Talk about high school volleyball in the Baton Rouge area has typically started and ended with one team — St. Joseph’s Academy.
The not-so-news flash is that after ending an three-year title drought for BR volleyball with a Louisiana High School Athletic Association Division I state title in 2013, the Redstickers are expected to be great again.
More local teams want to be in the title conversation and University High, the Division IV runner-up last season, leads that group. All teams begin their regular season this week, with many teams set to play Tuesday.
“I think the girls have the attitude that they want to win every point,” St. Joseph’s coach Sivi Miller said. “I like that. I like having a team that goes into every serve, every rally and every set thinking they want to win it.
“To have the chance to be a great team, you have to do that. There are high expectations. But all we can do is play it that way — play it point-for-point and see what happens.”
Miller’s team graduated several talented players, including Division I-II Metro MVP Parker Harrell, there’s still talent and size. Front row standouts Madison Daigle, Hanna Rovira and Katherine Young all return, along with Sydney Davis.
St. Michael the Archangel coach Rob Smith said a year ago that SJA could go unbeaten. The Redstickers finished 45-1, with 37 straight wins to close out the season. This time around, Smith said there’s a chance the Redstickers might not lose a set — something almost unheard of.
Miller believes there will be local competition in Division I, starting with St. Amant, which advanced to the Division I semifinals last fall. Coach Allison Leake’s team returns two All-Metro players in libero Kara Gremillion and front row standout Alli Duplechin.
Smith’s St. Michael team put itself into the conversation of top Division II teams by sweeping its three sets at last week’s McKinley Jamboree. Last season, no Division II from Baton Rouge advanced to the LHSAA state tourney at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. Central was a breakout team in Division II last season and is led by a returning All-Metro player in Jordan Stephens.
“I think we’re all going to be real competitive,” Belaire High coach Ella Reado said. “Central is playing well, and St. Michael is playing real well. We graduated some key players, but I have some younger ones who I think can make s difference.”
Divisions III, IV and V will be worth watching because several teams seem poised to make their mark.
Parkview Baptist was a Division III quarterfinalist last season and has two All-Metro players returning in Macey Stock and Christy Dearie.
Brusly was impressive in its Westside Jamboree and has a All-Metro returnee in Johnne LeBlanc, who will play setter and hitter roles this season. Brusly coach Karen Wooley also sees West Feliciana as a challenger to watch.
“We do have several players back and I think we’ve got the capability to be better,” Wooley said. “All these girls are playing new positions and they can grow in those roles.”
Wooley said the biggest obstacle between teams like hers and added playoff success often is their level of experience.
“Experience is huge,” Wooley said. “A lot of the larger schools have kids who play club volleyball. They play all year long. At a school like ours, we have more multi-sport athletes and it’s tough for them to do those things.”
Scheduling is another key factor. University High coach Bonita Johnson said her team’s robust schedule that includes St. Joseph’s and top teams from other classifications makes a difference.
Though the Cubs graduated their libero, Division III, IV and V All-Metro MVP Presley Stoltzfus, Johnson says her team has other motivations to go along with two returning All-Metro players, 2012 Metro MVP Lindsay Flory and 6-foot-3 Marygrace Constantin.
“I think the schedule we play helps prepare us for anything we see once the playoffs start,” Johnson said. “I wish more Baton Rouge teams would do that. It makes you more competitive.
“We’ve been there (to the state tourney) many times and got close last year. We won it (Class 3A state title) in basketball, and that’s a motivation. The girls who played basketball carry that experience with them. The ones who didn’t play basketball want it.”
Episcopal, led by returning All-Metro player Charlotte Russell, is another traditional power expected to play well in Division IV. Northeast has a 6-3 player in Pearl Jones and added an experienced coach in alum Cynthia Montgomery, the long time Istrouma coach.
Division V may ultimately be the area’s most competitive. St. John-Plaquemine, The Dunham School and Ascension Christian made it to the state tourney last season. St. John and Dunham play each other on Wednesday. Catholic-Pointe Coupee , White Castle and Ascension Catholic have solid traditions.
Long time coach Donna Pixley is back at Dunham this season after focusing on Athletic Director’s duties last season. Ascension Christian has a new coach in former assistant Holley Jennings.
St. John’s Keri Yarbrough, Dunham’s Anna Catherine Padgett and Catholic-PC’s Sarah Elliott were All-Metro players last season.
“This could be our best team so far,” St. John coach Chase Mancuso said. “We’ll play our toughest schedule. Maybe this is the year we’ll break through.”