By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
Yes, one of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ most successful athletic programs added a fifth consecutive Division I championship on Nov. 10 when the Cubs completed a 42-2 season with a three-game sweep of District 8-I rival Archbishop Chapelle.
While MCA was adding another trophy to its near-capacity trophy case, Archbishop Hannan was even more ecstatic after claiming its first Division IV volleyball championship trophy by defeating University High. The three games won by the Hawks were demonstrative and decisive – 25-10, 25-9, 25-13.
The three-day festival of bumping balls over nets was a crowning achievement for a volleyball season of successes for local Catholic schools. Mount Carmel and Hannan took home the big prizes, but every school that made it to the tournament at the Pontchartrain Center took back the enlightenment of promising futures.
Cabrini and Chapelle won the silver runner-up award as two of 10 teams from the archdiocese to join the tournament field in one of four divisions. Everyone made it to the regional rounds, in which the Academy of Our Lady, Dominican, St. Scholastica and St. Charles Catholic ended their playoff stay.
Despite receiving outstanding coaching, they lost to historically successful programs: Dominican fell to Mount Carmel, St. Scholastica to Division II runner-up Cabrini and St. Charles to four-time Division IV champion Pope John Paul II.
Great coaching throughout
Champions are not born. They are cultivated from an early age through the talents of outstanding coaches at all levels of competition. High schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans are blessed with several.
- April Hagadone has coached Mount Carmel to seven D-I titles since 2010. Her list of standout players reads like a who’s who of prep volleyball stars, including her most recent D-I MVPs, Ellie Holzman (2016-18), Kristen Nuss (2015) and Katie Kampen (2012-14).
- At Dominican, Jessica Chatellier led a less experienced team to 20 wins before losing in the regional playoff round. But the veteran mentor notched her 300th coaching victory this season.
- One of the most outstanding team efforts was Archbishop Chapelle’s turnaround season under first-year coach Anne Marie Stelly. With eight seniors on the roster, perhaps the Chipmunks were due to win 30 games, but she led the No. 2 seed to the D-I championship game.
And no players were happier to be the state runners-up. As Mount Carmel’s victorious team was rushing onto the court to form a “dogpile,” Chapelle’s bench beat them to it by forming their own human pyramid. And the Cubs applauded their effort.
- There was no question that Cabrini would maintain itself as a Division II power under one of its former All-State players roaming the sideline. And Kasey Laird-Dennies did just that in her second year as the Crescents head lady.
Under her guidance, the team rose to the D-II championship game, and took four-time (D-III) champion Teurlings Catholic to a fourth set before losing to the No. 1 seed and 46-5 Lafayette power.
- Rebekka Bonnaffee and Danny Tullis have produced champions wherever they have coached. This year they went in opposite directions.
Bonnaffee led Hannan to its first Division IV championship, adding a volleyball trophy to the softball hardware at the school. Her 40-6 team was among the top four in the tournament (with Mount Carmel, Teurlings and Vandebilt). They did not lose a single playoff game.
- Pope John Paul II was on its way for another stellar season when Tullis and co-coach Rachel Battistella lost three of their top players, including MVP Ansley Tullis, in mid-season. Still the Jaguars won 23 matches and became a No. 4 seed. Ansley’s return shortly before the tournament, although still with soreness in her shoulder, sparked that closing effort.
- At De La Salle, Melissa Danos Grubbs, a former assistant to Jay Jay Juan at Ursuline, has the Cavaliers looking like a champion of the future.
They entered the Division III playoffs as a No. 4 seed and rose to the semifinal round following victories over Northwest and Lutcher by 3-0 scores, then beat No. 5 Westlake in five games.
The journey ended one match short when top seed, Vandebilt Catholic, coached by former Cabrini mentor Greg Castillo, prevailed. But it took five grueling games to defeat the upstart Cavaliers.
- Juan’s Ursuline team and Academy of the Sacred Heart, under Ashley Rucker, advanced to the D-III quarterfinal round.
This was a rare off season for the Lions, perhaps because Juan’s expanded duties as Ursuline’s new athletic director and his teaching duties had a bearing on the Lions’ No. 8 seed and early departure. They will adjust and be back strong.
- At Sacred Heart, Ruckert has the team of the future. Without one senior on the roster, her Cardinals went 20-16 and posted tournament wins over Port Allen and Newman as the D-IV No. 8 seed before facing the Hannan buzzsaw in the quarterfinal round.
So, forgive me for eyeing the future through rose-colored glasses.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.