Benton’s Emily Ward has had quite the start to her high school basketball career. As a freshman, she helped the Lady Tigers win the District 1-4A championship and was named first-team All-Parish.

As a sophomore last season, she was named the MVP on the All-Parish and All-District teams after averaging 20.2 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals. She led a team laden with sophomores and freshmen to a 32-point “upset” of No. 8 Carencro in the first round of the playoffs. The Lady Tigers suffered a seven-point loss to eventual state runner-up Salmen in the second round.

Ward is the daughter of Benton head coach Mary Ward, who led Airline to the 1992 Class 5A state championship, and Randy Ward, a coach and teacher at Benton Middle School.
Recently, The Press-Tribune submitted some questions via email to Ward to see what she’s up to during what will be a very busy summer.

BPT: Before talking about what you’re up to this summer, let’s take a look back at last season. Despite having a very young team, ya’ll enjoyed a lot of success, including an upset of No. 8 Carencro in the first round of the playoffs and a 7-point loss to eventual state runner-up Salmen in the second. How would you assess the team’s performance as a whole last season?

WARD: Throughout the season, we had many games that came down to the final buzzer. My mom would always say “you win some you lose some.” For instance, we beat West Monroe in double overtime by two points but we lost to Captain Shreve by less that four points.This just goes to show you that every possession in the game counts.

For the playoffs, I think that the other team just looked at our record and thought that they would just blow by us and move on the the second round. They didn’t realize that we had played in many games that came down to the last second. I believe that Carencro underestimated us, which gave our team an advantage. Overall, I am very proud of how the team played this past year and I can’t wait to see what this year holds.

BPT: How would you assess your performance? Obviously, you had a great season, but is there anything you look back on and say, I wish I’d done that better.

WARD: I wish that I would have worked on my ball handling some more.The problem is that I dribble the ball high, which is why teams are sometimes able to pickpocket me. When I hit my growth spurt I don’t think that I realized that it would affect my dribbling but I am working on fixing it! Overall, we had a very successful season and we couldn’t have done it without our student section and our amazing coaches.

BPT: This summer is a little different for ya’ll. Instead of having the June Summer League at Benton, ya’ll are going to four team camps. Are you glad that things are going to be changed up some? I know any time you step foot on the floor against an opponent, you want to win. But is there a little different approach during the summer, maybe just working on certain aspects of the game both as a team and individually?

WARD: Overall, I am very excited to be doing the team camps this year instead of the summer league at Benton. Since we are traveling to University of Alabama, LSU, ULM, we will be staying overnight. Staying overnight allows the team to bond together on and off the court.

Also, the team camps allow us to compete against non-local teams. Of course, I want to win but the summer camps allow us to experiment with all the offenses and defenses that we will be running during the season. As for myself, I am mostly working on my fitness and conditioning.

Editor’s note: Benton is also playing in Byrd’s team camp.

BPT: I know you are also playing for the elite Louisiana Lightning team. How is this different from playing with the school team? What do you get out of playing for the Lightning? I imagine the competition alone makes you have to step up your game some.

WARD: One of the main differences from the two teams that I am playing on are the amount of time that I spend with my teammates. On the Louisiana Lightning team, we only practice two or three times a week (depending on tournaments) while I practice everyday with the girls on my high school team during the school year.

I think practicing every day definitely helps during the games because when you spend that much time with your teammates, you learn all of the qualities that they have as a basketball player. For instance, I know what types of shots that all my teammates can make and what type of passes they can catch.

One of the main things that I get out of playing for the Louisiana Lightning is the positions. For Benton, I have played every spot on the court but for the Lightning I normally play either the small forward, also known as the three, and the power forward, also known as the four. My favorite part about playing with the Lightning is I’m able to compete against the best teams in the country and it helps me understand other aspects of the game.

I also get the opportunity to play with other local players which allows me to form new friendships. This makes games more interesting when we all play against each other during the regular season. Playing with the Louisiana Lightning allows me to play under great coaches, other than my mom, and learn different coaching styles.

BPT: I know basketball is pretty much a year-round sport for you, but how much time do think you usually spend in the gym during the summer working on your game, whether it’s practicing with the Lady Tigers and the Lightning or just working with your mom and dad? I’m sure it’s going to be another busy summer for you, but it has to be fun doing something you love.

WARD: This will definitely be one of the busiest summers that I have ever had. Pretty much the entire month of June is filled with basketball! I am in the gym at least two to three hours a day, seven days a week. This is not including all the the team camps and tournaments that I will be competing in.

I also do extra weights and conditioning two times a week. My high school team is off during the month of July, which means that I will only play in two tournaments with the Lightning (Atlanta and Frisco). Plus all of the practices that we have on the weekends. Overall, I will be spending a lot of time in the gym during the summer, but I don’t mind because I love playing basketball!

BPT: Is there anything else you would like to add?

WARD: I believe that I would not be where I am today without my classmates, friends, family, and coaches. First off, I really love when the student section comes to our games to cheer because they really get into the game and fire me and my teammates up. They are so pumped up that it motivates all of us.

I am very thankful for all of my teammates that I have had over the years. I have played with the girls in my class since fourth grade and they are all still my friends to this day. I love my class that consists of Abbie Wynn, Morgan Bradford, Abby Colvin, and Karmeisha Bradley. I have really enjoyed watching us grow as a team over the years and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

I would also like to recognize Kyleigh Jo White. She was the manager of the basketball team for two years and she is one of my best friends and supporters. I also have an amazing family that comes to all of the games and supports me no matter what. I have been very lucky to have such exceptional coaches since age five when I was playing Bossier Parks.

From my middle school coach, Mary Jo Duddy, and my Louisiana Lightning coaches, Coach Kenny and Sherry Carswell, Coach Roc, and Coach Edge. Most of all, the coaches that have impacted my life the most are my high school coaches. Lyndzee McConathy, Richard Cox, and Michelle Owens are a big part of my high school experience.

Lastly, the coach that has had the most influence on my life is my mom. She has coached me my entire life. All the way from Bossier Parks basketball to high school basketball. We have a very close relationship since we literally see each other all day. My mom does a very good job at separating her role as my coach and being my mom. I definitely would not be the same person I am today without her.

Russell Hedges
rhedges@bossierpress.com