Probably while you were sleeping, the growth of volleyball in Northwest Louisiana has exploded on a number of fronts.
At Airline, more than 60 girls tried out for the Lady Vikings squad coached by Regina Digilormo, while just down the road at Ruston High, 70 girls had hopes of making one of three teams coached by former Lady Techster volleyball player Mandy Cauley, in charge of first-year varsity program.
The number of schools playing the game at the LHSAA level has nearly doubled over the past couple of years with four new area schools joining the fold with varsity programs this fall. Caddo Magnet, Ruston, Northwood and BTW have joined Airline, Byrd, Captain Shreve and Haughton to form Division I, District I for the 2015-16 season. That means local squads won’t spend as much time driving south to play district games against Acadiana, Barbe, Comeaux and Lafayette.
“Having a North Louisiana district is huge,” Cauley said. “I’m really excited. I’m from East Texas and volleyball is like football over there. To be a part of its growth here is exciting.”
There’s also a local Division IV, District 1 sporting Evangel, Loyola, Mansfield and North Caddo.
Most of the area schools will be in Ruston Saturday for a jamboree that begins at 8:30 a.m. and runs through 1 p.m. Then the season will launch next week at gyms across the area. Digilormo said her team is looking forward to playing most of its games closer to home.
“To keep from having to travel south so often, we would play doubleheaders, usually on a Saturday,” she said. “It’ll definitely be a lot better this year. The girls won’t be as tired, so their legs will be stronger. Plus we can practice before a game. Some of us will still go south to play, like to the Broadmoor tournament, to get a chance to see the competition down there.”
Captain Shreve coach Marita Hunt says District I will be tough but believes her squad is ready to capture the inaugural all-North Louisiana district.
“Airline and Byrd will be tough — we saw Ruston recently and they look very good,” Hunt said. “We are a strong team and should win the district. We have lots of talent, if we can stay healthy.”
Cauley was pleasantly surprised at the numbers out for volleyball at her school. She easily fielded freshmen, junior varsity and varsity squads and then turned some girls away.
“We have interest for an eighth-grade team, but we don’t have anyone with the knowledge to coach it,” she said. “There is a tremendous opportunity for this sport to grow.”
At Airline, like at most area schools, athletes are having to learn the sport as they go.
“The growth is good, but the girls are having to develop into it athletically,” Digilormo said. “We don’t have it in the middle schools yet, and it’s very different from P.E. volleyball.”
Interest has always been near the surface for prep volleyball, but the dearth of local teams and the cost of travel made it prohibitive for new teams to get a footing. Now that may be changing, although area teams have a distance to traverse athletically before catching South Louisiana squads.
Last season, the five volleyball champions (St. Joseph’s, St. Thomas More, Teurlings Catholic, Pope John Paul II and Country Day) were from New Orleans, Lafayette or Baton Rouge. The five runners-up (Mt. Carmel, Assumption, Ursuline Academy, Newman Isidore and Ascension Episcopal) were from Baton Rouge south.
Ruston will host the Bearcat Brawl Tournament on Sept. 19.
“We would love to attract some teams from South Louisiana to help us grow,” Cauley said.
Evangel and Loyola both advanced to the playoffs last season but lost 3-0 decisions in the opening round. The LHSAA state tournament is Nov. 12-14 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
When: Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Note: All teams will play games to 25 against three different opponents during the day.
Also: RHS to host the Bearcat Brawl Tournament Sept. 19.
players to watch
Senior outside hitter Shelbi Chadick; senior middle blocker Brailey Vance, junior setter Ashley Haigler; junior outside hitter Haylea Patterson.
Senior outside hitter, Morgan Davis; soph. Libero Vassar Terry; junior setter Tori Beaudion.
Libero Caroline Cooper; outside hitter Mariana Russo; middle hitter Alexandra Wells.
Sophomore hitter Cassie Snow; senior middle hitter Sierra Davis; soph. setter Kendyl White; junior Libero Courtney Curtis.
Outside hitter Emily Deramus; middle hitter Ashlyn Boyett; eighth grader Ellie DuBois; senior setter Emily Miears; right side hitter senior Madison Graphia.
Nicole Barrett; Laurel Emanuel.
Senior middle blocker Chelsea Smith; soph. setter Heidi Dorward; soph. setter Sarah Pierce.
Senior Ladaijah Bledsoe; senior Jazmine Roberson; junior Kya Hunter.
Senior Anna Wright; senior Anna McLaurin; senior Amber Hodge.
Soph. middle blocker Annabelle Parker; soph. outside hitter Morgan Hartline; senior Libero Zaria Francis.
Sophomore middle hitter Reagan Lee; senior setter Jasmine Williams-Hargrove; junior power hitter Kara Goss; right-side hitter Le’Ana Leonard.
Briona Morris; Angelique Allen.