Westlake has become a regular at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state volleyball tournament, but the Rams want to do more than just participate this time.
No. 3 Westlake will make its fourth quarterfinal appearance in five seasons and is looking advance to the semifinals for the first time. The Rams (31-10) will take on No. 6 Lutcher (23-16) at 2:30 p.m. today at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
“We keep getting to the quarterfinals,” Westlake head coach Gloria Fontenot said. “Our goal is to go over there and get past this round.
“We are also looking at the semifinal and final round. The top two teams are really good, but I think that we can compete with them. This year, I feel like we have a really good draw and we have a good team again. I have five returning players and I have six seniors that are on the floor. We feel like we have a good shot. If my kids play together, they feel they can win.”
Senior setter Riley Rhodes said the Rams are playing their best after going 3-2 at the Episcopal of Acadiana tournament over the Halloween weekend with wins over Division III No. 7 Archbishop Hannan, Division V No. 4 Episcopal School of Acadiana and Division IV No. 7 Notre Dame.
“I think (that) was our peaking point,” Rhodes said of the ESA tournament. “We played some tough teams and we pulled out some wins.
“We finally beat Notre Dame; that was a big win for us. This year we have six seniors. We have started, basically, since our sophomore year. We have the experience from the past (two) years in the quarterfinals, so we could go further. I think the experience is going to take us further, being relaxed with the loudness of the Ponchartrain Center.”
Middle hitter Keonda Johnson, outside hitters Catherine Armentor and Bryleigh Gray, Rhodes and libero Kayla Kennedy have played in Kenner before.
“The positive going in is that I have five returning players that have played at that level already ready,” Fontenot said. “They know what to expect and know what it is like in that type of environment.”
The Rams added a sixth senior this season in Desiree Jackson, who gives them another threat up front.
While Johnson is the Rams’ most powerful hitter, she is not the only offensive threat. Armentor, Gray and Jackson have had double-digit kills in matches this season.
“We don’t just rely on one or two kids,” Fontenot said. “And again this year, we have multiple hitters. You have Keonda that has a lot of power, but I have other kids that can bring power as well. We have offense all the way around and defense all the way around.
“Yeah, we lost some offense (from last year), but I don’t feel like we lost any of the defense and I still have good offensive players.”
Lutcher is playing in the quarterfinals for the first time since its runner-up finish to Teurlings Catholic in 2015. The Bulldogs have a pair of formidable players at the net in Zhara Thomas and Dyhn McKinley.
“Lutcher is middle strong,” Fontenot said. “A lot of what we saw this year was more strong outside than middles.
“We have seen a few teams that are strong in the middle. They try to run those quicks, so we are going to have to track their middles. We are going to have to be ready and keep them out of system so they can’t get the ball to the middles. Their outside hitters are smart. They may not be powerful, but they will read the floor and place things. We have to be on our feet and moving.”