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Metairie Park Country Day claims seventh straight state volleyball title with five-set win

Cajuns pull away in fifth set to defeat Westminster Christian for Division V championship

By Buck Ringgold

LAFAYETTE - To get to seven straight state titles, Metairie Park Country Day had to go five.

For the first time all season, the Cajuns were pushed to a deciding fifth set on, of all occasions, Saturday’s Division V volleyball championship match against Westminster Christian Academy.

But Country Day’s championship pedigree showed in that fifth set, as the Cajuns used a key 6-0 run to pull away for a 15-7 win. It also allowed Country Day to get that seventh straight title with the five-set victory (24-26, 25-20, 25-16, 20-25, 15-7) at the Cajundome.

“It was definitely one of the more stressful matches, and it’s the first time we’ve gone to five all year; we have not gone to five, so that was a little stressful for us but they came through,” Country Day coach Julie Ibieta said. "We knew Westminster was going to be a tough opponent, and we were ready for it.

“I think we played some of our best volleyball that we’ve played and they pushed us to the limit, and it was a great match. … We never got down on ourselves, we just kept figuring out how to change and how to move and how to just change our strategy a little bit, and they followed the plan to a T and it was a great match.” 

Not only have the Cajuns won seven straight titles, it was their 13th overall since 2009.

Both teams traded points to start the fifth set before Country Day (32-4) took a 4-3 lead. Then, a kill from senior middle blocker Ellie Schneider on the ensuing point gave the Cajuns a two-point advantage.

Schneider then moved over in the rotation to serve and was able to execute a perfectly-placed ball which had plenty of hang time. It landed softly on the court in between a pair of Crusader players for an ace, extending the lead to 6-3.

“When you have a short ball that drops in between a couple of people and no one goes after it, that’s kind of devastating,” said Schneider, who has signed to play at Kansas. “I think that was probably a little bit of a momentum change and then going from two points to three and then three to four, you build on that and it’s great.”

Country Day kept on adding the points, going up 10-3 as WCA made back-to-back hitting errors to end the decisive 6-0 run. It was all academic after that, and junior Gigi Dazet’s kill on match point ended things for the Cajuns.

“Our kind of offensive mindset is we’re swinging, all the time,” Ibieta said. “If you’re going to dig it, you’ve got to get in there and grovel, and then in the fifth set, I thought they did a great job of executing.

“We went to Ellie serving short, and then we tipped a little bit and that just changed the dynamic of what they had to defend for us. Not only when we decide to do something like that, like everybody has that plan, but it’s really up to them to be able to execute and I feel like they did a flawless job in executing what we were trying to do in that fifth set, so that was awesome.”

Not to mention, the Cajuns displaying that championship mindset once more come crunch time.

“I just know that going to the fifth set, we all have to trust each other and I know this team does because we’re such a family,” senior setter Emma Launey said. “Even starting the fifth set, it was a lot of pressure, but like we all knew we got it and we had to push through if we wanted to win.”

Schneider was named the MVP of the title match as she had a team-high 28 kills along with 2.5 blocks.

“I think there is a certain level of pressure, but there’s also the mindset that we come in even with the other teams and I think that being in the state championship before did help,” she said. “Like being in the Cajundome and playing on that court over and over again is helpful, but I think that you have to go in with the mindset that, ‘Hey, we have to fight for this one.’

“There is definitely pressure, and I think we felt that a little this year because we’ve never won seven (in a row). … But really, you just have to look to your team and realize you don’t want to let them down.”

Dazet and senior outside hitter Olivia Prout each added nine kills, while sophomore Lia Beverly had four blocks. Launey led the team with 28 assists and two aces, and Prout finished with 21 digs.

For the Crusaders (35-8), who were making their first appearance in a title match, senior outside hitter Abigail Cunningham had 22 kills, and Carlie Horton, another senior outside, had 17. Cunningham also had four aces, and sophomore Bethany Stoute finished with seven blocks.

Ada Horton, a senior setter, had 49 assists, and senior libero Caroline Lalonde had 31.