Val Whitfield-Dunn and five members of her McGehee volleyball team sat at the post match press conference table Saturday morning, clutched arm in arm.
It was a final display of the team’s motto also season long: ”One.”
One team. One dream. One point at a time. One game at a time. One match at a time.
And with one final kill by sophomore Naya Gros, the Hawks got the “one” thing they desired more than anything: to be No. 1.
The kill by Gros capped off a stellar performance as McGehee dismantled Ascension Episcopal 3-0 to claim the Division V championship.
“It feels good,” said Gros, a 6-foot-2 sophomore. “I love the sport. I love the game. I love my team.”
It was the first state title since 2008 for the top-seeded Hawks (42-4) and the sixth in school history. It was the fourth under Whitfield-Dunn, who also led the Hawks to titles in 2003, 2004 and the one seven years ago.
“They played as one and focused on one process at a time,” Whitfield-Dunn said. “They stayed as one unit. We are truly a family. McGehee is a family-oriented place, and our team represents that.”
McGehee finished 42-4 and wasted little time in showing it was ready to bring another title to Prytania Street.
The Hawks sprinted out to a 4-0 lead in the first game and went on to win that one 25-23. They got better as the match went on, winning 25-16 and 25-11 to close it out.
Gros finished with 22 kills and was named Most Valuable Player.
“It felt natural just going out there doing what I do every day,” said Gros, who also had six blocks.
She had plenty of help.
Taylor Ducros and Maddy Tillery had 28 and 23 digs, respectively.
Tillery also had 15 assists and Julia Felix had 19. Felix and her sister Jaida Felix had back-to-back kills in the second game. Sophomore Layci Fields had three blocks.
“People tend to focus on Naya, but they miss the big picture as one,” Whitfield-Dunn said. “If we can’t control the ball and set the ball, we can’t get the ball to Naya. Our defense was outstanding. Our ball control was outstanding. That’s a whole process.”
Ascension Episcopal, which was seeking its first state title, finished 29-10. The Blue Gators defeated six-time defending state champion Country Day in an epic game Friday in the semifinals to spoil an all-New Orleans final but didn’t have enough to get past the Hawks.
“You can only refill the tank so much after a marathon like we had (Friday),” Ascension Episcopal coach Jill Braun said. “I just didn’t think we had enough in the tank to overcome a really good McGehee team today.”
Ascension freshman sensation Addie Vidrine, who had 49 kills in Friday’s 25-23, 35-33, 31-33, 27-25, 18-16 semifinal win, had just 10 kills Saturday. Mary Catherine Franques had 39 digs.
“It’s one thing to realize you beat a six-time champion, but it’s another to have that same fire again,” Franques said. “We were just mentally exhausted.”
The Hawks weren’t. They cruised through the playoffs, not losing a game the whole way in the final seasons for Julia Felix, Ducros, Amber Labat and Sarah Young.
“I have had some talented teams, but this is probably the most gifted, talented team I’ve had,” Whitfield Dunn said. “They are just really some phenomenal athletes who have dedicated themselves to the sport.”