In Focus: Louisiana Lady Tigers

by By Harrison Valentine, Student Writer
In Focus: Louisiana Lady Tigers

Coach Nikki Fargas and the Lady Tigers landed three prospects in the 2019 signing class that all share something in common: Louisiana roots.

Tiara Young (Shreveport), Domonique Davis (DeRidder) and Emily Ward (Benton) provide this team with a strong Louisiana presence, something that has been quite rare to the program in recent years. For the three new signees — along with junior guard Rakell Spencer (New Orleans) — it’s more than basketball. It’s about the three letters etched across their chest.

“We take it personal that we’re representing the state,” said Spencer. “We can all relate to each other and we have a better understanding of things because we’re from Louisiana.” 

Before coming to Baton Rouge, Ward and Young had already formed a strong relationship playing on the same AAU team, while also battling against one another in high school. As two of Louisiana’s top players, both showed a mutual appreciation for each other’s game.

“I respected her as a player,” said Ward of Young. “She was the best one on the team. We had to know where she was at all times. I definitely knew how she played and how she thought.”

That’s respect well-deserved. Young was named the 2019 Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 29.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, leading Walker High School – where she played for her senior season – to the Class 5A state semifinals. For the next four years, Young now looks to lead her flagship university back to contending for SEC championships on a consistent basis.

“Winning that award … it was a blessing,” said Young. “Anybody else could have won it so I was just thankful.”

Ward, along with Young, earned first-team All-Louisiana honors in April after averaging 20.2 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. Now a walk-on for the Tigers, Ward could have very easily gone somewhere else and started right away, but home is where the heart is – and that’s right here in Louisiana for the Benton native.

“It was my dream school,” said Ward. “I was always from Louisiana. My family – we’re all big LSU fans. I’ve always wanted to come here, even if I didn’t play basketball.”

As Young, Davis and Ward share the same home state, they also share unique talents that can contribute immediately for the Lady Tigers. Fargas is also getting a big boost with the return of  Spencer, who has dealt with injury over the past two years.

Spencer, affectionately known as “Queen” by family members and teammates, has faced some significant adversity in her journey back home to Louisiana. After transferring from Texas A&M in 2017 and sitting out due to redshirt in 2018, Spencer tore her ACL for the second time in two years versus Arkansas last February, shortly after working her way into the starting lineup.

After a recent team workout, Spencer labeled herself as a huge Marvel and DC comics fan. Bouncing back from two ACL injuries to lead this team to a championship run would certainly make her a superhero in the eyes of many Lady Tiger fans.

“She’s someone who’s had a tough road,” said Fargas of Spencer. “She has and will continue to persevere. “I really felt like if we could’ve had her for the start of SEC play, the outcome of our season (last year) would have been completely different.”

Now a team leader who’s hungry for redemption, Spencer has been impressed with how advanced the freshmen are adapting to college basketball. 

“They know how to take over. They have a higher IQ (than most first-year players),” said Young of the freshman class. “If they play their roles and do what they’re told to, everything is going to be just fine.”

As part of that 2019 signing class, Young, Davis and Ward signed with LSU from all over the state. After the teams’ first official practice on September 24, Fargas emphasized how important that is to have a presence not just in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but all over Louisiana.

“They’re very familiar with each other,” said Fargas on the three in-state freshmen. “They’ve competed with each other and against each other. They give us a great variety of young ladies coming from all different parts of Louisiana.”

Inside the team’s Maravich Center practice gym, banners hang proudly on the wall. These aren’t dusty old banners from a time long, long ago, but rather from the recent past. The LSU women’s basketball program is one that went to and competed in five straight Final Fours (’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08), and it goes without saying that the ultimate goal for Fargas and these four hometown kids is getting the program back to that stage. 

“The sooner we learn from the older girls, the sooner we can step in to contribute to the team and get us back winning at that level,” Davis said.