988 team. “We knew most of the girls on the Block team by playing AAU ball with them.”

Ward III posted 10 points in the opening period while Block scored 13. The Lady Tigers would continue to fight and scored 26 points in the second quarter while limiting the opposing team to 14 points.

Fireworks seem to erupt going into the half when Tonya Reeves Holmes, a junior point guard, made a half-court shot to end the first half.

“The crowd went crazy,” Holmes said. “It was so loud.”

The Lady Tigers went into the locker room with a narrow 27-26 lead.

Ward III’s offense had trouble getting back on track after the rest period and came out in the third quarter with its lowest scoring period in the game, posting only nine points.

Block had its best scoring effort in the third quarter and added 16 points and took the lead by eight points, leading 43-35 into the final quarter.

But it reversed in the last quarter, Ward III’s offense caught back on and produced 19 points in the final frame, giving them the edge they needed and the lead where it counted the most.

Ward III’s defense limited Block to its lowest scoring period in the final quarter with the Lady Bears posting only eight points.

1988 playoffs

and a familiar foe

The Lady Tigers cruised in the playoff’s first round as they crushed Pioneer 75-27.

Jennings scored 26 points, and Bryan tossed in 19 points. The victory upped their record to 45-1.

In the second round, the Lady Tigers would face Pleasant Hill, an opponent that knocked them out of the same round the previous year by one point.  The Sabine Parish team played in a tough district that featured Florence and Pitkin.

“They were a little more battled tested,” said Angie Hoover Franklin.

Unfortunately, their journey came to a temporary end at Pleasant Hill as the team downed the Lady Tigers again 52-51.

Guard Tammy Blakenship led Pleasant Hill with 23 points and drilled a 15-foot jump shot with six seconds on the clock to kill the 1988 Lady Tigers’ state championship hopes who finished the year at 46-2.

Three vital calls in the last moments of the game seem to quench Ward III’s chances of a victory.

“They took advantage of the calls and scored,” Franklin said.

Players recalled it was a physical matchup and was a back and forth contest throughout the game.

“They just made one more shot than we did,” Wall said. “They were physical, and we were physical.”

Something to prove

In a senior-heavy season the 1989 Ward III Lady Tigers had something to prove to Louisiana, the community and to themselves. They had to win a state championship.

Memories of the 1986 loss in the finals, the 1987 and 1988 losses to Pleasant Hill were still fresh on their competitive minds.

As a team, they decided this was their season.

“The (1989) season, no matter what it took we were going to come home with the trophy,” Wall said.

The rematch against Block was different from their previous meeting. The Lady Tigers showed their dominance and blew the Lady Bears out.

Before another capacity crowd, the Lady Tigers jumped on the Lady Bears for 25 first quarter points and a 20-point cushion after seven minutes. It was 49-22 at halftime and for all practical purposes The Sun reported, “The hay was in the barn.”

Bryan tallied 23 points to set the offensive pace for the Lady Tigers. Two other members of the squad scored double figures. Jennings backed Bryan with 17 points and Wendy Clark had 11 points.

After Block, Ward III showed their dominance again at the Franklin Parish tournament held in Wisner.

Ward III beat Gilbert to claim the crown. Jennings scored 22 points, Bryan tallied 18 points and three other starters, Reeves, Amy Smith and Clark contributed with eight points each to roll over the Demons, 71-43.

Both squads had difficulty making into the championship round. The Lady Demons pulled away from Baskin in the final quarter, 57-48, after Ward III struggled to a 55-49 decision over the host Bulldogs.

Ward III ended their regular home stand with a 81-34 romp over Fort Necessity. Fifteen players saw action and 13 scored for Ward III. This was the Lady Tiger’s fourth straight unbeaten home season. They ended their regular season 34-2, 5-0 in district.

The game was over almost before it started as the home team raced to a 31-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. It was 45-11 at halftime.

Bryan topped Ward III with 17 points, one of four starters to score in double figures.

She was followed by Reeves, 15 points, Jennings, 14 and Clark, 11.

1989 playoffs

and head games

The Lady Tigers began their quest for a berth in the “Sweet 16” basketball tournament by soundly whipping an outclassed Pioneer team 76-41 in a first-round playoff game. The contest was played at Winnsboro High School.

The Lady Tigers used their patented full court pressure defense to force Pioneer into early turnovers.

