The Country Day and McGehee volleyball teams certainly are no strangers to one another.
Perennially among the top teams in Division V, the Hawks and the Cajuns have won 16 state championships between them, often getting in each other’s way.
Saturday, one of them will win a 17th.
Defending champion and No. 1 seed Country Day will take on No. 2 seed McGehee at 9 a.m. Saturday in the first of five state championship matches on the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Volleyball State Tournament at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
The Cajuns (35-6) have won10 titles, including seven of the past eight. They didn’t win in 2015 because McGehee (32-9) did, earning its seventh crown. Last year the Hawks couldn’t get past Country Day in the semifinals, despite winning the first two games. Country Day rallied to take the next three and it has haunted the Hawks since.
“I’m so proud of my seniors, my team,” McGehee coach Val Whitfield said. “We worked really hard. It feels great.”
McGehee earned its spot in this year’s final by taking a hard-fought four-game win over No. 3 Ascension Episcopal. The Hawks were led by Michigan State signee Naya Gros, who finished with 24 kills and 18 digs. Jaida Felix had 15 kills and 17 digs. Maddy Tillery had 40 assists.
The Hawks had no easy time, winning 25-23, 27-25, 26-16, 25-16. The Blue Gators had finished as state runners-up three years in a row, twice to Country Day and once to McGehee. Their leading hitter, Addie Vidrine, finished with 19 kills. Alaina Hardy had 10 and Gabbi Tremblay had five blocks at the net.
“They were a very good hitting team,” Gros said. “Our defense had to adjust to it a little bit.”
“Ascension Episcopal is just a phenomenal team,” Whitfield said. “They’re coached well, so we’re just real grateful. We were just thinking we needed to play our game and use our experience and our leadership.”
Country Day earned its spot by knocking off No. 4 seed Central Catholic in straight sets 25-22, 25-23, 25-22. Alex Smith led the Cajuns with 12 kills and Kaci Chairs had 10. Mary Tebbe had 35 assists and served two aces. Leigh Maher had 12 digs and one ace.
“I thought we played a really good match,” Country Day coach Julie Ibieta said. “Central Catholic was really good and they put a lot of balls in play. We had to play really well and I thought we did that.”
“This means a lot to us,” Country Day's Kelsey Dinvaut said. “We know we started out the season with a lot of big changes, so to get to this point is really important to us.”
The road to the final has been no easy one for the Cajuns, who first had to adjust to the graduation loss of last year’s setter, Jenna Ibieta (the coach’s daughter), who is now at Tulane. Her replacement then went out with a torn ACL. Her replacement, Kate Launey, was diagnosed with lymphoma. That put the job on the shoulders of junior Tebbe.
“It was a big role trying to fill Jenna’s shoes, but the coaches just helped me a lot,” Tebbe said. “My teammates really helped me and we worked hard.”
Now that they are poised on the cusp of an 11th title, the Cajuns are taking nothing for granted, Ibieta said.
“They understand that they have to take one match at a time,” Ibieta said. “They’ve lost some tough ones so the understand that they don’t want to feel like that.”