The Pope John Paul II volleyball team got a sample of the Pontchartrain Center last season, reaching the Division IV playoff quarterfinals.
The Jaguars are hoping to take the next step and win the school’s first volleyball state title. They have steadily climbed in the power rankings, starting at the fourth sport , then moving to No. 2 before landing at the top.
“All season long, we have strived to be the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs,” coach Rachel Battistella said. “The girls have been working so hard to get there and to stay there. I don’t think they feel like it’s any pressure. They just want to keep working hard to win. The girls are pushing really hard to bring home the trophy. I’m glad they have been in the Pontchartrain Center before because they know what to expect now.”
Pope John Paul II enters the playoffs with a 36-5 record. Their losses have come against Mount Carmel, St. Joseph’s, St. Thomas More, Barbe and Country Day. They also boast a win against Country Day, the No. 1 seed in Division V. The Jaguars won a district title for a second straight season, going undefeated in district for a second straight year. The season also included a 17-match winning streak.
Battistella, in her first season as head coach after serving as an assistant in 2013, was expecting this type of success from a team that returned most of its starters. And while the returning experience has been a key factor, the team’s unity has also played a major role.
“This team is very close- knit,” she said. “Our four seniors are great leaders, and the younger kids are great players. It’s a family- oriented team, and they all look out for each other, even at practice. They are always encouraging each other, so you couldn’t ask for a better group of girls.”
The seniors are: Caitlyn Battistella (the coach’s daughter), Allison Hartmann, Christian Cutura and Sarah Worchel. Other key players are: outside hitters Marlena Cutura and Camille Dedeaux, setters Milayne Danna and Bailee Maillet, Sarah Trosclair, Aixa Crespo, and libero Tyler Sanderson.
Christian Cutura and sister Marlena are seeking their second state title of the year. The two helped lead PJP to a soccer state title in the spring.
Danny Tullis, who won a state title at Fontainebleau in 2011, is in his first season as an assistant at Pope John Paul II. Like Battistella, he was expecting the Jaguars to have a splendid season.
“We had a really good preseason and did really well in the camps,” he said. “So we thought we had a chance. We lost two starters, but we felt really good about the kids who would be taking their places.”
He also hopes last year’s experience, losing to Riverside in the quarterfinals, will carry over to this year.
“Last year was the first time this group had been to the Pontchartrain Center, so they played a little tight,” he said. “They played a little tight. Any one of the top 8 to 10 teams has a chance to win it, so getting the No. 1 seed is good, but it’s not the end all, be all.”
PJP earned a bye in the bidistrict round and awaits the winner of Thursday’s match between Catholic-New Iberia and Delcambre.
“We will use this week to practice hard to try to reach our goal,” Battistella said. “The girls are handling themselves well, They know what to expect. They are ready to go.”