The past two volleyball seasons ended too soon for Central High outside hitter Jordan Stephens.
Last season, Central fell to Cabrini 3-1 in the regional round of the LHSAA Division II playoffs. The score was familiar because the Wildcats also lost 3-1 to Ben Franklin in the regional round in 2013.
Knowing that Central hasn’t made it past the regional round since 2010 is a rallying point for Stephens, a junior who earned All-Metro honors last fall.
“We have six seniors this year, and they are all returning starters,” coach Michele LeBouef said. “And we are in the best shape we’ve been in a long time going into the season.
“This is the first in a long time that we can say we have experience going on to the court, not only in years of play, but also true good volleyball knowledge and experience. So I’m extremely comfortable going into the season.”
There’s a renewed focus for the Wildcats to crack the regional barrier and advance to the LHSAA state tournament in November. LeBouef said this year’s team has the strongest chance of getting over the playoff hump. LeBouef, a former St. Joseph’s Academy standout, bases her assessment on the combination of talent and experience this Central team has.
And it starts with Stephens, the player LeBouef called the Wildcats’ “go-to attacker.” As a sophomore, she had 384 kills and 108 digs, earning first-team all-district honors in Division II, District 4.
According to LeBouef, Stephens has an edge that sometimes serves as a catalyst for the rest of the team. Stephens said she sees playing with a strong team the key component. She fine-tuned her game to complement the other Wildcats.
She spent this past summer playing volleyball, building her strengths and working on her weaker points.
“We’re working on our hitting certain shots and passing and blocking,” said Stephens, who played club volleyball for the Red Storm, an AAU team based in Baton Rouge.
Stephens also focused on improving her defense. LeBouef said she’s already seen an improvement in that aspect of Stephens’ game.
“Jordan has always been the go-to offensive player, but she hasn’t necessarily been the best defensive player,” LeBouef said. “So that was one of her key things to fix over the club season this summer. She’s been working really hard on defense.”
When asked if she uses last season’s playoff loss as motivation, Stephens said she’s more focused on ending the losing trend.
“I just think about how we could have made it better and working on stuff for this year,” she said. “I just want to make it to the Pontchartrain Center (site of the state tourney), because we always come one game short.”
That sentiment is shared by the entire team.
“When I started coaching here four years ago, I asked the girls, ‘What’s your goal for this year.’ And they always told me, ‘We want to beat Live Oak (a district rival),’” LeBouef said. “I asked them the other day what they wanted to do this year; ‘We want to win state.’ That’s the ultimate goal.”
The Wildcats open up the season against Parkview Baptist on Sept. 1.