De La Salle didn’t have much trouble getting ahead of top-seeded Vandebilt Catholic.
But the fourth-seeded Cavaliers couldn’t stay there as Vandebilt kept coming back and finally won a five-set battle in the Division III semifinals of the LHSSA state volleyball tournament Friday at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
The Terriers will face third-seeded E.D. White, which defeated second-seeded St. Michael the Archangel in five sets, in the title game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I always say that in the fifth game you have to be the team to come out with the momentum,” Cavaliers coach Melissa Donos Grubbs said. “We didn’t come out with that same momentum that we had been playing with. Once they jumped ahead, it seemed like we started getting a little timid, getting a little frustrated.”
De La Salle edged Vandebilt, 25-23, in the first set, but Vandebilt bounced back to take the second set 25-16. De La Salle regained the lead by taking the third set 25-23 but again Vandebilt rebounded for a 25-19 win in the fourth set.
“Vandebilt’s been here before,” Grubbs said. “They’ve been in the finals. I have the utmost respect for Greg (Castillo). He’s an amazing coach. That team played all the way until the end. We kind of backed up a little bit and started questioning ourselves.”
Grubbs wasn’t happy with the Cavaliers’ passing in a tough quarterfinal victory against Westlake on Thursday, but it was much improved Friday.
“Our passing was much better today,” Grubbs said. “But they play amazing defense. They just kept playing defense on us. We’d jump up, they’d jump back with us. We’d jump ahead. It was just a dogfight all the way to the end. You really didn’t know who was going to pull out a game.
Brittany Theriot led Vandebilt with 21 kills, Lauren Fitch had six bloks, Annelise Henry nine digs and Angelle Buquet 56 assists.
“We started serving more aggressively (later in the match),” Castillo said. “We were playing more aggressively, unlike the way we played in the first set. We wouldn’t go up and bang at the ball.
“I told them that after the first set, then we did in the second set but we went back. I told them we’ve always been aggressive the whole year. I don’t know if the nerves got to them or whatever, but when we’re aggressive we’re a pretty good team. We’re hard to stop. But if we’re going to do rolls shots and tops, anybody can get those balls up.”
Jewell Johnson led De La Salle (24-12) with 31 kills and seven blocks. Laney Robertson had 49 assists and Skyler Miller had 24 digs.
E.D. White held off St. Michael, 25-20, 28-30, 25-17, 17-25, 15-12.
“We didn’t come out and play quite as well as we wanted to in the first set,” St. Michael coach Robert Smith said. “We righted the ship a little bit in the second set. We really seemed to be hitting an all cylinders there. We really controlled that set them we got behind, and it was just too hard to come back against a really good team.”
Lila Barolis led E.D. White with 37 kills and 26 digs and Mary Grace Chiasson had 61 assists.
The Cardinals will face their Division III, District 8 rival in Vandebilt Catholic in the final. The teams split two matches in the regular season with the home team winning in straight sets both times.
Castillo said the challenging match Friday should be helpful Saturday.
“You know that on the other side of the net is going to be one of the best teams,” he said, “so it’s good to have a match like this.”
De La Salle finished the regular season with a nine-game winning streak and took 13 of their final 14 matches before entering the playoffs.
“This little team had a great second half of their season,” Grubbs said. “I couldn’t be more proud. I had a bunch of seniors that are unselfish. They gave it their all. Our last 15 matches I couldn’t be more proud of these seniors They’re a complete team. We jelled as a team. I told them to keep their heads up because they fought and they fought all the way through that last point.”