by Lee Feinswoog/Updated February 2017
Volleyball Baton Rouge is part of what has become a long-and-storied history of girls high school and age-group volleyball in Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge has produced a five-time Olympian, area teams have won a significant number of state high school titles, but the crowning achievement for Volleyball Baton Rouge was winning a national championship.
That happened on June 29, 2002, when the VBR 15s Black won the USA Junior Olympics Girls Volleyball tournament in Sandy, Utah.
It completed a season of firsts for the VBR 15s Black, which earlier that season won the Mid-East and Lone Star national qualifying tournaments. That team was coached by Donna Pixley and Mickey Ashmore and the players included Michele Ashmore, Cassidy Baker, Allie Blanche (named MVP of the national tournament), Lauren Cross, Abbie Donaldson, Lauren Fourroux, Elizabeth Hebert and Becca Houston.
Baton Rouge is the home of Danielle Scott, who was a key member of the U.S. team that won the silver medal in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, her fourth Olympiad. Scott-Aruda (her married name) is a former Woodlawn High School star who was a two-sport athlete at Long Beach State where she earned All-American honors in volleyball and basketball. At the 2002 NCAA Volleyball Final Four, Scott was named one of the six best college volleyball players of all time!
The first age-group program in Baton Rouge was formed by then-LSU coach Ruth Nelson, who started the Baton Rouge Volleyball Club in the early 1980s.
Nelson’s successor, Scott Luster, formed Louisiana Juniors and a prize pupil was a young Danielle Scott.
Another star for Louisiana Juniors was Tonya Johnson, whose resume includes being an assistant at Kentucky, LSU and Texas and the head coach at Georgia Tech. She is in her second stint as an assistant coach at Texas. Johnson had a great prep career, leading Zachary High School to the 1984 and 1985 Division II (there were three divisions then) Louisiana state titles. Her coach was Kim Daughdrill.
Two of Baton Rouge’s greatest volleyball players were long gone from high school by then. Fran Teeter (now Fran Flory, head coach at LSU), led Episcopal to the 1978 and 1979 Division III titles and then went to play at Texas, where she was a key player on a team that won the 1981 AIAW national collegiate championship. Flory was an assistant at LSU before becoming the head coach at Southeastern Louisiana and later Kentucky before returning to Baton Rouge.
And Penny Lucas was a star at Tara, losing in the 1979 state Division I final before playing at LSU and then professionally in Germany. She returned home to join the U.S. national team for a year and a half in the mid-1980s before resuming a pro career, first in Dallas and Chicago and then Italy. Her resume as a head coach in college included stops at Memphis and the Air Force Academy. She is now head coach at Alabama State.
Alicia Robertson, a product of Istrouma High School, played at Tulane before playing professionally in Italy.
Episcopal, coached by Frances Compton, who later became Luster’s assistant at LSU, won a third Division III title in 1982. Compton is a member of the Louisiana Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame.
In 1986, Baton Rouge had two state champions. St. Joseph’s Academy, coached by Barbara McManus, won the Division I crown, while Redemptorist, coached by Kathy Mendoza, won in Division II. But it was a long while before the city would be No. 1 again, with quite a few teams losing in the finals.
Louisiana Juniors eventually was run by Mickey and Donna Ashmore through the 1980s, but in the early 1990s there was no club volleyball in Baton Rouge.
In the mid-1990s, River City Volleyball of Baton Rouge was formed and run by parents of players. River City grew from about 40 girls in 1996 to almost 100 in 1999. But those parents saw their daughters move on, so it was time for volleyball in Baton Rouge to take another turn.
Sports reporter Lee Feinswog took over the club and renamed it Volleyball Baton Rouge for the 2000 season, giving it an identity with the city, and it continued to grow.
On the high school scene, in 1998, SJA, coached by VBR’s Brenda LeBlanc, won the Division I title, while Parkview Baptist won the first of back-to-back titles in Division III under coach Shirley Depew. LeBlanc is also a member of the LVCA Hall of Fame. So is Myra Mansur, now the athletic director at Episcopal, who coached Lucas her last year at Tara and then took Episcopal to brink of a couple of state titles. McManus, who reigned for so long over the SJA program, and the previous Tara coach, Eloise Shaw, are also in the LVCA Hall.
SJA won the Division I title again in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, with rosters loaded with VBR players, making it four state crowns in six years. The 2002 Redstickers went 43-0 accomplishing a rare undefeated season.
Episcopal broke through for the first time in 20 years in 2002, giving coach Beverly Russell her first title. She and the Lady Knights repeated the feat in 2005
In the 2004 state prep tournament, Pixley’s Dunham team advanced to the title match for the first time, finishing second in Division V and the Tigers broke through in the Hurricane Katrina-ravished 2005 season, winning their first state volleyball crown. It gave Pixley a rare triple: She also won a national title as a club player while growing up in Tampa.
In 2004, VBR sent three more teams to the national tournament and the most players ever on to colleges. And at the start of the 2005 season, 14 former VBR players appeared on the rosters of college volleyball programs on teams of all different levels.
In the summer of 2005 in Salt Lake City, the VBR 14s Brenda tied for 11th in the National Club division at the USA Junior Olympics Girls Volleyball Championships. That team was joined at nationals by the 13s Briget (10th in the American division) and 16s Mickey/Donna (tied for 27th in the National division).
The 2006 club season saw VBR send three more teams to the national tournament, this time in Atlanta. In 2007, VBR’s only entry to the national tournament was in 15s. It was the last time for the big club, because later that year Lee and Brenda downsized and fielded just one team in 2008, a group of 13 players who participated in 12-and-unders.
In high school, Episcopal advanced to the 2006 Division V state final.
SJA, under new coach Sivi Miller, won the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Division I state championships, extending the SJA dynasty to seven titles in nine years and almost every player was a product of VBR.
In 2007, St. Michael (Division II) and U-High (Division IV) made it to their respective division finals, while Dunham made it to the 2008 Division IV championship match.
Also worth noting: the senior setter for the 2010 LSU team was Brittney Johnson, a product of University High who played her entire club career for VBR.
VBR, meanwhile, took a different direction after the 2007 season. In 2008, after eight years of being a club with teams from 18s down to 10s, VBR fielded just one team of girls who played in 12s. Much of the same group returned in 2009, when two teams competed in 12s again. And in 2010, VBR’s two teams competed in 13s.
That opened the door for a new club, Red Storm, to expand and it’s now the largest club in the area. There is also Louisiana Volleyball, headquartered in Covington, but with teams that attract players from Baton Rouge, and Capital City Volleyball, a smaller club that plays mostly on the regional level.
That VBR team from 2008 developed a core group that continued through 18s and when finished, eight of the remaining nine players joined NCAA Division I teams. Four of them were on the SJA team that won the 2013 Division I state title, the school’s 10th overall.
SJA lost in the 2014 and 2016 state-title matches as well.
For more on VBR teams, go to the main page and click on either VBR 2000-07, 2008-14, or the current team, VBR 2017 that is in its third year.