The LHSAA has seen many changes in its more than 50 years of existence.
Nearly every year coaches, athletes and fans have to relearn rules, classifications and districts. Many are still trying to get used to having nine champions in football, basketball, baseball and softball.
One thing that hasn’t changed (much) is the annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Volleyball State Tournament, which begins Thursday at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. Forty teams will converge on the arena for quarterfinal rounds beginning at 9 a.m. Winners will advance to the semifinals, which begin at 10 a.m. Friday. The 10 finalists will compete for five championships beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Except for some minor tinkering with the schedule, the tournament had remained the same since 1995, when it was moved out of high school gymnasiums into the Pontchartrain Center. All teams compete for one title in each division.
“I like the way we do things,” said Ursuline's Jay Jay Juan, one of the longest tenured coaches in the New Orleans area. “We don’t have nine or 10 champions. It’s the best one team in each division. It’s still the way the original LHSAA constitution intended.”
There’s no question that the sport is dominated by the private schools, which have swept the competition the last five years. There are only 10 public schools in this year’s quarterfinals, including three magnet schools, which would fall into the “select” designation if there was a split. The last public school to win a title was Fontainebleau in 2011. Mandeville won in 2009. Assumption has won eight titles and has been runner-up seven times. Ben Franklin, a public magnet school, has won six titles.
Still, area coaches say there has not been much talk about splitting volleyball the way other sports have.
“It has been a topic at some of our meetings,” Country Day coach Julie Ibieta said. “I’m sure there are a few who would like to see it, but we really like our format and we hope to stick to it.”
Whether other things change will have to play out over the next three days.
Mount Carmel (Division I), Pope John Paul II (Division IV) and Country Day (Division V) all are the No. 1 seeds in their divisions and hope to defend their respective titles – again. The Cubs and the Jaguars have won three in a row. Country Day has won seven of the last eight. The Cajuns were unseated by No. 2 seed McGee in 2015.
Five-time defending champion St. Thomas More is the No. 9 seed in Division II. The No. 1 seed is four-time champion Teurlings Catholic, which moved up from Division III, making room for a new champion in Division IV.
Mount Carmel (37-7) face Baton Rouge Magnet at 8 p.m. Thursday. The Cubs are led by middle/outside hitter Ellie Holzman, easily one of the most talented players in the metro area. Only a junior, the Gatorade Player of the Year has already committed to Illinois. But only three other players have Pontchartrain Center playing experience.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” coach April Hagadone said. “Right now our focus is only on Baton Rouge. We have talent, but we’re young.”
Pope John Paul (35-5) opens against Sacred Heart (13-13) at 9 a.m. Coach Danny Tullis said his team focuses on its own performance, using ball control and solid defense.
“If we perform, we win. If we don’t we won’t,” Tullis said. “By the time you get to this point, they’re all solid teams.”
Country Day (34-6) opens its tournament at 10:50 a.m. against Episcopal School of Acadiana (18-14), the all-time state champion leader with 18 titles. Waiting on the other side of the bracket are No. 2 seed McGee and No. 3 seed Ascension Episcopal, which has finished as runner-up the last three years.
“We know we’ll face good competition no matter who we play,” Ibieta said.