Academy of Our Lady packs house in its new facility _lowres

Academy of Our Lady volleyball fans

The volleyball season got into full swing Tuesday across the city.

But in Marrero, it was much more than just the season opener.

It was more like a good ole’ house warming party for Academy of Our Lady.

The Penguins opened their season in their sparkling-new gym in Marrero with a 25-8, 25-13, 25-18 victory over Thomas Jefferson.

But this was about more than just the match itself.

There was tailgating beforehand.

The pep band from Shaw, AOL’s brother school, played during timeouts.

Players from years past attended.

And there were a little over 500 people in the spacious new sports complex that also includes a weight facility, training facility, conference rooms and new lockers.

This one was far different from the Igloo, the nickname the Penguins had for their old gym on the old campus before relocating in February.

“This is more like Igloo squared,” said AOL setter Kaylee Dufrene, the lone senior on the team.

It didn’t take long for the Penguins to give their fans something to cheer about.

With Jill Chaisson serving, AOL rattled off the first 14 points in the first game.

“We could’ve got easily distracted, but we had to keep our nerves intact,” said junior middle blocker Adde Baldwin. “We had to put that aside and just focus about what was on the court.”

Baldwin, who had a team-high 12 kills, and Dufrene agreed that it was the largest crowd they had ever played in front of at AOL.

“It was an adrenaline rush when we saw all those people coming in, but we weren’t nervous,” Dufrene said.

“I have confidence in our team.”

Dufrene finished with 24 assists. Mia Jones had 11 kills, Chaisson finished with nine digs and Hailee Richard has 10 aces.

The second and third games weren’t quite as easy as the first, but the Penguins managed to win their opener in grand style.

“You could tell they were ready by how they played at the beginning,” said longtime AOL coach Teri Verret.

“The girls were just so anxious to get this one under their belt.”

This one was about more than just AOL though.

Players from Archbishop Blenk and Immaculata, the two schools that merged to form AOL in 2007, were also in attendance.

About a dozen former players posed for a picture between the second and third game.

“This is beautiful,” said Meredith Dickey, a 2005 Blenk grad. “I wish we had something like this when we were playing.”

Heather (Daigle) Bartolomew, a 1998 Blenk graduate, estimated crowds of less than 100 or so back when she played, so she was pleased with Tuesday’s turnout.

There were plenty of connections Doves (Blenk alums) and Pandas (Immaculata) to go around.

Thomas Jefferson coach Emily Cormier is a 1992 grad of Immaculata.

She now, of course, coaches the Jaguars team that attends school in the building that was formerly Blenk.

“It’s amazing to be here and just to see AOL has grown this much and moved into this beautiful facility,” Cormier said.

“There is a lot of sentiment being here. I would have loved the end results to be better, but it was great to be a part of it.”

Verrett, now in her 30th season of coaching, is hoping Tuesday is the beginning of a special year.

The team made it to the Pontchartrain Center for the state tournament last season for the first time since Academy of Our Lady formed but fell in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs.

“Our goal is each year is to get there,” said Verrett.

“We did it last year, and now we want to take that next step.”

But first things first.

On Wednesday, the Penguins will host Higgins (whose assistant coach Monique Robiskie is also a former Blenk volleyball player) in their second game.

They’d like nothing more than to get another crowd of 500 in the new gym.

“I think we will now,” Dufrene said.