For the past five years, Julie Ibieta and her Country Day volleyball team have hauled a state championship trophy from the Pontchartrain Center back to the school’s campus in Metairie.
The quest for a sixth straight title begins with the Cajuns entering the Division V playoffs as the top seed in the pairings announced Monday.
Country Day is one of two local teams to earn No. 1 seeds. Pope John Paul II is the top seed in Division IV.
“We are extremely happy where we are,” said Ibieta, in her ninth season at the school.
The Cajuns enter the playoffs with a lofty 36-6 record. Two of the losses came against out-of-state opponents. The four in-state losses came against Mount Carmel (twice), St. Joseph’s and Pope John Paul II. Mt. Carmel is a No. 2 seed in Division I and St. Joseph’s (Division I) and Pope John Paul (Division IV) are both No. 1 seeds.
Not bad for a team that came into the season without one of its top players after all-state middle blocker Tai Bierria moved to Atlanta.
On top of that, middle blocker Caroline Perlis was coming off a knee injury.
“We knew we would be a good team, but we just didn’t know how long it would take for it all to come together,” Ibieta said. “We had some regrouping to do losing Tai, who led us in kills last year. But our offensive players filled in well and picked up the slack. I’m extremely pleased with the maturity of this group and how hard they have played and how they have come together as a team.”
Despite the loss of Bierria, the cupboard was far from bare.
Three other all-state players (Jenna Ibieta, Caroline Perlis, and Maddie Leger) all returned.
“With Tai leaving, everyone has had to fill in some more roles and take on more responsibility,” said Jenna Ibieta, the coach’s daughter. “The seniors have done a great job of leading. Everyone has matured and grown better as players.”
Ibeita, a sophomore setter, was named MVP in the state championships last season.
But she isn’t concerned about duplicating any individual honors.
“That was a great honor, but we are focused as a team trying to win a state championship,” she said. “No one is worried about themselves.”
Joining Leger, Ibieta and Perlis in the starting lineup are Summers White, Simone Becnel and Leigh Maher.
The Cajuns also get valuable minutes from Dionne St. Etienne, Samantha Henderson and CeCe Tyson.
It’s the second straight season they have entered the playoffs as the top seed. They were a No. 2 seed in 2012.
Ibieta, who spent time coaching in the collegiate ranks before taking over at Country Day in 2005, said there is no added pressure entering as the top seed.
“I don’t feel like there is any pressure,” she said. “We have tried really hard to take each year differently. I think this group, like every year, has its own personality, with different leaders. I feel like they have done a great job of owning their season as their own and not comparing themselves to another team.”
Country Day earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of the bidistrict match between Lafayette Christian and Westminster Christian.
Ibieta hasn’t talked about the previous five state titles she has won. Or the ones Country Day won back in the 1970’s. Instead, she is focused on the one her team is trying to win Nov. 15.
“We don’t discuss past championships,” Ibieta said. “We just take it one match at a time. You have to play your best every round now or you don’t keep playing.”