Country Day and Ascension Episcopal are battle-tested going into their Division V state championship match.
Both had to survive five-set challenges in the semifinals of the LHSAA state volleyball tournament Friday morning at Kenner's Pontchartrain Center.
The top-seeded Cajuns lost a two-set lead before holding off fourth-seeded Lafayette Christian, 15-4, in the fifth set to reach their 10th consecutive title match at 10 a.m. Saturday. They’re seeking their third consecutive state title.
The second-seeded Blue Gators held off third-seeded Central Catholic, 15-11, in their fifth set.
“Both teams had a tough semifinal,” said Country Day's Kelsey Dinvaut, who had 18 kills and three blocks. “It’s going to come down to who wants it more.”
The Cajuns seemed to take control when they rallied from a 22-18 deficit to win the second set 26-24 after taking the first set 25-20.
But LCA won the third set 25-23 and was even stronger in the fourth set prevailing 25-17.
“I thought we showed a lot of fight those two sets,” Knights coach Bryan Barrett said.
Alex Smith, who had a game-high 19 kills for Country Day, knew not to relax with a two-set lead. She and the Cajuns overcame a two-set deficit to defeat McGehee in the semifinals two years ago.
“It’s always an amazing feat to see people do that,” Smith said, “but it’s expected. They’re a great team with great coaching and great players. You have to keep fighting.”
In the fifth set, Kaci Chairs and Smith had kills to trigger a 10-2 start.
“We reminded ourselves not to panic in a situation like that,” Dinvaut said. “We just had to keep our heads on straight and work as a unit.”
Mary Tebbe had 58 assists and 14 digs, Kate Launey had 36 digs and Sydney Wright 15 digs for the Cajuns.
“They made us work 10 times harder,” Dinvaut said of the Knights. “We had to keep our energy up in the fifth set.”
Myca Broussard led LCA with 15 kills and 25 digs, Kaitlyn Washington had 14 kills and four aces and Samantha Gilmore had 40 assists.
“We looked gassed (in the fifth set),” Barrett said. “I don’t think we had the juice. They didn’t look the same in Game 5 as they did in Game 4.”
Country Day will have to come back less than 24 hours after a grueling five-set match, but so will Ascension Episcopal.
“We had been preaching to our kids since yesterday that this was going to be a team that wouldn’t give up and they were very steady and they were going to keep going the whole time,” Cajuns coach Julie Ibieta said. “We were prepared for that.
“At this point you’ve got to be willing to lay it out on the line and play the best you’re going to play all season. We were expecting a fight in this round and (Saturday) is going to be another dogfight. It’ll be fun. This is what you play for.”
The Blue Gators prevailed even though coach Jill Braun said she didn’t think they played their best.
“But I have eight seniors that have the fight and determination to play for a state championship in their final year,” she said. “There are some things you can’t teach and they are desire, determination and grit.”
Addie Vidrine led the Blue Gators with 24 kills and four aces, Hannah Mattke had 39 digs and Ann Louise Babineaux had 26 assists.
Yani Johnson had 22 kills and seven blocks to lead Central Catholic (37-9), Katie Hauffauir had 39 assists and Brooke Lipari 17 digs.
The two Division V semifinal matches took place side by side at the same time. Ascension Episcopal finished a few minutes before Country Day, allowing Braun the opportunity to watch the Cajuns fight through the fifth set.
Asked if she was hoping Country Day would be forced to compete for an extended period of time in the last set, she said, “I wouldn’t’ have been upset.”