N. Louisiana volleyball growth depends on many factors

Captain Shreve's Camille Arant returns the ball against Byrd's Emme Cehajic and Brynn Boyd during a volleyball jamboree at Airline High School earlier this year.

Captain Shreve’s Camille Arant returns the ball against Byrd’s Emme Cehajic and Brynn Boyd during a volleyball jamboree at Airline High School earlier this year.

Volleyball in northwest Louisiana has come a long way in the past couple of years, but it needs player development at the middle school level and more club teams, according to local high school coaches.

And that’s just part of what the fast-growing sport needs for north Louisiana teams to successfully compete with those in the southern part of the state come playoff time.

Northwood coach Katie Denton, a Washington state transplant, was shocked at the lack of attention volleyball received locally when she started the Lady Falcons’ program two years ago.

“When I moved here I was astonished that basically nothing was going on,” said Denton, who played collegiately at St. Martin’s University. “Volleyball is huge just over the border in east Texas, but it’s like it drops off as soon as you hit the Louisiana line. Panola is the No. 1 junior college volleyball team in the country and that’s not very far away.”

Katie Denton

Katie Denton

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Other sports like softball, basketball and baseball have multiple travel/club/AAU teams that give athletes the opportunity to participate and improve in those sports year-around. Denton and business partner Chevy Burnett started TC Elite, a club team, two years ago in Shreveport and they’ve seen it continue to develop players for a number of area high schools. This year, another club team, Rocket Fuel, was begun for younger players.

Byrd senior Codi Setters played with TC Elite for two seasons and she feels it lifted her play to another level.

“The teams we played in Dallas were more competitive than our high school teams, so club volleyball forces you to learn quicker,” Setters said. “You have to step up your game to have a chance of winning, so it helps you with your school team.”

Codi Setters

Codi Setters

Another component for developing talent is getting the more experienced teams from Baton Rouge south to come north for tournaments or to play regular season games, according to Ruston coach Amanda Cauley, who was a Lady Techster volleyball player.

“I made a vocal appearance at the volleyball coaches’ association meeting in February, so they know we are here,” Cauley said. “I’ve made contacts with several southern coaches so hopefully that will develop.”

Amanda McCauley

Amanda McCauley

Fontainebleau and St. Charles Catholic participated in the Bearcat Tournament for the first time this year.

“We made sure to treat the coaches and teams well at our tournament so they would want to come back,” Cauley said.

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Airline coach Regina Digilormo is one of the area coaches who takes her team south annually to the Broadmoor Tournament, where the Lady Vikings went 1-3 against two teams that were in the state tournament last year.

“I do think we’re on the way as a sport, because we’re seeing a lot of attendance at our games and we have a lot of girls coming out for the sport,” Digilormo said. “This is just our second year of actually having a district up here, so we haven’t caught up yet.”

Reggie Digilormo

Reggie Digilormo

Airline had more than 60 girls try out for the team, while Ruston, in just its second season as a varsity sport, has added a middle school team to the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams already in place.

“Increased exposure, opportunities to learn and opportunities to compete will close that gap,” Cauley said. “We had 62 girls try out (for the middle school team) and chose to keep roughly 48 seventh and eighth grade girls. With more camps and club teams the girls will get better faster.

“I would love to see the local universities get involved with the development of the athletes in our region.”

Captain Shreve’s Madison Carruth

Byrd’s Michelle Adamson agrees with starting athletes in the sport younger, while adding more club teams — then adds a caveat:

“We have a few clubs, but they struggle to pull younger girls away from basketball, soccer and softball,” she said.

Most coaches are in favor of playing multiple sports at the high school level, but it’s hard to catch up when you’re starting at a deficit.

“I’m a big proponent of playing multiple sports, but in Shreveport they’ll have to specialize in volleyball to have a fighting chance,” Denton said.

Having quality volleyball coaches at all levels of the sport is also critical to its successful growth, although Denton said it’s not necessary that coaches played at the college level.

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“I tip my hat to the coaches who are putting in the time to develop the sport, because it’s their commitment that’s making the difference,” Denton said. “People who come to the games talk about how fun it is to watch and how intense it is.

“Volleyball is growing. It just takes time.”

Twitter: @JimmyWatson6