Though it was the first match of the season for the Pope John Paul II and Cabrini volleyball teams, there was a postseason atmosphere in the Jaguars gym Tuesday afternoon.
Playing in front of a crowded house, Pope John Paul II earned a straight-set win over the Crescents in a nondistrict match in Slidell, 25-21, 25-18, 25-23.
Both teams came into the contest highly regarded. The Class 2A Jaguars won the Division IV state championship last year and are second in the New Orleans Advocate’s initial small schools rankings. And Class 4A Cabrini is third in the large schools rankings; thanks in large part to a bevy of experienced talent.
But PJP (1-0) had the upper hand Tuesday despite losing several of last year’s key players to graduation and having only four juniors or seniors on the 16-player roster. The younger Jaguars, including eighth-grader Ansley Tullis, showed little signs of nerves, however.
“It was really fun,” Tullis said of her first match in a Jaguars’ uniform. “I thought we played pretty well. I wasn’t really nervous. But I’ve played volleyball so much, I’m used to it.”
Tullis was one of the key players in the win over Cabrini. She pounded eight kills and had seven digs. That output wasn’t lost on junior Marlena Cutura, who paced the Jaguars to the state title in 2014.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure, but there are people like me, (juniors) Sarah (Trosclair,) Milayne (Danna,) and (senior) Bailee Maillet to help,” Cutura said. “We all kind of share in the leadership and the eighth graders, all the younger players, they’ll step us as well.”
The first set was evenly fought, with the score eventually tied at 19. But the Jaguars got a powerful kill from Cutura and two unforced errors by Cabrini to pull ahead. After falling behind 3-0 in the second game, the Jaguars rallied on Cutura’s serve to take a 7-3 lead. A crisp, cross-court kill by sophomore Sydney Neyland and a missed kill by Cabrini (0-1) wrapped up the second set.
The third set seemingly was going in Cabrini’s favor, with the Crescents taking a six-point lead at 17-11. This time, Maillet’s serving closed the gap for Pope John Paul II. A missed dink by Cabrini gave the Jaguars their first lead of the set at 21-20, and they hung on to win in straight sets
“Cabrini was really solid, and we haven’t played matches that count in a long time,” said PJP assistant coach Danny Tullis. “I thought we broke down a little in serve receive in the third, but when it came time to make plays, our kids that needed to make them, made them.”
Cabrini coach Kasey Laird, a Cabrini alum in her first year as coach at her alma mater, said her team had some “first-game jitters,” but she was pleased with some of what she saw against a talented Pope John Paul II team.
“I think the future is really bright, but we have to clean up a few things,” she said. “The big focus will be getting going on serve receives. We had some nerves in the first game, so we have to get into the flow of the game early and be more aggressive.”
Cutura added 13 digs, nine kills and a pair of aces for PJP. Sophomore Camille Dedeaux had eight digs and six kills. Danna had 24 assists. Cabrini was led by Miranda Kelly with 11 kills, and Rakell Spencer with nine kills and two blocks. Bailey Hepting totaled 24 assists and a pair of aces for the Crescents.