When you think about volleyball coaches, your first mental image is probably that of a coach yelling instructions or putting players through drills around the net.
The scene Monday morning at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association office was quite different. There wasn’t a single volleyball in sight.
There were 10 coaches from across south Louisiana studying reports on computers and tablets. The seeding committee, which features two coaches from each of the five divisions, was busy helping LHSAA Assistant Executive Director Ronda Richardson finalize playoff pairings that were released at noon.
“We take a lot of pride in this process,” said committee chairman Mary Cavell of E.D. White Catholic. “In a lot of ways, it runs itself. When we get here, they (Richardson and her assistant, Lacy Macdiarmid) have everything ready for us.
“We check over the team records and see if there is anything that needs to be corrected. If any school has a dispute about a record or a power ranking, we look at that. We’re accurate. Last year when it got to the final four, we were right on it.”
When Cavell says “right on it” she’s not kidding. The coaches estimate their seeding, especially those at the top, are accurate 90 percent of the time.
The roots of the volleyball seeding process go back more than a decade, though the process is eight years old. Former St. Martin’s coach Linda Trevino, former Country Day coach Maggie Millet and Ursuline Academy coach Jay Jay Juan, who was then at Mount Carmel Academy, met with LHSAA officials in New Orleans about adopting power rankings/seeding process.
Football was the first sport with power rankings. At the time, St. Joseph’s Academy coach Sivi Miller was coaching at Cabrini and her husband, Mike, came up with some of the first formulas and ideas. Juan also got involved.
The current formula gives teams five points for a win and none for a loss. When a team wins, 100 percent of their opponents’ wins are factored in. When a team loses, they get credit for 33 percent of opponents’ wins.
First- and second-place teams from districts are automatic qualifiers. Teams are required to play 20 games in order to garner a power ranking. Teams that don’t play 20 games are dropped below those who do in the final rankings and pairings.
The makeup of the committee might surprise some. Divisions I-IV each have a public school and a private school representative. Only in Division V, where there are only few public schools, has two private-school representatives. Cavell noted the LVCA is not in favor of a public/private or select/nonselect split.
“Some of it came from the fact my team and Cabrini always played each other,” Ben Franklin’s Jodee Pulizzano said. “You had New Orleans schools knocking out New Orleans schools, Baton Rouge schools knocking out Baton Rouge schools and so on.
“We just thought there had to be a better way. Those first couple of years were wild. We had to call coaches to check on records, but it was fine because we all worked together.”
Richardson, now in her second season of overseeing volleyball, said she made a check list last fall and she and Macdiarmid made calls to schools Friday and Saturday, reminding them of the deadline to report results.
“It really gives you a clear picture of what teams should make the state tournament,” Division I representative Allison Leake of St. Amant said. “You pretty much know who’s going to play in the state finals. Now I’m not going to say that some other team couldn’t win, but it would be unusual.”
Parkview Baptist coach Becky Madden, a Division III representative, likes seeing the process work.
“It’s a collaborative process where we all work together,” Madden said. “Somebody who doesn’t take part in this probably has a harder time understanding how the teams are ranked and how they fall in the top 24 that are picked.”
Madden said one rule that probably confuses coaches and fans alike is the requirement to play 20 games for the power rankings.
“It’s pretty interesting how everybody works together,” Morgan City coach Christy Theriot said. “It’s a pretty simple process. We look for mistakes. There aren’t many and we can correct those pretty easily.”