The St. Joseph’s Academy volleyball team finished the 2020 season as the state runner-up, falling to top-seeded Dominican in four sets in the final match of the LHSAA Volleyball State Championships. The Redstickers, seeded third in the tournament, came up short in the Division I title match, 13-25, 17-25, 25-23, 22-25. The match was played November 14 in the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
The Redstickers ended the season with a 23-4 record and, with a four-set win in the semifinal round over six-time defending state champion Mount Carmel Academy, gave Coach Sivi Miller her 800th win.
“We played a great match but fell short of our goal,” Miller said. “The girls never gave up, but Dominican just outplayed us. I am so proud of how the girls stuck together, pushing each other, working hard for every point and represented SJA with pride. Yes, we would have loved to bring home the title, but we accomplished so much this season, and we brought home the runner-up trophy. We are proud of each member of this team, and they should be proud of themselves, as well.”
Miller said she was especially proud of her team because of the way the girls handled the challenges of playing a season under the cloud of COVID-19. “We did not know how much of a season we would have,” she said. “Tryouts were different, we were not able to attend or even host tournaments, we did not get to play as many matches and some matches were played without fans. Through it all, we were blessed to have had a season, and we had a great one at that. The team was playing its best volleyball at the end. The team was playing as a unit. We trusted each other. I’m proud of how hard the team worked, and it was truly enjoyable to coach them. Even with all that we had to deal with daily, they just kept working hard and getting the job done and looking to help in any way possible. I thank them for being such a great group of athletes that I love dearly.”
Senior Julia Dwelle said the big win in the semifinals provided a great deal of momentum going into Saturday night’s championship match. This was the first time since 2017 that the Redstickers advanced to the finals. “I think we all had the feeling of victory after beating Mount Carmel,” Dwelle said. “We knew this was our year to win state. Normally, we are a low-error team, but at finals, we all made a few errors that cost us in the end. This year’s team really blended well on and off the court, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”
Senior Erin Beene said advancing to the state finals was a memorable way to end her four-year SJA volleyball career. “This season has brought more challenges than any other year because of COVID,” she said. “I think these challenges brought us closer as a team. We never knew if it would be the last game or last practice, so every time we were together, we put everything on the court. We fought hard every game, and that led to the outcome of making it all the way to state finals. Even though we came up short, I wouldn’t want to be playing with any other team or school because they are my family.”
Senior Simone Moreau had 17 digs on the night. She said the season was memorable for big wins versus Teurlings Catholic (October 17) and Mount Carmel and for the challenges of playing a season in the height of a pandemic. She pointed to the team's work ethic and dedication as reasons for its success. “I'm so proud of the team for fighting as hard as we did,” she said. “We worked as a family on and off the court to reach our goals. We watched film by ourselves before big matches, we hyped each other up before big matches and we never stopped believing in each other. Of course I am upset that I will never again wear a Redstickers jersey, but I can't think of a better way to end such a crazy season.”
Junior Grace Toler had 11 kills in the final match. She expressed pride in the team’s growth and accomplishments over the course of the season. “Game after game, we continued to learn and improve on our side of the net,” she said. “As a team, there was always trust and belief in each other no matter who was standing next to us. Finishing second in the state is a huge accomplishment that we are all very proud to be a part of and to bring back to SJA.”
Toler said while the year was marked with uncertainty, the team approached every match with a grateful heart. “We were just appreciative to be able to get on the court and touch a ball,” she said. “Throughout all the challenges and adversities we faced, we faced them as a team and pushed through them together. Our coaches did an amazing job of scheduling practices and games and keeping us positive and motivated throughout. This team was extremely talented and special and had a bond like no other.”
Junior Camille Counce, who had 20 assists in the championship match, said the season was one to remember. She said that in a strange way, COVID-19 may have had a positive impact on the team. “Having our club season cut short and not really being able to play volleyball for almost six months made us all realize how much we love playing with each other,” she said. “We all missed playing, and the uncertainty of if we would have a season made us want to get in the gym and work hard and have fun as a team in every practice and game. The hard work we put in and the connection we had on the court helped us to accomplish amazing things. Finishing second in the state is a major accomplishment, and I am so incredibly proud of this team and the season we had.”
Junior Morgan Perry had 10 kills in the title match. She said the pressure of competing on the biggest stage is what the Redstickers are built for. She said advancing to the finals was especially poignant given the challenges of the 2020 season. “This season was crazy, having to wear masks at practice, awkward silences in games, cancelled tournaments and games and always the fear of getting quarantined,” she said. “However, it taught us to appreciate every opportunity and play like it’s the last game because you never know what may happen.”
Perry also said that the team played with energy and intensity. “Though we are a smaller and undersized team, we played big,” she said. “The chemistry on the court was amazing. Every player had the mindset that we wanted to get after it and bring home a trophy. The work ethic at practice and in games was super high, and I couldn’t ask for any more. All the hard work, dedication and sacrifice paid off. These are the best memories I will have with some of my closest friends. Next year is our year.”
Mindy Brodhead Averitt
Photos courtesy of Chris Counce