KENNER — Riverside Academy is no stranger to the LHSAA State Volleyball Tournament at the Pontchartrain Center. But it’s been three years since the Rebels have visited, and they have not found much success there.
But this year, the Rebels have a new coach, a new game plan and a new attitude. And Friday, they will make their first visit to the semifinals.
Riverside, the No. 7 seed in the Division IV bracket, saw last year’s runner-up and No. 2 seed De La Salle take a two-game lead in Thursday’s quarterfinal match before fighting back then holding on. Behind the solid play of 6-foot-2 junior Kendra Turner, Riverside swept the next three games on the way to a 18-25, 22-25, 25-16, 26-24, 16-14 victory. Turner led with 34 kills and 10 blocks.
“We’re the underdogs,” said first-year coach Chelsey Lucas-Nicholas, who is no stranger to the Pontchartrain Center herself. The Houma native made the trip as a player at Terrebonne and as a coach last year at Houma Christian. “Everybody gets caught up in the hype. We just have to be mentally ready and not get caught up in it.”
A total of 17 New Orleans area teams entered the Pontchartrain Center on Thursday with dreams of winning a state title.
As play continued into the night, four had survived. Several teams were still playing and some were awaiting the late matches, which were running considerably behind.
The Rebels (29-11) will play Newman, a 3-1 winner over Iota, at 10 a.m. today.
“We’re still the underdog,” Lucas-Nicholas said.
Cabrini, the defending Division II champion and the No. 5 seed, won a hard-fought battle against No. 4 St. Scholastica to earn a repeat of last year’s final. The Crescents will play St. Thomas More, the No. 1 seed, in a semifinal at 1:30 p.m. today. The two met earlier this season in a tournament match, which St. Thomas More won.
“Our goal every year is to win state,” said Cabrini coach Greg Castillo. “Not to win district, not to get to the Pontchartrain Center, to win state. We know they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game. We have to bring our ‘A-plus’ game. Everyone is expecting us to win,” said Cabrini senior Dominique Cleggett, who led the match with 16 kills. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
Likewise, Ursuline is feeling the pressure to win after taking a 25-15, 25-8, 25-19 quarterfinal win over Lakeshore. The Lions, the top seed in the Division III bracket, will play St. Louis at 1:30 p.m. today.
“We just have to go back to the books,” said Lions coach Jay Jay Juan. “You always like to get your jitters out in the first game.”
Earlier in Division II, No. 2 seed St. Martinville defeated No. 7 Lutcher, 15-25, 27-25, 24-18, 12-14. In Division III, No. 4 seed Ben Franklin lost to No. 5 St. Louis, 12-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-16.
In Division IV, No. 9 seed McGehee lost to No. 3 Notre Dame in an epic battle, 24-26, 17-25, 25-20, 25-17, 15-6. No. 5 seed Curtis lost to No. 4 University 25-22, 25-13, 19-25, 27-25 and Newman defeated Iota 25-13, 25-9, 25-15.
Division V defending state champion Metairie Park Country Day, the No. 2 seed, defeated Ascension Christian 25-11, 25-13, 25-12.
The Cajuns (38-6) will play Central Catholic of Morgan City today at 11:45 in the semifinals. Central Catholic, the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 6 St. Martin’s Episcopal, 25-16, 25-20, 25-19.