Some teams get to the Pontchartrain Center for the LHSAA State Volleyball Tournament and are wide-eyed at the size of the facility — not to mention the several thousand cheering and stomping fans inside.
For others, the scene is routine.
Either way, 21 teams hoping to make their way to next month’s state tournament will have an early peek at the venue when they take part in the Vandebilt Catholic Volleyball Invitational on Friday and Saturday in Kenner.
Vandebilt coach Greg Castillo, who organizes the tournament with help from the City of Kenner Recreation Department, has amassed talented teams from across the state; providing an even greater playoff atmosphere.
“I think this is one of the top tournaments in the state,” Castillo said. “Every team in there is the top seed in their division or in their district. And if they’re not, they are No. 2, or 3, or 4.”
Seven pools, each with with three teams, have been organized.
Pool A: Pope John Paul II, Terrebonne, St. Amant; Pool B: McGehee, Northshore, John Curtis; Pool C: Mt. Carmel, Iota, Vandebilt; Pool D: Barbe, Notre Dame, Berwick; Pool E: Sacred Heart, St. Joseph’s, Dominican; Pool F: Cabrini, Slidell, Helen Cox; and Pool G: South Terrebonne, Country Day, Runnels.
Each team is guaranteed four matches in pool play. The top teams will go into a Gold Bracket, with the others entering a Blue Bracket. Both championship games will in the Pontchartrain Center at 4 p.m. Saturday. Six courts will be utilized throughout the afternoon Friday and most of Saturday.
“There really isn’t one team who isn’t competitive in this event,” Castillo said. “You can’t just walk through here and win. You have to bring your ‘A’ game if you want a chance at a title.”
Though Vandebilt is based in Houma, Castillo continues to help organize the event in the greater New Orleans area. This is the St. Bernard Parish native’s first year as coach at Vandebilt. He was previously coach at Cabrini for nine years.
Castillo strives to include some of the best teams from throughout the state, not just southeast Louisiana.
“For a long time, the teams from New Orleans dominated the state volleyball scene,” he said. “They played the sport when a lot of others didn’t. Now everyone is playing club ball and there are teams from Lafayette, the north shore, from all over, that are playing year-round and are winning state championships. It’s made volleyball that much better in our state.”