The Hahnville student section saw the end coming.
As the Lady Tigers were one point away from clinching a first-round playoff victory over visiting Sulphur on Wednesday, the students saw Hahnville setting up star hitter Ella Wilkie for a potential final swing, and began shouting in unison.
“WE … ARE … HAHNVILLE!” – the last of those words perfectly coinciding with Wilkie’s thunderous game clinching kill as she and her teammates are headed to round two, the result of a hard-fought win in a spirited match, 16-25, 25-21, 27-25 and 25-22.
“It always feels so good, standing here and you know all these people are behind you,” said Wilkie. “You’re focused, and it’s kind of background noise, but you know they’re there … I was ready to get in there and end it. When it was my time to go back in, I thought, ‘OK, here it is, let’s finish this now – push hard.’”
Hahnville (26-12) the No. 16 seed in Division I, advances to face top-ranked Dominican in round two. Dominican (38-3), which swept Barbe in three sets in round one, will host.
Sulphur, the No. 17 seed, finishes their season with a record of 20-11.
After three consecutive first round playoff victories from 2016-2018, Hahnville had lost in round one for three straight seasons prior to Wednesday’s match. This win is no doubt a special one for HHS head coach Mendi LeBoeuf, with a team primarily consisting of first-year starters coming together quickly as a strong unit on the court.
“We set a couple of goals early in the season. We wanted to win the district championship and we wanted to progress in the playoffs. And to accomplish both of those so far, we’re excited. And we don’t feel like we’re finished … we feel we have a lot left to give,” LeBoeuf said.
Wednesday’s match was the third time since 2018 the Tigers and Tors have faced off in round one of the playoffs. In 2018, Hahnville bested Sulphur in a three-match sweep. Two years ago, Sulphur returned the favor with a sweep of their own.
Hahnville fell behind in the match early after the Tors jumped on the hosts early and won the first set. The Tigers’ season seemed to be in significant trouble as they fell behind 12-7 in the second game before charging back to win that set, then a dramatic third before closing things out in the final set.
Fresh off of taking a tight third set that went to 27, Hahnville leapt out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set before Sulphur fired back and tied things up. Sulphur led 14-12 before a quick HHS flurry that included an ace by Sandy Bourgeois and a kill by Mariah Mott to make it a 15-14 HHS advantage.
Keelie Seaford’s kill spurred Sulphur back ahead before four straight Hahnville points, highlighted by a kill by Katelyn Dufrene.
Mott missed a point long on one kill attempt that pulled the Tors within one. She would not miss the next one: the Hahnville hitter scorched a ball, perhaps the hardest hit of the match, that made it 20-18. Sulphur scored the next three to go ahead 21-20 before Hahnville scored to tie it up.
That last point was critical – when Hahnville scored, that brought Wilkie back into the match.
The senior was ready for it.
Libby Benoit’s ace pushed the Tors ahead by one before a Wilkie block tied things up. Kylie Spurgeon served an ace to make it a 23-22 HHS lead.
A Wilkie tip fell to the floor for another point to bring HHS to match point – and it seemed like she, her teammates and all the Tigers’ supporters knew what was next.
LeBoeuf said she felt good about the situation with Wilkie re-entering on a tie score.
“She’s been playing at a different level over the last several weeks,” said LeBoeuf.
The Tigers fell behind one set to none after Sulphur came out hot, finishing on an 11 to 3 run to take the first set by a 25-16 score.
“I felt like we were a little bit stiff in the first game. We didn’t move with a lot of flow,” LeBoeuf said. “About midway through the second, we started to figure it out. We have a few seniors who played in the playoff game two years ago, and our younger players started to put it together as we went on.”
In set two, following a Mott kill that made it 6-5, Sulphur rattled off a 7-1 run that included two aces by Kennedy Dougherty, making it 12-7 and giving the feel the Tors might be ready for a repeat of its finish to the first set.
Not so – Makynzi Williams of Hahnville came up big with back-to-back kills, then Mott would do the same. A Dufrene ace gave HHS its first lead since that 6-5 score, and Mott and Shannon Kenney each delivered HHS kills. A Bourgeois ace sealed the win and tied the match at one set each.
“We got kind of down collectively after the first set, and I kept trying to get my team to push through,” said Bourgeois, one of the team’s senior leaders. “(Telling them) ‘what you have now, this is it, put it all out there.’ We had to problem solve it out after that first set, but we figured it out.”
The trend of quick Sulphur starts continued in set 3, its lead growing to 17-9 at one point following an ace and a kill by Kendall Judge of SHS.
Hahnville was not willing to give in. HHS scored 12 of the set’s next 14 points, a Mott kill giving HHS a 21-20 lead. Williams made a kill to get HHS to 25, but it only led by one and Judge followed suit to tie. But HHS sealed it by scoring the next two, including a game-winning ace by Williams.
Wilkie, who started in the loss to Sulphur in the playoffs two years ago, said that was a learning experience and that by match time Wednesday, the Tigers were very familiar with their opponent.
“We watched a lot of footage, seeing their strategies and what they like to do,” said Bourgeois. “We made the adjustments we needed to.”
“Our defense usually doesn’t look like that,” she said. “Our positioning, all the way around … dealing with tipping has been a weak point for us this season, but it wasn’t today. We picked every single tip up.”
The HHS gym was packed and full of energy, and it did not go unnoticed by the home squad.
“Our student section, our community was phenomenal tonight,” LeBoeuf said. “We’ve been working hard and we’re so appreciative of everyone coming out to support us.”