Jody Walker has had some good volleyball teams during his 14-year stretch at Mandeville, including a state championship team in 2005.
But when he spins through his mental Rolodex and thinks of each of those squads, he has a hard time finding many that compare to this year’s team.
“We had a great group there in 2005,” he recalled recently. “Is this team better than that one? I don’t know. They’re different, but they’re comparable. I look at them and I see similarities that we had back then. They’re powerful players who understand the game. They still continue to learn and get better every time they go out on the court.”
Comparisons to state champion teams are hard to resist when you open a season the way the 2015 Skippers have done. Consider, the team was 18-3 heading into a nondistrict match against St. Scholastica on Thursday. The losses came to three of the state’s most powerful teams (Pope John Paul II, Ben Franklin, and Country Day) — two that are defending state champions in their own divisions. The Skippers also are the top-ranked team in the New Orleans Advocate’s Sweet 16 Large School listings and are No. 1 in the LHSAA’s Division I power rankings.
It’s heady stuff for Mandeville, which will compete in the Hannan Fall Classic Volleyball Tournament, which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Fourteen of south Louisiana’s top teams are set to play.
“It dawned on me in the last tournament we were in, that when we walked on the court, everyone was looking at us differently,” senior libero Reagan Rogers said. “I’ve never been through something like this before, so it’s definitely new to me. But it’s an amazing feeling. It’s good. You have a target on your back. There are ups and downs, but you just go out and play.
“We don’t think we need to win, we just want to win. And that takes the pressure off.”
It’s that kind of thinking that has Mandeville believing it could make a run into the Division I postseason. The team is loaded with experience (of the nine players who play most often, two are seniors and six are juniors.) There’s also a pair of 6-foot juniors up front (Emily Boylan and Sam Gomez,) two smaller players who still excel at the net (juniors KK Haley and Madison Bothner,) and a junior setter (Brandi Bundy) who has a host of options to feed for kills.
“We definitely have height, so offense I’d say is our strength,” Haley said. “But we also have defense. ... We hustle. We are scrappy. We like to keep things up and not let the ball hit the floor. Ever.”
Their coach agreed.
“These kids are growing up in what has been a three-year process, really,” Walker said. “They are beginning to understand their potential.”
The Skippers’ mettle will be tested for the remainder of Division I, District 5 schedule (they had a 5-0 record going into Thursday) and also in the Hannan Tournament.
“I think there will be some very good competition for us at the tournament,” Walker said. “Dunham is perennially a pretty good team.
“Morgan City seems to be more of a regular than in the past. And McGehee, who’s also in our pool, is one of the best teams in the state.”
Other teams in the tournament are Slidell, Ponchatoula, University High, Parkview Baptist, Central Catholic, Ursuline, St. Martin, Fontainebleau, Northlake Christian, and host Hannan.
Bundy said it would be nice to earn a championship in the tournament, but she conceded that Mandeville’s potential has them thinking titles of a different kind.
“I think we can go far (this year),” she said. “We’re not overconfident, but we have some weapons. We can compete. We just have to keep working and keep getting better.”