KENNER — Julie Ibieta was proud of each and every one of the 13 girls on her Country Day volleyball roster Saturday afternoon.
But you could see the coach’s face light up with a bit of an extra glow when she was asked about No. 13.
That’s the number worn by Jenna Ibieta, a setter who had 37 assists and 18 digs to help the Cajuns win their fifth consecutive state championship and earned Most Outstanding Player honors of the Division V championship. She helped set the tone as Country Day defeated Episcopal School of Acadiana 25-23, 17-25, 25-17, 25-17.
Oh, she also happens to be the coach’s daughter.
“It’s awesome,” her mom said. “It’s hard coaching your own child. Jenna did a nice job running the offense today. It allowed us to run the middle. She spread the offense around.”
ESA coach Julie Dawson agreed.
“Their setter is phenomenal,” Dawson said. “She is one of the best setters in the state. She controlled the pace and the tempo and she was able to move the ball around. She knew where we were not.”
Not bad for a 14-year old freshman who won for a second straight year after playing as an eighth-grader.
“It feels even better this year because everyone had to take on more responsibility,” said Ibietta, still clutching her Most Outstanding Player plaque. “I was nervous, but once we got into the match, I think everyone settled down.”
She admits it’s not always easy being the coach’s daughter. In fact, she drew a big laugh from her teammates in the postgame news conference when asked what it’s like playing for her mother.
“We have our difficulties,” she said. “But she is a good coach. We try not to talk about it at home. We try to leave it on the court.”
Her mom agrees.
“It’s awesome because I get to teach her the game and be with her through the whole process,” Julie said. “But it’s also hard. I think it’s harder for her than me. I am the person in the gym. I am the person at home. I am the person talking about homework and cleaning up her room. So she has a lot of different hats to wear with the same person.”
But neither would have it any other way.
Jenna grew up around the game, tagging behind her mom when she was a college coach at UNO.
“Volleyball was always my first love,” Jenna said. “I’ve been playing longer than I can remember.”
Her parents tried to get her involved in other activities, like theatre and other sports, at an early age.
“But she always gravitated back to volleyball,” said Julie Ibieta, in her eighth season at Country Day. “She used to always come to clinics with me. She would be on the sidelines and just pick up a ball and she just loved it form the beginning. She grew up in the gym, so it’s where she was comfortable.”
That upbringing around the sport has helped her develop a high volleyball IQ.
“She understands the game and the flow of the game and it makes her a smart player on the court,” said her mom. “She has always been a kid who just loved the game and she has been around so much that she knows how to score point. She does a great job of having a good rapport with the whole team. They enjoy playing together and I think it shows on the court.”
Getting a chance to spend more times with Jenna and her two sons was the main reason Ibieta left the college ranks to coach at Country Day.
“I left UNO because I was never home because I was always out recruiting,” said Julie, who also had coaching stints at Kentucky and UNC-Charlotte. “Country Day has been an awesome fit.”
With a team loaded with underclassmen like sophomore Tai Bierria (16 kills) and junior Caroline Perlis (13 kills), the Cajuns will be a favorite to win again next season. Coach says winning doesn’t get old.
“Never,” she said with a smile. “We want to take the next step and push ourselves to be even better.”
Making it even more special, she gets to coach her daughter for three more years.
“It’s an experience that I would never give up,” she said. “I have coached almost my whole adult and it’s a great experience to share with your child.”
And for one night, Jenna didn’t mind if mom decides to talk volleyball at home Saturday night.
“Oh, we will have a fun time tonight,” she said.