Lady Cardinals headed back to state finals

KENNER — As an eighth-grader, Caroline Robichaux remembered watching in awe as the 2008 E.D. White Catholic volleyball team hoisted the Division III state championship trophy at the Pontchartrain Center.

Now, in her senior season with E.D. White, she and her Lady Cardinals teammates will get that same opportunity.

A 25-17, 26-24, 21-25, 26-24 semifinal victory over District 5-III rival Vandebilt Catholic on Friday at the Pontchartrain Center pushed the No. 2 Lady Cardinals into today's Division III finals against No. 1 Ursuline Academy, which topped No. 5 St. Louis Catholic earlier on Friday in the other semifinal.

Today's title match is set for 3:15 p.m. on Center Court of the Pontchartrain Center.

It is the eighth state finals appearance for E.D. White and the program is looking for its second state title.

"It means everything," Robichaux said. "We have been wanting to go to the finals since I was in eighth grade and we saw them win. It means the world to these seniors. It will take focus. We have the talent. We just need to bring it. We need to put it on the court."

The victory for the Lady Cardinals (31-13 overall) was the third on the season over District 5-III rival Vandebilt.

"Vandebilt has always been competitive in all sports against our school," Lady Cardinals coach Mary Cavell said. "To have to face them three times in a year is a tough act. The girls knew it. I told them if they could stay focused on, not who they are playing, but on playing their best ball and keep playing as a team, I knew we were the better ball club, but we knew they would be gutsy. Our girls knew what they had to do. This is a wonderful feeling for everyone."

After E.D. White cruised to a victory in the first game with 23 kills, five blocks and four aces from Emily Weimer and 12 kills and six blocks from Michelle Riviere, Vandebilt (21-18) led Game 2 10-6, but an 8-0 run pushed the Lady Cardinals to a 20-16 advantage.

From there it was tied at 20, 21, 22 and 24 before a service return mistake and another Lady Terriers error gave E.D. White, which got 22 assists from Claire Chaisson and 17 assists from Aimee Brien, the victory and a 2-0 lead in games won.

"That second game was a big one," Cavell said. "We were down, and to come back and win gave us a momentum boost and a little room to breathe. Credit goes to the girls. They played a super match in all aspects of it. We have preached team, team, team, and they are playing team ball, and it is wonderful working with them."

E.D. White senior Madison Rodrigue said the Lady Cardinals expected a tough match from the Lady Terriers.

"We knew they were going to come back with more because we beat them twice already," Rodrigue said. "We just had to come out and play our game, and we knew we would be fine. We had some confidence in those first two games and that helped pull us through."

In the third game, it was Vandebilt, which got 12 kills from Erin Crane, eight kills from Kristen Kurtz, 11 blocks from Sydney Lerille, 24 assists from Allie Beyer and 20 digs from Maggie Hamilton, rolling to the victory as it never trailed and led by as much as eight on two occasions.

"It was tough. They knew all our moves, and we knew all their moves," Lady Cardinals senior Gabby Dugas said. "We had to work really hard. When they came back in that third game, we were really shocked."

In Game 4, the Lady Cardinals, which got nine digs from Sydney Bordis and eight digs from Chaisson, held the lead most of the way, but Vandebilt scrapped to close the gap to 23-21 late and then tied it at 24 before a kill by Weimer and a service receive error by the Lady Terriers sent E.D. White to today's final against Ursuline.

"We really have to be a thinking ball club, and we have to be aggressive," Cavell said. "We cannot lay back against Ursuline. They are a quality ball club. We faced them earlier in the year and played well against them. We are going to need the whole team aspect, and we can't let anything hit the floor. We have to have a good service game to get them out of their offense."

Robichaux, Courtney Sanchez, Rodrigue, Dugas and Abby Richard, the team's staring libero who has missed the last few matches with mononucleosis, are the five seniors on the E.D. White team.

"This year has been awesome," Dugas said. "We clicked the first time we met. We have been like sisters. I can't wait to finish it."

For the Lady Terriers, they climbed the Division III power ratings as the season went on.

"We weren't even supposed to be here with the year we had with all of our injuries," Vandebilt coach Latashia Wise said. "We started as the 18th seed and crept up to sixth. I think we had an outstanding year with all of our injuries. We worked really hard day in and day out. They left everything on the court. At times, we were just overmatched. Their offense was just too much for us, but I think our defense was awesome at times. I can't say anything negative. E.D. White played an amazing match."

It was the fourth season in a row the Lady Terriers fell in the state semifinals.

"That's the barrier we face," Wise said. "We can't get over that hump. We lose five seniors, and we have our work cut out for us next year to get back to the Pontchartrain Center, but it's been an amazing season."