Academy of Our Lady played its final volleyball match in the cozy confines of the gym affectionately called the Igloo on Monday evening.
But before the Penguins head over to the school’s new campus next year, they have another stop to make: the Pontchartrain Center.
AOL earned its first trip to the quarterfinals in the eight-year history of the school with a 25-8, 25-22, 25-10 victory over South Terrebonne in the regional round of the Division II playoffs.
“We worked so hard, four years to get here,” said outside hitter Sheylli Pantoja, one of three seniors. “So it’s a great feeling. It’s going to be amazing, but it’s going to be difficult at same time. We can’t let up. We just have to fight.”
AOL (31-7), the No. 6 seed, will play No. 3 St. Thomas More at 6:10 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
The Penguins had come oh-so-close to making it to Kenner in recent years before finally getting over the hump Monday.
“The last three years, we made it to the regional round, but could never come away with it,” AOL coach Teri Verret said. “These girls have worked so hard this whole year. We have had our ups and downs, but they really pulled it out today.”
Freshman outside hitter Mia Jones helped lead the way with a team-high 12 kills. Sophomore Adde Baldwin had seven kills.
“That’s par for Addie, but Mia just really turned it on this time,” Verret said.
Jones, who always attended past volleyball championships with her mom, is thrilled for the opportunity to return this year and be more than a spectator.
“It’s really a good feeling,” said the 14-year old Jones. “I never thought this would happen.”
AOL jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first game and finished it with seven consecutive points, including three aces by sophomore Jill Chaisson.
The second game wasn’t quite as easy, with the Gators leading 10-4 at one point before the Penguins rallied.
“We’ve kind of done that all year,” Veret said. “We fall behind and manage to come back. So they don’t panic when they get down. After you win that first set so handily you tend to let down a little bit.”
Baldwin had three consecutive blocks to help the Penguins rally and Jones ended the game with a kill.
The third game was all Penguins, who led 18-4 after an ace by Pantoja.
“The second set was a great battle for us,” Gators coach Richard Sasser said. “We don’t have any seniors. There is a lot of fight and determination in our team.”
South Terrebonne, which last made it to the quarterfinals in 2000, finished 23-15.
Kaylee Dufrene led AOL in assists with 18 and Pantoja had nine digs.
Chaisson finished with five aces, five kills, two blocks, one dig and one assist.
Now AOL seniors Pantoja, Katie LeBoeuf, and Maya Williams get to play at least one more game as Penguins.
“This is big, especially for the seniors, Veret said. “This is good for them to come back. (The school) is only eight years strong. We have proved that we can play volleyball on the Westbank.”