Most sports programs experience a certain moment as a “turning point,” — a momentous time to which supporters can point and say “That was the spot where things changed for us.”
At Pope John Paul II , the volleyball team may have recently experienced that turning point.
The charge comes in the form of Danny Tullis — the school’s new assistant coach who for all practical purposes, is now the Lady Jaguars’ head coach. Tullis comes to PJP II from Fontainebleau — a program that he provided with its own spark six years ago.
At Fontainebleau, Tullis took a program that was not exactly known for its success on the court and he turned it into a juggernaut.
Fueled by a steady stream of players he coached during club ball each year, the Lady Bulldogs went on a run that included three trips to the state finals, including 2011 when Fontainebleau won the Division I championship.
The “worst” Fontainebleau did during Tullis’ tenure was a visit to the state quarterfinals in his first year at the school.
Former Lakeshore Coach Kacie Mule has replaced him at Fontainebleau.
Now Tullis, a Pearl River native and Slidell resident, brings his game to Pope John Paul II, where he can be closer to his family and perhaps eventually, coach his daughter, Ansley, now a sixth-grader.
He takes over another team that has not been synonymous with excellence. The Jaguars finished second in their district last year, but had a losing record overall.
Tullis said his job is to change the “culture” of Jaguars volleyball.
“This was not a volleyball move,” Tullis said. “It was about family.
“What was a 30-minute drive to work is now a five-minute drive. But now that I’m there, it’s definitely about volleyball, and we’ll be all right.”
Going into the season, the Lady Jaguars are a work in progress.
“We have a lot of kids on varsity,” Tullis said. “The starting lineup is still up in the air, but we’ve worked hard, from the first day.
“The only time we didn’t practice was during the summer when I was out of town at national tournaments. The kids have put in the time.”
Early indications are that the Jaguars are on the upswing.
In a camp at H.L. Bourgeois late last month, the team beat Northshore and Assumption in scrimmages, and rallied well with Mt. Carmel —a team that beat Fontainebleau last season for the Class 5A title.
Pope John Paul II also got a taste of Tullis’ old school when it scrimmaged the Bulldogs last week. The Jaguars didn’t win, but played gamely, losing 25-22 in the final set between the two.
The Lady Jaguars’ senior leaders have noticed the change in their team’s energy. Tullis’ staff includes Earl Gervais, who remains head coach; Rachel Battistella and Mike Henry.
“Our entire team, we’re not the same,” said Jaclyn Connors. “We’re completely different. The teams we’ve played, we’ve done well.
“Like Fontainebleau, that was 22 to 25 and last year, I don’t think we would have gotten past 10 points with them, if that. That’s a big deal for us. To come into this year with the record we had last year and already beat teams like Northshore and Assumption, and to rally with Mt. Carmel, to rally with Fontainebleau, that’s tremendous.
Fellow senior Ashley Saucier said for the first time in a while, the Jaguars believe they can win — no matter which team they face on the court.
“While we’re playing, (Tullis) makes us confident,” she said. “He made us love the sport.”
Still, the move from Fontainebleau was not easy for Tullis.
“This was one of the harder career moves I’ve made,” he said. “Another was leaving Salmen to go to Fontainebleau.
“People thought I was leaving then because of (Hurricane Katrina.) Not true. Fontainebleau was a 5A school, and the culture of volleyball seemed like it had more potential there. But Fontainebleau, we helped build the program -- the assistant coaches, the kids the parents.
Tullis said the learning curve for PJP II will not be that great. He said his new team can win now.
“Can Pope John Paul volleyball ball be in four years what Fontainebleau was after five years of being there?”Tullis asked. “Maybe.
“Could Pope John Paul volleyball, as a 2A team, be as good as where we were the first year I got (to Fontainebleau?) Maybe. I’m a better coach. I know more.”
Connors said Tullis amazes her with his volleyball knowledge. She called him a “volleyball psychic.”
“If we can rally with Mt. Carmel, we definitely have a chance at state,” she speculated.
Tullis isn’t doubting what he’s seen from PJP so far.
“We expect to make some noise,” he said. “How much noise remains to be seen.”