Story and Photos By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
Once again, the Crescent City is the capital of high school volleyball in Louisiana. And the epicenter is Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center.
In a sport whose majority of outstanding teams are strewn along the Interstate 10 corridor from Pearl River to Vinton, the cream of the volleyball crop again comes from Catholic schools in Orleans Parish and Slidell, and from an elite private school located in Old Metairie.
You know their names They resound every year: Mount Carmel … Cabrini … Pope John Paul II … Country Day – all multiple champions of their respective divisions. And their stars continue to shine brightly.
Under coach April Hagadone, the Cubs notched their sixth consecutive Division I championship in the nightcap of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Volleyball Tournament on Nov. 16, and they did it by winning the rubber match with archrival Dominican, 25-19, 25-20, 20-17.
After years of being second best, Cabrini claimed its first Division III title since 2011 by rallying to defeat E.D. White, 13-25, 27-25, 25-14, 26-24.
Pope John Paul II gave head coach Danny Tullis his third state title in four years by overtaking Division IV’s No. 1 seed Lafayette Christian, 25-27, 25-20, 25-12, 25-18.
Country Day defeated Central Catholic of Morgan City in three sets for the Division V trophy, and Teurlings Catholic of Lafayette won its second consecutive Division II championship at the expense of Ben Franklin in a three-set sweep.
What else is new?
Mount Carmel and Dominican split their district series, one match apiece, which led to coach Jessica Chatellier’s Dominican bunch receiving the No. 3 seed in the Division I tournament.
There were high hopes this would be the year the Black and White would unseat the perennial powerhouse in its first title game appearance since 2010. To no avail.
Although Dominican rose through the playoffs via wins over Zachary, Archbishop Chapelle, St. Joseph’s Academy and No. 2 Mandeville in four sets, top-ranked Mount Carmel cruised to a three-set win in the finals to claim its sixth consecutive Division I title and 14th overall.
Senior Emily Meyer, named the game’s Outstanding Player, recorded 20 kills and as many digs. Fellow 12th grader, Tea Jones, blocked eight Dominican scoring attempts.
Mount Carmel ended another successful campaign with a 36-9 record, while Dominican posted a 35-12 record.
Just like old times
At a time Cabrini’s head coach Kasey Dennies’ last name was Laird, the Crescents started a string of three consecutive Division II championship wins. And in the final game of 2007, Kasey Laird led her alma mater to a hard-earned, four-set victory over St. Michael.
Every game was decided by just two points, and Laird was the driving force behind the Crescents, coached by Greg Castillo.
Today, Dennies is in charge. So this victory, the first for Cabrini since 2011, is especially sweet for the then-senior who was named the ‘07 Division II Outstanding Player.
The Crescents’ four-set victory over No. 2 seed E.D. White may help erase the memories of Dennies’ previous tournament experiences.
Her teams fell to Teurlings Catholic in the 2018 and 2017 Division II championship games.
Teurlings is still winning D-II titles, but Cabrini is now a D-III member.
Dennies has put together one of the strongest contingents of hitters in the division, led by Outstanding Player honoree Kai Williams and Jaylin St. Martin, who combined for 32 kills and 10 blocks in the championship game. Their performance led to E.D. White coach Sarah Johnson’s post match remark. “They were just too big and strong for us.”
Jaguars continue to roar
In the championship sports of powerlifting and volleyball, Pope John Paul II can always be counted on to rise to the occasion.
They have been the best in their division for years, and the Jaguars’ legend continues to live on.
That was made possible by winning the Division IV volleyball title for the fourth time in five years after losing the 2018 championship to northshore rival Archbishop Hannan.
Entering the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, the Jaguars defeated Baker, Patterson, Ascension Episcopal, Notre Dame and No. 1 seed Lafayette Christian to win their fifth championship and give head man Danny Tullis his sixth state championship as a coach.
The Jags won 36 of 43 matches despite injuries to seniors Ansley Tullis (torn labrum) and Karli Bayhi (ACL tear). Soldiering through their disabilities, the seniors contributed their talents to the team’s success. Yet, it was a team effort by all starters.
In the championship match against a team with a 34-4 record, junior Rachel Hartmann (28 kills) was the star. The junior was named the title game’s Most Outstanding Player, while junior setter Kendall Battistella added 51 assists and 28 digs. Eighth-grader Kayla Benedic had five blocks, and sophomore Mallory Norton had 22 digs.
Ansley Tullis, the coach’s daughter, who was also a go-to player when points were needed as her 18 kills indicated, played the entire season with the injury. She is scheduled for surgery before moving on to college.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.