The life of the 32nd-seeded team is not for the faint of heart.
When Walker High’s volleyball team returned to school Monday, they were prepared for one of two things: a team meeting that would officially close the 2019 season or conduct another practice.
Just before lunchtime the Lady Cats found out they would be practicing.
Walker ended an eight-year postseason dry spell when the Lady Cats (17-18) earned the No. 32 seed, sending them to top-seeded Mt. Carmel (29-7) in New Orleans for the first round of the Division I state playoffs at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“We didn’t really know,” Walker coach Kaylee Guidry. “They were happy to be able to practice again. We were hoping for the best and we’re glad it turned out that way. We thought our shot was pretty long but apparently it wasn’t too long of a shot.”
Denham Springs joined Walker in the Division I playoff bracket.
The No. 29 Lady Jackets (16-20) are back in postseason play for the second straight year and third time in four seasons where they will travel to fourth-seeded Dutchtown (32-7) at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“We know we’re the underdogs, but we’d love to hear a great Cinderella story if we can,” Denham Springs coach Pam Dubuy said. “We’re going to try and do our best.”
After back-to-back five-win seasons, the appearance of Walker in postseason play shows the growth of the program under Guidry, who took over last season.
Despite a relatively small senior class of Alexis Shirley, Zoey Buckhalter, Kameron Bond and America Collins, Walker dared to dream big this season and targeted the playoffs among its preseason objectives.
“At the beginning of the year when we were doing goals as a team, playoffs were definitely talked about and on our forefront,” Guidry said. “It was a big deal to our team, and we did talk about it and we set that as a goal. It’s nice to think about the postseason but there are things you have to do in order to get there. They bought into that process that every game was going to count.”
Walker easily eclipsed last year’s win total two weeks into the season and were above .500 (8-6) after a couple wins in the Tara High Tournament and a home sweep over Northeast.
The Lady Cats built a case for postseason play with 16 of their wins in non-district play but continued trying to improve against a formidable district that included No. 4 Dutchtown, No. 7 East Ascension and No. 8 St. Amant.
With two wins in the final three matches Walker edged out Slidell for the final spot in the Division I bracket.
“As a 32 seed we really don’t have a lot to lose, but everything to gain,” Guidry said. “We’ll talk about our backs not being against a wall. We’re grateful to be in the playoffs. We’ll take advantage of being in there and compete and we’ll see the end result.”
The Lady Jackets have built quite a familiarity with the Lady Griffins, having played in the same district the two years before moving into different leagues this season.
Dutchtown swept Denham Springs in tournament play earlier this season.
“We know who their big hitters are, they’re all big hitters, but we know what they run,” Dubuy said. “They’re a good team, so it’s going to be tough.”
Dubuy’s hopeful the difficult district her team had to navigate this season – where No. 6 St. Joseph’s Academy and No. 9 Central where the top two teams – will prove beneficial against Dutchtown.
The Lady Jackets returned four-year letter winners in Sophie Faircloth and Ann Smith as part of a four-member senior class that’s tasted postseason play three times, including the past two seasons.
A year ago, Denham Springs traveled to Mandeville where they won the opening set before being swept in the next three and exiting the playoffs in the first round.
“This is a good experience for these girls,” Dubuy said. “They (seniors) got to see what the playoffs are all about. They know it’s an important game. It’s win or go home.”