Defending a state championship is never easy — so much mental anguish.
But the Newman Greenies made it easier this season by keeping their 2013 trophy in the school display case and focusing, match to match. Week to week.
Now, Newman has just one more match to focus on. On Friday, the sixth-seeded Greenies advanced past the Division IV semifinals at the LHSAA state volleyball tournament by defeating 10th-seeded Sacred Heart 25-16, 14-25, 25-21, 25-18 at Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center. What remains is Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. matchup against top-seeded Pope John Paul II in the final.
Katherine Bolyard collected two of her seven aces on Newman’s final two points of the third set to seal Newman’s 21st finals appearance.
The trip this season was more daunting, said senior Jamie Hawkins, who finished Friday with 13 kills. That’s because a tougher schedule and the loss of former standouts to graduation offered new challenges.
Still, challenges, are meant to be overcome, as Newman (29-13) has proved.
“We never looked at it like we were defending champions,” Hawkins said. “We just focused on every match.”
The Greenies are appearing in their third consecutive finals.
Bolyard led Newman with a team-high 16 kills. Cameryn Jones had three blocks, and Julia Wellons (24) and Julia Nelson (21) combined on digs to slow down Sacred Heart (21-21), which upset seventh-seeded Notre Dame, second-seeded Louise McGehee to reach the semifinals.
Ellie Silvia led Academy of the Sacred Heart with 10 kills, four acces and 12 digs. Avery Hardie added seven kills with four blocks. Claire had 24 assists.
POPE JOHN PAUL 3, UNIVERSITY HIGH 0: Even as a top seed, Pope John Paul II is exceeding the expectations of itsf coaching staff.
On Friday, the young Jaguars continued their journey through the tournament, beating fourth-seeded University Lab 25-13, 25-16, 25-20.
The victory showed assistant coach Danny Tullis how well his roster, comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores, are ready to perform on the state’s highest level of high school prep competition.
Allison Hartman finished with a game-high 18 kills, along with two blocks. Christina Cutura added 14 kills, two blocks and two aces to help off-set the effort of University’s Lindsay Flory (10 kills, nine assists, eight digs).
The match is the Jaguars’ first state title appearance in volleyball.
“Going into it (state tournament), I would have said this is a disadvantage,” Tullis said of the Jaguars’ lack of state experience. “Now, they’re fine.”
University coach Bonita Johnson offered a different lesson to the Cubs (32-12).
“You can’t expect things to be given to you,” Johnson said. “You have to go out and get it in life.”
While Johnson was pleased with University’s many ups this season, it’s the last down — the last loss — which left a hard-to-accept impact. Johnson said Pope John Paul II placed University in some difficult positions.
“Our middles were having a problem because they would block one way and (Pope John Paul II) would hit the other,” said Flory, whose future college volleyball recruiting trips will include San Diego State. “You just have to chose a side. They just have greater hitters, can see the block and hit around it.”
Destiny Ephrom had five kills and one block for the Cubs, and Terri Drake added 15 digs. Jill Jones had 10 digs.
For Pope John Paul II (40-5), Martena Cutura had 10 digs and three aces. Milayne Danna finished with 45 assists.