In the next round, Pelican High School basketball coach Mitchell Simmons tried it all when negotiating playing arrangements with Marionneaux for the quarterfinal matchup.

At first, Simmons tried to schedule the game on a Thursday night instead of Friday which would have put Ward III getting back extremely late. After Marionneaux balked at the idea, she told the Lady Tigers coach the game would be played at Pleasant Hill High School because, “I want to dig up as many unpleasant memories for your team as I can.” Simmons was referring to Ward III’s losses to Pleasant Hill in the previous two quarterfinals.

“He thought he was playing head games with us,” Jennings said.

The Lady Tigers soundly beat the Lady Jaguars, 72-63.

Bryan paced the balanced Tiger attack with 28 points. Jennings added 24 points and 13 rebounds. Clark chipped in 14 points. Tonya Reeves added four points while Amy Smith had two.

Ward III wasted no time in taking it to the Lady Jaguars. Steals by Clark and Bryan were converted into baskets and with just two minutes gone, Ward III led 8-0. That early spurt turned out to be the lead the Lady Tigers would hang onto all night.

Sweet revenge

Ward III’s opponent for the semi-final game was Fairview, the team that beat them in the championship game in 1986 when the core group were freshmen.

For the first couple of minutes it appeared the Lady Tigers might have been thinking about the 1986 game. After controlling the tip, Bryan committed an uncharacteristic backcourt violation that turned the ball over to the Lady Panthers.

Then, Fairview twice broke Ward III’s full court press to move ahead 4-0 on a pair of free throws and a field goal.

At this point Marionneaux made perhaps her best-timed move of the game by signaling for a timeout to settle her team down after only one minute of play.

Marionneaux’s move paid quick dividends. The Lady Tigers roared out of the huddle to quickly get on the scoreboard. Jennings converted a 3-point play from underneath that was followed by a Bryan steal and short jumper.

Following a Fairview goal, Clark worked inside for a short basket that put the Lady Tigers on top 8-6 with 4:10 remaining in the first quarter. Ward III would not trail again.

Reeves ignited a Ward III run by nailing three straight long-range shots to put the squad ahead 15-10 at the end of the first quarter.

The Lady Tigers turned it up a notch in the second quarter. Bryan hit a 12-foot baseline shot, Jennings converted a layup after another Bryan steal and pass, and Reeves hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to lead the Ward III attack.

Immediately following a Jennings turnaround jumper, Reeves intercepted a backcourt pass and quickly converted from 10 feet. Fairview, trailing 25-12, called a timeout to slow down the Lady Tiger’s attack, but to no avail as Ward III continued to pour it on when play resumed.

When Fairview went to intermission trailing 34-19, little did the Allen Parish team know it would get no closer.

The Lady Tigers smelled victory early in the second half and broke the game open.

Ward III would go on to beat Fairview, 68-45.

The championship

To get to this point, the Lady Tigers had to overcome many mental obstacles from playing familiar foes or familiar settings. But, the core group were seniors now and their mindset had matured.

“We were not thinking this was out last game,” Wall said. “We were thinking we were going to show them all that we deserve the trophy, and we played out game.”

And show them they did. In only 64 minutes, Ward III crushed Saline 54-37 to finally take the championship trophy home.

They were in total control the entire game. The Sun reported only thing Saline controlled was the opening tip and the ferocious Lady Tigers’ defense took the life out of Saline’s offense.

Bryan led the Lady Tigers attack with 24 points and was named the tournaments Most Valuable Player. Bryan was 10 of 14 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line. Jennings contributed with 16 points and controlled the offensive boards. Clark had eight points and five steals, and Reeves had four points and nine assists.

When the horn blew, it was reported they leaped into each other’s arm to celebrate the one victory that had eluded them the past four years.

“I’m just ecstatic, absolutely ecstatic,” said Marionneaux after the game. “These girls are such a tremendous group, both on the court and off. They are easy to coach, and I felt all along that anyone could take them and coach them to the state championship. That’s part of the reason why I felt like such a failure after the past two seasons.”

“But” she added with a smile, “that’s in the past now, isn’t it?”

The championship trophy, the tournaments, the 123 wins and six losses are all things of the past. But, their journey continues as the bond created on the basketball court, school, back roads and church pews holds.

The majority of the team members keep in close contact with each other and many have participated in each other’s weddings and coached each other’s children.

It’s a lifelong journey that started in a small community called Ward III when a group of sixth grade girls started playing a game called basketball.

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