Pope John Paul beats Mount Carmel in battle of defending state volleyball champions _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Mount Carmel Academy's Paige Escarra attempts to block a shot by Pope John Paul II's Ansley Tullis during a match in September.

The Greater New Orleans area long has been recognized for its volleyball programs.

In recent years, however, as club volleyball has become much more popular throughout Louisiana, the rest of the state presumably has closed the gap.

But in Division IV volleyball, the New Orleans area still reigns supreme. One look at the Division IV playoff bracket proves it.

Slidell-based Pope John Paul II is the No. 1 seed in the Division IV playoffs. Their district rival Hannan is the No. 2 seed. Also in the bracket are No. 4 Sacred Heart of New Orleans, No. 5 John Curtis in River Ridge and No. 6 Riverside in Reserve.

No. 8 Northlake Christian, which is located on the outskirts of Covington, was defeated by No. 9 Newman from uptown New Orleans on Monday night to ensure that six of the top eight seeds in the division would compete in the state tournament. The tournament begins Thursday at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. State final matches are Saturday.

Division IV will brings a lot of local interest to the tournament.

“There are some really good teams up there in Division IV,” said Pope John Paul II assistant coach Danny Tullis, who helped guide the Jaguars to a state championship last season. “Look at this Pope team. We’ve played top teams from all divisions all year long. And the same goes for all the others in the top of our division. We played Division I opponents like Mount Carmel and St. Joseph’s, and we were able to beat them at least once in the year.”

Division I top seed Mount Carmel and Division II top seed St. Thomas More are the only teams to beat PJP (36-2) this season.

“We’ve had a good regular season,” Tullis said. “But in reality, everything is in front of us right now. You have to play strong and confidently.”

The Jaguars’ next opponent is Newman, which has as celebrated a sports history as just about any high school in the state. Newman coach Colleen Loerzel said she’s not concerned with matching up against Pope John Paul II, considering the depth of the division and the fact that “anyone can beat anyone” in the state tournament.

“There are some really great teams in this division and it really speaks to how far volleyball has come in the state,” Loerzel said. “There are teams in any division that can beat you, but when you start seeing teams in Division IV beating teams in Division I on a fairly regular basis, you know that we’re moving forward as a sport.

“More kids are playing club volleyball, and it’s making the sport that much stronger. This is an exciting time for all of us in volleyball.”