This year’s NCAA Women’s Final Four, which starts Friday with the national semifinals, is getting a lot of buzz, perhaps moreso than in years past.
There’s No. 1 South Carolina going for a back-to-back titles and undefeated seasons with 6-foot-5 All-American Aliyah Boston and Head Coach Dawn Staley.
Then there’s Iowa junior guard Caitlin Clark, whose electrifying play has some observers calling her the most exciting — and best — player in the tournament, men’s or women’s.
And of course, there is LSU Head Coach Kim Mulkey, who has taken the Tigers to the Final Four in her second year at the school. The Hammond native is someone that is loved by many but has her share of detractors.
Of course, her sense of fashion has always gotten a lot of attention.
Now for what’s believed to be for the first time, a player from Bossier Parish gets to join in the fun — LSU senior guard Emily Ward.
Four years ago, Ward chose to go to LSU as a preferred walk-on after a stellar career at Benton playing for her mother, Mary.
She led the Lady Tigers to two state tournaments and a runner-up finish in Class 4A. She received multiple postseason honors, including All-State.
Ward had offers from colleges where she could have been a starter and perhaps even a star.
But it was always Ward’s dream to go to LSU and play for the Tigers. So she chose the preferred walk-on route.
Earlier this season, her perseverance paid off when she was awarded a full scholarship.
This season, Ward has played in 25 games, including the first game of the NCAA tournament.
But the amount of playing time isn’t what’s really important. There’s much more to being a part of a team and there are many ways to be a leader.
Every player has a role to play whether it’s on the court or supporting from the bench during games. There are also many hours of practice and team meetings.
How much Ward’s teammates admire and respect her was evident when she was voted team captain along with Angel Reese before the season.
It was also evident as they celebrated with her when her scholarship was announced during a team meeting before practice.
A video released by LSU briefly showed the celebration, but Ward told the LSU Reveille there was much more than what was shown in the video.
“The video they clipped together only shows a little bit of the team and I celebrating, but we were jumping up and down for over two minutes straight,” Ward said. “At one point they knocked me down and lifted me up and just continued celebrating.”
On a personal note, I first saw Emily play in the seventh grade. It was obvious even then she was destined for success.
While at The Times, I covered her mother at Airline when she led the Lady Vikings to a state championship. The way Emily played reminded me of the way her mother played — tough, tenacious and smart.
Mary and her husband, Randy, also a longtime coach first at Benton Middle and now Benton High, headed over to Dallas for the start of the festivities Thursday. Randy livestreamed LSU’s open practice at noon at American Airlines Arena.
LSU (32-2) plays Virginia Tech (31-4) at 6 p.m. Friday, and South Carolina (36-0) faces Iowa (30-6) at 8. The games will be on ESPN with more coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN+.
During a TV interview after the Tigers defeated Miami in the Elite 8, Emily Ward mentioned that Bossier City and Benton are just three hours away from Dallas and she expects a lot of people from both cities to be at American Airlines Arena.
No doubt there will be many more from not just Bossier Parish but all of Northwest Louisiana watching on TV and pulling for Emily and the Tigers.