Pope John Paul II had never been on volleyball’s biggest stage.
But the top-seeded Jaguars didn’t yield to the pressure of being in the Division IV title game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/Louisiana High School Athletic Association state volleyball tournament. They thrived on it.
After shaking off some first-set jitters, Pope John Paul II claimed a 3-0 victory over traditional power Newman on Saturday at the Pontchartrain Center. The Slidell-based Jaguars won by scores of 25-18, 25-13, 25-16.
It was PJP’s first state volleyball title in the school’s second tourney appearance.
“We’re so proud of this team; they’ve worked so hard,” Pope John Paul coach Rachel Battistello said. “We’ve preached the whole time just work hard, and we’ve preached serve and serve-receive, and they know that’s the way to win games. This whole tournament, they worked well together. We told them if you stay in system, like I’ve said before, we’re impossible to beat.”
Title-match MVP Allison Hartmann led the way for Pope John Paul (41-5), a quarterfinalist in 2013, with 12 kills and four blocks. Hartmann got past a nervous first set to come up big for the Jaguars at key times.
“I got down a little bit, but my teammates … they know how I am,” she said. “In the first (set), I messed up and my nerves were showing. My teammates helped me out. They told me it was last game and I had to push through for them.”
Milayne Danna added 26 assists, while Marlena Cutura contributed 13 digs for the winners, who swept their three tourney foes in straight sets. Katherine Bolyard led sixth-seeded Newman (29-14) with seven kills and 11 digs, while Jamie Hawkins added five kills.
Newman, last year’s champion and winner of 16 state titles, grabbed the early lead. The Greenies led 4-1 in the first set. PJP tied it at 10. Some Jaguars hitting errors staked Newman to a 14-11 lead, and then Hartmann started to assert herself. She had back-to-back kills that gave Pope John Paul a 15-14 lead.
But the teams continued to trade points. A kill by Bolyard gave Newman its last lead at 18-17. The Greenies were called for two hits on three straight rallies while trying to get a set delivered. The Jaguars scored the final eight points, closing out a 25-18 win with a kill by Hartmann.
“At the end of the day I’m really proud of the effort the girls put out,” Newman coach Colleen Loerzel said. “What I wanted them to focus on was one point at a time. And they battled.”
The second set was close early. An ace by Camille Dedeaux and three more kills by Hartmann helped Pope John Paul build a 14-6 advantage. Since the Jaguars were solid on defense and consistent on offense, it was tough for Newman to significantly cut the lead. PJP ultimately won 25-13.
Pope John Paul set the tone for the third set by scoring the first six points. Hartmann and Christina Cutura had kills to spark the early run. Newman got no closer than four points.
The Jaguars raced ahead 18-7 and never looked back, though Newman staved off four match points. Another Hartmann kill concluded the set at 25-16 and the match.
When asked whether her team made a statement with the win, Battistella didn’t hesitate.
“I think we laid the foundation last year by showing we could get to the quarterfinals,” she said. “I think that actually put the fire under the girls, saying, ‘We want to be in the state final; we want to be in that championship game.’ I definitely think people realize now we’re here and we’re here to stay.”