Potent matchups likely to highlight volleyball pairings
e_SDLqYou have all the usual suspects at the top like St. Thomas More, but I like the balance in Division II. I think it’s solid top to bottom, and I expect it to be competitive.” ROB SMITH, St. Michael the Archangel volleyball coach
As they put the finishing touches on practice plans and close out the regular season, Baton Rouge area volleyball teams are cautiously eying the playoffs, which start next week.
With a dozen teams currently ranked among the top 10 in their respective divisions in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s unofficial power ratings released Tuesday, the potential for a potent playoff season exists.
“About two or three weeks ago, I thought we were playing very well,” St. Amant coach Allison Didier Leake said. “We’ve been working to correct some things, and I thought we played well over the weekend. It’s about being ready to play your best at the end of the season, and I think we’ll be there.”
St. Amant High (29-5, 9-0 in District 3) is the highest-rated Baton Rouge-area team. The Gators are No. 2 in Division I-Class 5A, behind New Orleans-based Mount Carmel Academy (35-3). St. Joseph’s Academy (32-5, 12-0 in District 4) is fourth, and East Ascension (36-6) is seventh.
Teams complete their regular seasons this week. The LHSAA will release the playoff pairings in all five divisions on Monday. The top eight teams in each division garner a bidistrict bye.
The LHSAA State Tournament begins Nov. 8 at Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center.
Other Baton Rouge teams with top 10 seeds include Lutcher (24-9, eighth) and St. Michael the Archangel (13-11, 10th) in Division II-4A, Parkview Baptist (18-11, seventh) and Brusly (20-11, 10th) in Division III-3A, University High (31-6, third) and Runnels (20-10, eighth) in Division IV-2A and three Division V-Class 1A and below teams — No. 4 St. John-Plaquemine (34-5), No. 7 Ascension Catholic (19-17) and No. 8 Ascension Christian (15-8).
St. Thomas More-Lafayette (24-9, Division II), Ursuline Academy-New Orleans (27-7, Division III), De La Salle-New Orleans, Division IV) and Episcopal School of Acadiana (31-4, Division V) are the other top-seeded teams.
Several of the teams have already locked up district titles, including SJA and St. Amant, even though St. Amant plays Hahnville on Wednesday. SAHS (quarterfinals) and St. Joseph’s (runner-up) both fared well at the Cabrini tourney last weekend at the Pontchartrain Center. SAHS, SJA teams, Lutcher and PBS will play in Episcopal-Acadiana’s Spooktacular Tournament in Cade this weekend.
“I like playing tournaments late,” SJA coach Sivi Miller said. “I think it can help you going into the playoffs. The big thing for us is eliminating unforced errors. The potential is there, we can’t afford to give away points, especially once the playoffs begin.”
St. Michael weathered a series of injuries before sweeping District 3 with a 6-0 record. Lutcher is 7-0 in District 4, but has looked up the title because all the other teams have at least two losses.
“You have all the usual suspects at the top like St. Thomas More, but I like the balance in Division II,” SMHS coach Rob Smith said. “I think it’s solid top to bottom, and I expect it to be competitive. We’ve had to adjust our lineup with injuries, but this team has battled and I expect to continue doing that.”
Lutcher coach Ricky LeBlanc said his team has some fine-tuning to do.
“We always fair pretty well on defense,” LeBlanc said. “We need to pick it up on offense and get better swings. Defense can only carry you so far in volleyball.”
PBS (9-0) also has one contest left but has already beaten Brusly in District 6 and has claimed the title.
“We have been in some competitive matches this year that we haven’t won, so going into the playoffs, we need to focus on finishing,” PBS coach Becky Madden said. “Whether its a matter of intensity or execution, we need to find a way to fight through.”
Runnels is off to its best start since joining the Division IV ranks a few years ago. Raider coach Jean Martinez hopes her team can build on the success they’ve already experienced. U-High and Runnels split their District 3 contests and are on track to tie for the title.
“This is the best season we’ve had definitely since moving up from Division V,” Martinez said. “I hope we can build on the momentum we have. Along with us and U-High, I think St. Thomas Aquinas (11th seed) and Episcopal (13th seed) have the chance to do well.”
St. John coach Chase Mancuso structured his schedule with an eye toward contending for the Division V title. The Eagles (10-0) won the District 3 title. Mancuso also likes what he sees in district rival Ascension Catholic and Ascension Christian of District 4.
“Ascension Catholic is getting better every week,” Mancuso said. “Ascension Christian has come a long way the last few years. Hopefully, we can all stay in the top eight and have the best chance to advance.”