Questions abound as volleyball teams change districts, classes _lowres

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- St. Joseph's Academy's Elise Gasperecz, left, sets up Madison Daigle during a match last season.

One look at the latest two-year volleyball districting plan reveals one obvious fact: The LHSAA shuffled the deck.

Will traditional Division I powers like St. Joseph’s Academy and St. Amant still come up aces despite graduating a ton of talent? That’s one of the questions to be answered as Baton Rouge teams work their way through the fall season.

There may be obvious contrasts between where some teams were a year ago and what lies ahead on the route to the All State Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Volleyball tournament set for Nov. 12-14.

“Our district is totally different,” Parkview Baptist coach Becky Madden said. “I like the idea of playing some teams we haven’t played before. For example, we’ll have St. Michael in our district along with Lutcher and Donaldsonville.”

The LHSAA’s Division III got the biggest local makeover. A six-team District 5 includes Baker, Brusly, Livonia, Plaquemine, Port Allen and West Feliciana. PBS, Donaldsonville, Glen Oaks, Lutcher and St. Michael make up District 6.

Adding a Lutcher team led by 6-foot-1 LSU commitment Jariel Turead to the local mix also stirs the pot. However, plenty of attention will still focus on Baton Rouge’s two Division I districts.

St. Joseph’s graduated a large senior class with four starters who were 6-0 or taller from a team that finished as the Division I runner-up. The Redstickers are part of District 3 and opened the season with a 3-0 win over Dominican on Monday night.

“We have three starters back,” SJA coach Sivi Miller said. “There’s talent in the group coming up. What they lack is varsity experience. I really like this group and the way they’re playing together. I see opportunities for them to achieve a lot.”

Graduation and injury are also factors for St. Amant. The Gators opened their season with a 3-0 win over University High on Tuesday. SAHS of District 4 will play at least part of the season without hitter Maggie Duplechein, who injured a knee during track season. Like Miller, SAHS coach Allison Leake sees possibilities, not problems.

“This group has jelled together faster than any group I’ve had here,” Leake said. “It’s hard to explain, but I’m amazed by how well they’ve picked things up and how well they’re already playing together. We always play a tough schedule, and I think that will help us grow.”

Zachary, a District 3 rival of SJA, is poised to make its move with a large senior class.

“Every year these girls have gotten more involved with volleyball and it shows,” ZHS coach Madeline Blanchard-Gugich said. “St. Joseph’s and St. Amant will continue to be very good. I think we do have a chance to do some things and compete on a higher level.”

There is more to the changes than the Division III district juggle. St. Michael, traditionally a Division II team, drops to Division III. The new look in Division II, District 3 includes the addition of Woodlawn to six-team league.

Another team making a move is The Dunham School, which is back in BR’s Division IV, District 3 after spending two years in Division V. Madison Prep, one of the area’s newest volleyball programs, also moves up to the Division IV district that includes traditional powers like University High and Episcopal.

Area teams in Division V are divided into three small districts, including St. John-Plaquemine, a semifinalist a year ago. The Eagles have a coaching change. Cynthia Prouty took over when last year’s Small Schools All-Metro Coach of the Year, Chase Mancuso, left the coaching profession. Former U-High assistant Matt Anastasio is Prouty’s assistant.

“We’re one of the little schools this year, and I’m anxious to see how we do,” St. Michael coach Rob Smith said. “We’re like a lot of teams. We have some experienced players back and some players in new roles.”

While the loss of St. Michael eliminates one frontrunner from the Division II, District 3 race, adding Woodlawn brings a newcomer to battle a group led by Central. Woodlawn and Baton Rouge High of Division I, District 3 made a huge impression in jamboree action last week.

Most coaches at the McKinley Jamboree said they saw balance and parity. There were, however, the obvious heavy hitters.