THE POST-SIGNAL / Jason Faul
Notre Dame’s Jeanne Clare Schmid makes a diving save during the Lady Pios’ 3-0 regional playoff victory over Episcopal last week. The Lady Pios will take on No. 4 Sacred Heart of New Orleans tonight at 8 in a Division IV quarterfinal matchup at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
Lady Pios set for quarterfinal showdown with ASH
The Notre Dame Lady Pios are no strangers to success on the volleyball court and once again, they find themselves in contention in Division IV as the 2020 State Volleyball Tournament kicks off tomorrow.
Playing at their home away from home, the Pontchartrian Center in Kenner, the No. 5-seeded Lady Pios will take on No. 4 Academy of Sacred Heart of New Orleans in one of four quarterfinal contests at 8 p.m. on Court One.
The state tournament berth is the Lady Pios’ sixth straight after falling in the regional round in 2014.
“It’s kind of expected,” said ND coach Tara Young of making it to the state tournament. “But it’s not a given. We work really hard to get to this point.”
Since 2002, Notre Dame has advanced to the state tournament 17 out of 18 seasons, falling in the quarterfinals just three times.
During that span they have lost in the semifinals seven times, earned three runnerup finishes and won four state titles, including three straight from 2010-12. The other championship was in 2007.
The three-peat was sandwiched in between a pair of runnerup finishes in 2009 and 2013.
Much like every season, Notre Dame doesn’t shy away from competition.
The Lady Pios have taken on the best of the best during the 2020 season and have compiled a record of 18-8 heading into Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup.
In all, the locals have squared off with 14 teams that are still alive in the state tournament, including the top three seeds in Division I and the top two in Division II.
“We try to play the best of the best,” said Young. “It’s important, especially this year, to go ahead and face quality opponents because you have to play the best and beat the best to be the best.
“We have to learn how to do it throughout the season, so I think it’s important to schedule like we did this year.”
All of the Lady Pios’ eight losses have come at the hands of top-notch opponents like Teurlings (No. 1 in Division II), Dominican (No. 1 in Division I) and Parkview Baptist (No. 1 in Division IV). They also had setbacks to Mt. Carmel and St. Thomas More, both No. 2 seeds in Division I and Division II, respectively. Their only other loss was to Division III’s St. Joseph, who is the No. 3 seed.
Notre Dame also has a number of quality victories, including wins over Division III’s No. 1 seed E.D. White and Division II’s No. 4 seed Vandebilt.
They also have victories over Ben Franklin, St. Louis, Catholic of New Iberia, Ascension Episcopal, Lafayette Christian and ESA, all of which will be playing in the quarterfinal round tomorrow.
The Lady Pios have a number of key players on the roster, but none stands out more than outside hitter Lily Morgan. The junior standout leads the team in kills (352), digs (273) and is second in aces with 32.
In the two playoff games, Morgan has racked up 30 kills, 18 digs, three blocks and three aces.
Morgan isn’t the Lady Pios’ only weapon, however.
Juniors Andrus Kelbaugh and Natalie Brown have been a force to be reckoned with as well senior Melise Maloz.
Kelbaugh and Brown have each recorded 116 kills thus far and Maloz has 110.
Kelbaugh, a middle blocker, has also logged a team-high 44.5 blocks and 17 aces and Brown, an outside hitter, has 233 digs and 33 aces. Maloz, a middle blocker, has 40.5 blocks.
Olivia Hensgens, a sophomore opposite hitter, has also been a big contributor with 97 kills and 10 blocks.
Jeanne Clare Schmid and Sara Boulet set up the offense. The two junior setters have combined for 716 assists as well as 323 digs.
The libero is junior Maddie Murrell, who has tallied 203 digs, 52 assists and 21 aces.
“Throughout the season, we’ve shown the ability to put all the pieces together,” said Young. “And when we put all the pieces together, everyone taking care of their responsibility, we’ve shown that we are a formidable opponent.
“But it’s also very clear that when some of the pieces of the puzzle aren’t fitting in accurately, we struggle. But when we operate on all cylinders, we are super tough.”
Sacred Heart enters Thursday’s contest with a record of 16-4 after playing a schedule similar to Notre Dame.
The Cardinals have played against 10 teams that have advanced to the quarterfinal round; their four losses being to Dominican, Vandebilt, John Curtis and defending Division IV champion Pope John Paul.
They also own a number of quality victories, including wins over Country Day (No. 1 in Division V), Cabrini (No. 4 in Division III), Hannan (No 3 in Division III) and Ben Franklin.
“I’ve watched a match between them and Pope John Paul and they look like they could be a formidable opponent,” said Young of the Cardinals. “They have played a comparable schedule to us and they have similar losses.
“They have a few key players that I have seen and they are scrappy on defense, but other than that, I don’t know much about them.”
The Cardinals are led at the net by May Manning and Lindsey McGaw.
Manning is the daughter of Cooper Manning and granddaughter of Archie Manning. Her brother Arch is one of the top young quarterbacks in the nation at Newman High School.
The defensive leaders for the Cardinals are Bailey Axelrod and Catherine Bonura and the offense runs around setters Elizabeth Maniscalco and Marian Graffagnini.
Blocking leaders for the Cardinals are middles Cami Davis and Riely Brennan.
While the Lady Pios are the underdog on paper, Young feels that if her team shows up ready to play, things could go their way.
“I know, if we go and play like we are capable, we are going to be tough for anybody to beat,” said Young. “We have to finish out practice here with a lot of energy and bring the brand of volleyball that we know we can bring and let the chips fall where they may.”
The two competing schools in each game are provided with a specific number of tickets based on attendance limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both teams will be allotted 125 tickets for each quarterfinal and semifinal match.
Notre Dame has a limited number of tickets left that can be purchased at the athletic office through noon today. Tickets are $13 each.
If a school did not sell all of their allotted tickets, they may be available for purchase at the gate but there is no guarantee tickets will be available.