Advocate Photo by BRAD KEMP Academy of the Sacred Heart player Hailey Gauthier (20) battles Acadiana High player Kennedi Smith during their game at Acadiana High School in Scott, La., Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.

GRAND COTEAU — The athletic tradition at The Academy of the Sacred Heart runs almost as deeply as the roots of the massive live oak trees guarding the approach to the Grand Coteau campus.

ASH volleyball is attempting to add to that layered heritage with an experienced team that has been cultivated for deep playoff runs over the last three seasons, coach Megan McCown said.

McCown thinks her team still has the potential to improve and perhaps surpass last year’s appearance in the Division V state tournament quarterfinals, where the Saints lost to Central Catholic-Morgan City 3-1.

The Saints won 15 of their last 17 matches last year, compared to losing nine of the final 11 in McCown’s first season.

ASH is off to a 3-2 start this year, opening with a 3-0 victory in a match against division finalist Episcopal School of Acadiana.

ASH dropped a 3-1 decision to Acadiana on Monday and opens its home schedule Tuesday against Breaux Bridge.

The ESA win was encouraging, but the Saints lost a 3-0 match a week later to Ascension Episcopal in Youngsville.

This is McCown’s fourth year as the Saints’ coach, and she said student interest in her program has escalated.

Each day at practice now McCown said there are about 31 girls participating.

That’s a contrast from McCown’s first season, when there were about a third as many participating, McCown said.

ASH’s appearance in the state tournament probably caught the attention of some of the other successful volleyball programs statewide, said McCown.

That experience has carried over to this year, she said.

“I wouldn’t say we have a target on us, but at I think teams know who we are now,” said McCown.

McCown, a former pre-med major, said she’s still always had an inclination to coach after she played volleyball for a successful Notre Dame of Crowley program.

When she arrived at ASH as volleyball coach four years ago, McCown said she found a team in need of encouragement.

“When I got here, it seemed that there was a lack of confidence (in volleyball), so I’ve tried to build players’ esteem through positive feedback,” she said.

McCown said over the years, she feels her ASH teams have “bought into her philosophy of positivity,” which has helped the program continue to improve.

Hailey Gauthier, one of the team’s nine seniors, said McCown has a unique coaching style.

“I’m not so sure how to describe it. It’s a style I would call aggressive and at the same time being calm, cool and collected,” said Gauthier, who plays the left front and also sets from the back row.

This year’s seniors were freshmen when McCown arrived. That means an evolving trust has developed between coach and her seniors this season, Gauthier said.

“I feel she treats us more like coaches than as players. Our roles have changed since we started,” said Gauthier.

Senior Kathleen Boulet, who is most comfortable playing along the front and middle rows, recorded 16 kills in the win over ESA.

Boulet said the Saints enjoy McCown’s practices, which are motivational and enjoyable.

“When I got here, the girls on the team really liked her. She is different from other coaches. The work (McCown) makes us do in practices is actually fun,” said Boulet, who had 16 kills in the ESA match.

Gauthier said five of the seniors are starters and the overall bar of excellence for volleyball at ASH has been raised.

“This year we are expecting to do better. What we did last year only makes us want it more. These seniors really get along. There’s no arguing and we’re all taking on the roles as leaders,” Gauthier said.

McCown points to the boards hanging in the gymnasium, signifying the athletic accomplishments at ASH.

“There is tradition that has always been here. We have a lot of experience and we are hoping to put our names on that board also,” McCown said.