By Kyle Roberts
LAFAYETTE, La. — A memorable 2023 season drew to a close for the Lady Bearcats Thursday night after No. 2 Mt. Carmel Academy defeated Ruston High by final scores of 25-13, 25-13, 25-13.
The Cubs of Mt. Carmel took early leads in all three sets, and despite Ruston runs throughout the all three sets, Mt. Carmel kept extending leads in response.
“Mount Carmel is just a very solid team,” Ruston head coach Mandy Cauley said. “They were just a little faster than we anticipated. The couple of times we did get good passes, I felt like we got to start out and our hitters did a good job. It just unfortunately just didn’t get to happen a whole lot. They kind of they kept it out of our game and they did a good job of doing that.”
Mt. Carmel’s ability to serve in particular gave Ruston trouble all night.
“They kept us on our heels on services,” Cauley said. “And when we just couldn’t get consistent quality service passes; they kept us out of system. We played a lot of balls that probably were out. It’s hard to tell; we’re not making excuses by any means. But it’s just it’s part of the stage is judging the distance and knowing where you are. And that is something that we could have done better.”
In true Bearcat fashion, Ruston fans traveled incredibly well, outnumbering Mt. Carmel’s crowd in the Cajundome. Cauley also wanted to thank the many fans who watched from afar.
“I’m grateful to the community that got together and rested and watched people from out of town,” Cauley said. “People from other states have been texting me. And it just means so much to know that we’re backed. I want to say thank you to YoungLife, who held a watch party, and the football team for sending us their video.”
Now, Ruston heads to the offseason and will bid farewell to seniors Hannah Rollins, Jade Smith, Shelby Freeman, Allie Richardson and Cala Wilson.
“They’re phenomenal,” Cauley said of her senior group. “And they just they’re so different. They all served such different roles out on the court. And I’m proud of each of them and how they’ve grown and just the unique way that they brought their own energy and role to the team. I’m so proud of them.
“I love them and I know that they gave it all they had tonight. And sometimes you come up short and that’s sports. But I felt like they gave it all and they left on empty. And that’s what I asked of them.”
And regardless of the outcome of the match, the trip to the state tournament illustrated the leap Ruston’s volleyball program has taken season and less than a decade since its inception.
“That’s what I told the girls at the end of the game in the locker room,” Cauley said. “You know, there’s always tears. But listen, there’s eight teams that made it here in our division. Eight, and only a handful of those are public schools anymore. And then seven teams are going to walk out of here tears. There’s only one that’s going to walk out of here smiling. And we get to be one of those eight teams who got to battle. I told them that this is the stuff you’re going to tell your kids and grandkids about. You got to be part of the very first ever Ruston volleyball team to make it to state. And then Allie said, “Let’s make this the new standard. Let’s don’t make this a freak one time thing. This is what every program, every year needs to be striving for.” And I just love that.
“And I reminded them that we had several sixth graders and seventh graders in the stands. You just planted seeds. And those girls are going to remember how they felt watching you. And then it’ll be their turn before you know it. And hopefully this can become the new normal for the rest of volleyball.”