Country Day cruises into semis _lowres

Advocate Photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- From left, Country Day's, Simone Becnel, 4, and Caroline Perlis, 22, jump up to block the ball at the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Volleyball State Tournament held at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner on Thursday, November 13, 2014.

Sometimes, even a five-time defending state champion gets a slight case of the jitters.

Just ask Country Day senior Simone Becnel, who has become a regular at the Pontchartrain Center, site of the LHSAA Volleyball State Tournament.

“I think every year we come in a little nervous because it’s a different team every year,” Becnel said. “So we don’t really know what we are going to look like. But we always pull it out and eventually start playing like we have been playing all season.”

Country Day beat Catholic-Pointe Coupee 3-0 on Thursday in the Division V quarterfinals, winning 25-16, 25-13 and 25-16.

The top-seeded Cajuns (38-6) advance to the semifinals and will play St. John at 10 a.m. Friday.

“At first, we had some nerves, but I think we played ourselves into a rhythm,” Cajuns coach Julie Ibieta said. “Every kid hasn’t been here. We have a veteran group, but we also have some young girls. So I thought we played well once we got going.”

Becnel had 10 kills and 10 digs for the Cajuns, who will play St. John in the semifinals on Friday at 10 a.m.

Caroline Perlis also had 10 kills and Jenna Ibieta, the coach’s daughter, finished with 31 assists and 10 digs.

“It take a little while to get used to when you get here because it’s so loud and there’s so much energy,” said Ibietta, who was MVP last season. “I thought we came out strong and communicated well.”

Maddie Leger led in digs with 15.

St. John 3, First Baptist Christian 0: St. John had made it to Pontchartrain each of the past three seasons.

All three times, they exited after the first day.

On Thursday, St. John finally got over the hump, topping First Baptist Christian 3-0 in the Division V quarterfinals.

“I felt like our experience really carried us,” St. John coach Chase Mancuso said. “Our senior group has been here every year since they were freshman, and that played a big factor today. The last few years we came in here a little intimidated and got down early. This game we got ahead and pushed through. I think the experience helped.”

St. John won 25-13, 25-17, 25-14 to improve to 32-9.

They will play top-seed Country Day at 10 a.m. Friday.

Claire Pearce had 41 assists to lead St. John. Teammates Alex Carbo and Carlee Smith had 17 digs each and Payton Passantino had 19 kills.

“We have players who just like to make big plays,” Mancuso said. “They performed well today.”

St. John plays a Country Day team going for its sixth straight title.

“We haven’t played them since my first year here six years ago,” Mancuso said. “We know they are going to be good. They have won five straight. But we are going to step up. They have teenage girls just like us. So we just have to play our game and compete. We are going to give it all we got.”

Jackie Fredericks’ 16 kills led First Baptist Christian (18-10). Lauren Thirstrup had 26 assists.

Sacred Heart Grand Coteau 3, Dunham 2: Things didn’t look so good early for Sacred Heart on Thursday at the LHSAA Volleyball State Tournament at the Pontchartrain Center.

One of the Saints’ top players, Hailey Gauthier, went down with an ankle injury in the first set.

But Sacred Heart overcame the adversity and pulled out a thrilling five-set victory (25-23, 19-25, 25-13, 17-25, 15-13) over Dunham.

“It was a tough day, but we got it done,” said Sacred Heart coach Megan McCowan, in her fourth season. “We had to put in a different lineup without Hailey, but they kept battling.”

The teams alternated victories during the first four sets before Sacred Heart finally won in the final set.

“We haven’t gone five games all season, so to go five games and win like that without one of our key players feels great,” said McCowan.

Sacred Heart (28-11), the No. 3 seed, advances to Friday’s 10 a.m. semifinal against rival Ascension Episcopal,the No. 2 seed.

Ascension Episcopal won the first meeting early in the regular season.

Kathleen Boulet led Sacred Heart with 22 kills and Maci Quebedeaux had 37 assists.

Jennifer Link and Jennifer Muldowney had eight digs each.

Dunham (18-21) was led by Anna Catherine Padgett, who had 30 kills.

Alyssa Deason and Hannah Pixley had 28 and 29 assists, while Caroline Stafford had 15 digs.

Ascension Episcopal 3, Central Catholic 0: Addie Vidrine is just 13-years old, so she could’ve been intimidated by the atmosphere of the Pontchartrain Center.

But she said she wasn’t.

She’s played in big events before, earning Most Valuable Player honors at the AAU National Tournament in 2012.

So it was probably no surprise that the Ascension Episcopal eighth-grader led the way with 19 kills and 13 digs in a 3-0 victory over Central Catholic in the Division V quarterfinals.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Vidrine said. “Well, just a little bit at the end.”

There really was no need to be.

The Blue Gators swept the match 25-16, 25-14, 28-26 to advance to the semifinals to play Sacred Heart Grand Coteau.

Mary Catherine Franques had 20 digs and Sydney Vidrine had 22 assists, for Ascension Episcopal, which lost three key seniors from its 2013 squad.

“Our team was a question mark this year,” said Jill Braun, in her sixth season as coach. “But they have shown great chemistry and jelled really well.”

Braun’s team plays Sacred Heart for the second time this season after winning earlier.

“We won in three sets earlier, but they are playing good volleyball right now so we know we can’t take them lightly,” Braun said.