Since they began play in 1982, the ESA Lady Falcons have established themselves as the most successful volleyball program in the Acadiana area and one of the most successful in the state.
In their 30-year history of playing volleyball, the Lady Falcons have won 17 state championships and have qualified for the state volleyball tournament every year except for 2005.
But securing the 18th state championship has been quite the task for the Lady Falcons, who have lost in the Division V finals every year since winning their last championship in 2006.
Lady Falcons head coach Julie Dawson, who is still in search of her first volleyball state championship of her coaching career, hopes this year will be the year for both her and ESA.
“I’m very proud to be a part of a winning program,” Dawson said. “As a coach this time of year is the pinnacle of the season and of my career. I feel I’ve done a great job preparing my girls and winning a state championship is something we’ve dreamed of.”
ESA hopes when they take the floor today at 10 a.m. against Catholic-P.C. in the quarterfinals of the Division V playoffs at the Ponchartrain Center that it’ll be the first of three matches that ultimately result in a state crown.
“I think the girls do feel the pressure to win a state championship,” Dawson said. “We’ve been focusing on the mental and emotional aspect of our game for the past three weeks so we can try to control the anxiety that comes with the experience of playing in the state tournament.”
Dawson believes this year will be different for the Lady Falcons largely because of the play of her seniors, intensity in which they play with and overall preparation going in.
“I’m very happy for and proud of our seniors, because they’ve provided us with great leadership all season,” Dawson said. “I’ve been very impressed with our internal drive, because it is something like I’ve never seen. I believe this team is ready. They are the most ready team I’ve had in my career.”
AES ready for a run
Although it’s a program that is still relatively young now in only its fifth year of existence and fourth in the LHSAA, the Ascension Episcopal Lady Gators’ volleyball program are confident they are on the brink of winning a state championship.
Now, if the Lady Gators could only get past the quarterfinals, where they’ve been defeated each of the past four years, that dream of a state championship may finally come to fruition.
“I was blessed that first year I got here with all of those eighth-graders and we made it to the quarterfinals,” Lady Gators head coach Jill Braun said. “It was a good and bad thing for us, because it set the bar really high.”
But when the Lady Falcons take the court today at 10 a.m. on Court 3 against St. John’s, they will do more prepared, talented and well-balanced than they have ever been.
“We are 28-8 on the season and that is by far the best record we’ve ever had coming into the state tournament,” Braun said. “This is the most talented team we’ve had since I’ve been here. This is the most maturity that we’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s also the best team chemistry we have had. In the past, we didn’t have all of the pieces in place, but right now I see all of those pieces coming together. This is our shot to make it.”
What may prove to be the biggest obstacle for the Lady Gators is not whether they can beat whoever they face, but whether they can refrain from looking ahead to the possible semifinal matchup against ESA.
“I am a little bit worried about us looking ahead,” Braun said. “I have reminded them that step one for us is to beat St. John then worry about ESA on Friday. I feel that we are ready to go, but I’ve reminded them that we cannot look past St. John. We’re chomping at the bit and that’s a good thing. It shows confidence and our confidence is high. Being that confident creates a healthy sense of urgency when we take the floor.”
Stepping on the floor for the final week with the most complete team she’s had at Ascension Episcopal, Braun is asking “Why not now?”
“My thing is why can’t it be us?” Braun asked rhetorically. “Why can’t we be the first Ascension Episcopal team to win a quarterfinals team? Why can’t we be the first Ascension Episcopal team to beat ESA? Why can’t we be the first Ascension Episcopal team to win a state championship? If we’re on top of our game and playing top notch volleyball like I know we can, I really believe this year could be our shot.”