Central High volleyball coach Michele LeBouef had a direct message for her team after the first set.
“I told them ‘OK, get over it,’ now let’s go win,” LeBouef said.
From there, the Wildcats swept the next three sets, claiming a 3-1 victory over Sam Houston in Division II regional playoff action on Monday night in the Central gym.
Winning by scores of 19-25, 25-11, 25-16, 25-16 was nice. The best part for Central is this — the win puts the fourth-seeded Wildcats (37-6) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA state volleyball tournament for the first time since 2010.
There was time to celebrate before heading to the Pontchartrain Center to play No. 5 Belle Chasse (36-6) in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
“I’ve seen people interviewed on TV, and they say words can’t describe how they feel,” Central senior Kelsey Cooke said. “Now I understand that. It’s hard to describe because it means so much and this (state tourney berth) is something we’ve worked a long time time.”
Jordan Stephens led the Wildcats with 16 kills and six digs. Natalie Cox added 10 kills, while Cooke’s twin Kaitlyn dished out 33 assists to go with seven digs and two aces. Kathryn Mancuso had 23 digs and two aces.
There were some anxious moments. No. 13 seed Sam Houston (18-21) took control of the first set by scoring eight straight points. Madison Fontenot led the Broncos with 13 kills, two digs and two blocks.
“We started out great,” SHHS coach Rene Fontenot said. “After that first set they started over-thinking everything and that was our downfall.
“In that second set their first 10 or 12 points came on unforced errors we made. Central is a good, strong team. They’ve been consistent all year.”
The Wildcats got the final point in set two on a SHHS hitting error. Predictably, the third set was closer.
A turning point came with Central leading 12-11. Stephens went up for a kill and against a Bronco player at the net and it looked like the officials were going to award the point to SHHS. After the officials conferred, the Wildcats got the point and went on to score six of the next seven points to take control.
Service aces by London Perrault also played a role in the third set win. Stephens got the final kill in sets three and four.
“I think they felt some pressure because this was the first time in a long we were supposed to win,” LeBouef said. “It was a great crowd with the band and our students. They just had to play.”