When the Pope John Paul II volleyball team won the Division IV state championship last season, it was one of the finest moments of Marlena Cutura’s life.
Cutura realized the opportunity to win a state title is rare. And after losing two all-state players from that 2014 team, Cutura knew getting a chance at another would be difficult.
But this year’s version of the team has exceeded even her own expectations, she said. The Jaguars returned two other all-state honorees (Cutura and setter Milayne Danna), posted a 36-2 record and were named Division IV’s No. 1 seed when brackets for the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Volleyball Tournament were released Monday afternoon.
“I was confident we could be as good, if not better than last year,” the junior outside hitter said. “But the chemistry, the record; this team has been playing awesome.”
Pope John Paul II was one of three New Orleans-area teams to earn top seeds in the playoffs. Mt. Carmel, the defending Division I champ, and McGehee in Division V locked up the others. Undefeated St. Thomas More is the top seed in Division II and Teurlings Catholic is tops in Division III.
Mt. Carmel and McGehee are traditional powers in local volleyball, but PJP is the new kid on the block. The Jaguars, under the tutelage of assistant coach Danny Tullis, had to establish a “winning culture” for the program, Tullis said. In only year three of Tullis’ guidance at the school, PJP appears to be ahead of schedule in doing just that.
“We recognized we’d be in contention,” Tullis said. “It’s hard to say you expect to be the top-ranked team in the power rankings going into a season, but we knew we’d be solid. The team is good. It’s just different. We knew we’d rely more on ball control, serve-receive, and spreading (the offensive load) out. That’s exactly what we’ve done.”
If PJP is the newcomer to volleyball supremacy, Mt. Carmel certainly is the “old guard.” The Cubs have made the state final in seven of the past eight years, and they are seeking yet another championship berth in coach April Hagadone’s ninth year at the school.
Mt. Carmel (35-5) is a blend of talented youth and experience. The Cubs grew stronger as the season wore on, and played many of the state’s top teams in a “trial by fire” effort, Hagadone said.
“It took us a couple weeks to get our rhythm down,” she said. “We has some lineup changes and had to find the right chemistry. We have it now. And it always takes a bit of luck, and we haven’t had any major injuries. ... But with all that said, the next two weeks are all that matters now.”
McGehee (38-4) has been one of the top-ranked teams in the Division V power rankings all season. They could face familiar competition in the final, should seeding hold true. Perennial contender Country Day is ranked second in the same bracket.
In Division I, Mandeville is the No. 2 seed, and Chapelle is sixth. In Division II, Ben Franklin is second, St. Scholastica is sixth, Cabrini is seventh, and Academy of Our Lady is eighth.
In Division III, the top local seed is Ursuline at No. 4.
Division IV is especially rife with metro area teams with Hannan at No. 2, Sacred Heart at No. 4, John Curtis at No. 5, Riverside at No. 6, and Northlake Christian at No. 8. In Division V, First Baptist Christian is ranked sixth.
All teams seeded in the top eight of any division have byes in the opening round of the playoffs. A victory by any team in the second round gains entry to the quarterfinals at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. The final three rounds of playoffs in each division will be played there Nov. 12-14.