McKinley High volleyball coach Nicole Gillette borrowed a phrase from another profession to describe her team’s feelings about getting the chance to host a bidistrict playoff game Thursday.
“This is the crème de la crème,” Gillette said. “After last year, we came in determined to make the playoffs. I’m not sure words can adequately describe how we feel right now. To say we’re over the moon about this, would be an understatement.”
The Panthers (20-7) claimed a No. 11 seed in Division II and host No. 22 Haughton (14-14) at 5 p.m. Thursday. McKinley hosting a playoff match is one of the major stories to emerge as the LHSAA released its volleyball playoff pairings in all five divisions Monday. The Dunham School (32-6), seeded second in Division IV, is the highest seeded local team.
It will be the first postseason appearance for McKinley since the end of the one-year playoff ban in all sports for 2018-19 because of LHSAA sanctions.
Gillette came in to coach the MHS volleyball team a little more than a month before last season started. The Panthers did hit the ground running, but ultimately never caught up, after losing months of preseason preparation.
“We lost three seniors from last year and all the others came back,” Gillette said. “The one thing we knew was that we did not want to repeat last year. I can’t even tell you what our overall record was. We did not win a district game, so it was really tough.
“We put in the time in the offseason to get better as players and stronger physically. Seeing it all pay off now means so much. I’m proud of my team.”
Gillette declines to list individual leaders, noting that McKinley uses two setters, has two key hitters and two consistent defensive specialists.
“It takes all of us together to win,” Gillette said.
Division I and Division IV featured the most local teams with top eight seeding positions.
Along with Dunham, Parkview Baptist (30-10) is seeded fourth in Division IV, while University High (29-10) is fifth. The area’s highest seed in Division II is No. 6 Lee (32-3), while St. Michael (21-15) claimed the No. 8 seed in Division III.
Dutchtown (32-7) leads all local Division I seeds at No. 4. St. Joseph’s Academy (26-14) is No. 6, followed closely by East Ascension (29-11) at No. 7 and eighth-seeded St. Amant (19-14).
In Division V, eighth-seeded Ascension Catholic (18-15) is the highest local seed.
Around the net
Wins by McKinley and Lee would set up another match between the Division II, District 4 rivals.
The Brighton School (12-10) grabbed the No. 16 seed in Division V and host No. 17 Riverside Academy (14-22), a school Bengals coach Briget Melancon knows well. Melancon, once the Riverside coach, returned to Baton Rouge to coach first at Episcopal and now Brighton.