Pope John Paul cruises past John Curtis _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Pope John Paul's Ansley Tullis hits a shot over John Curtis' Peyton Picou on Wednesday at Pope John Paul.

There was little doubt that the Pope John Paul II volleyball team would be one of the top squads in the state this year. As the defending Division IV state champion, that was expected.

But on Wednesday against equally-formidable John Curtis, the Jaguars flexed their collective muscle.

Pope John Paul II, the second-ranked team in The New Orleans Advocate’s Sweet 16 Small School rankings, eased to a straight-set win at the Pope John Paul II’s gym in Slidell. The final score was 25-14, 25-18, 25-15.

Curtis, another Division IV team which is ranked fifth in the New Orleans Advocate’s standings, never could find a rhythm against the Jaguars. The home team’s solid front-line play and ball control efforts dictated the pace throughout.

“We always try to have strong serve receive, but we came out today with the plan to do the best we could do,” junior setter Milayne Danna said. “Our defense was incredible.”

Camille Dedeaux, a sophomore outside hitter, agreed.

“We practice a lot of defense,” she said. “It’s something our coaches talk about all the time. ... We try and outwork other teams, whether it’s on a block or getting on the floor for a dig.”

The Jaguars jumped to a strong 17-7 lead in the first set, but Curtis fought back with a couple points to narrow the gap. Then, Marlena Cutura took over with a couple kills to push Pope John Paul II to a 21-12 lead.

Sarah Trosclair ended the set for Pope John Paul II when she knuckled a kill to the middle of an open court.

The second set began much like the first, with the Jaguars starting swiftly. Ansley Tullis, an eighth-grader, drilled a winner from the middle of the court to put PJP up 10-3. That prompted a Curtis timeout. The Patriots closed within 22-16 with strong front-court play, but a timeout by the Jaguars helped them regather momentum. A timely tip by the home team clinched the second set, and put PJP in a full command of the match.

The opening points of the third set were back and forth, but Tullis set the momentum with a kill she ripped down the left sideline. A block by Dedeaux got the score to 8-4, and the Jaguars cruised to the win from that point.

“Our front line really killed the ball, and our defense was incredible,” PJP coach Rachel Battistella said. “Ansley Tullis has 16 kills and was just on fire. It all is attributed to practice. We practice hard. It showed.”

Tullis added 13 digs to her total, and Dedeaux had nine digs. Danna had 22 assists for Pope John Paul II (4-0.) Sarah Drake had six kills for Curtis. Rylee Fabacher hadseven assists and Kelsie Oestricher had 10 digs.