8 Baton Rouge area teams open state volleyball tournament play

The Thursday mission for Baton Rouge’s eight teams headed to Kenner for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm State Volleyball Tournament is simple: divide and conquer.

A trio of Division V teams helps open the action at 10 a.m. with quarterfinal contests at the Pontchartrain Center. Baton Rouge teams play throughout the day as the three-day tourney begins with quarterfinals in all five divisions.

“Last year I thought we were ready to play,” St. John-Plaquemine coach Chase Mancuso said. “But we had some young girls who had never been on that big stage before. And I think we were a little star struck playing Episcopal School of Acadiana. I hope we can use that experience to our advantage this year.”

Fourth-seeded St. John (38-5) meets No. 5 Ascension Episcopal (28-8) in one of the three notable Division V contests. Eighth-seeded Catholic-Pointe Coupee (18-20) plays top-seeded ESA (36-5) and No. 7 Ascension Christian (18-9) meets No. 2 Metairie Park Country Day (32-4) in its tourney debut.

Division I is the only one that features two BR area teams. St. Amant (35-6), the No. 2 seed, meets No. 10 Northshore (23-11) at 6:45 p.m. Fourth-seeded St. Joseph’s Academy (39-5) plays No. 5 Dominican (32-9) at 8:30 p.m. SJA was the last local team to win a state title in 2009.

Division II Lutcher (26-9), seeded seventh, meets No. 2 St. Martinville at 11:45 a.m. No. 9 Brusly (25-13) faces Thibodaux’s E.D. White (29-13) at 8:30 p.m. in Division III. Fourth-seeded University (34-6) faces No. 5 John Curtis in Division IV at 1:30 p.m.

“The key for us is what it always is ... to play our game,” St. Amant coach Allison Didier Leake said. “Our big girls can take care the ball. We need to pass well on defense and on serve-receive to get it to them. You can’t make unforced errors and give away points.”

The Gators are seeded No. 2 for the first time and look to advance to the semifinals for the first time.

“It’s a road you take one opponent at a time, especially in Division I,” SJA coach Sivi Miller said. “We’ve all crossed over and played each other all season, and every matchup is going to be a tough one.

“We have talent, and we’re a deep team. And I think we’re confident in our ability to contend for a state title. We have to be able to bring the talent and depth together in a way that we avoid mistakes and unforced errors. The teams that stay the course and stay focused as a team will be successful.”

Brusly is making its first appearance in Division III in a decade. BHS coach Karen Owens said her team could use the underdog’s role to their advantage.

Meanwhile, University High hopes to ride a wave of late season momentum with its team that features only a handful of players who participated in last year’s tourney.

“They (UHS players) are motivated, and we’ve been playing well,” UHS coach Bonita Johnson said. “In the past, we’ve had trouble performing at the big showcase. We need to focus, relax and just go out and play.”