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Volleyball, 1977-2001
Archbishop Chapelle/Isidore Newman School

Joanne Skertich, who led the girls’ volleyball program at Isidore Newman School from Title IX infancy to record-setting performances at the state level, coached the Greenies for 25 seasons (1977-2001), and ended her career firmly atop the Louisiana High School Athletic Association volleyball mountain. Her final Newman team was 31-2, unbeaten against Louisiana opponents and a state champion for the seventh consecutive season and the ninth time in 10 years.

Skertich still holds the Louisiana record for state volleyball championships won by a head coach, 13. She won her first in 1985, then did it again in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. Newman volleyball did something the legendary John Curtis Christian football program – winner of nearly 30 state championships – has yet to accomplish: win seven consecutive state titles and nine in 10 years.

Complete records are not available for her 25 seasons, but Skertich’s Newman teams were 578-100 (.853) in her final 17 seasons (1985-2001). During that closing state-title run, the Greenies were 246-27 (.901) in seven seasons and 70-3 (.959) the final two years.

“I was lucky to be part of Newman volleyball,” Skertich said. “If you can establish it and be successful, it becomes contagious. The program was well-supported from the start by the Newman administration. I wasn’t on an island by myself. We have beautiful facilities. And I was blessed to have so many of our players grow up with me in the lower grades.”

Skertich, who grew up in suburban Metairie and graduated from Archbishop Chapelle, arrived at Newman in 1974 as a 24-year-old physical education teacher with a degree from the University of New Orleans. Intramurals – Newman’s longtime Girls Athletic Committee – were the firmly established culture at that time.

But Skertich’s duties changed when two Newman students, Ti Adelaide Martin and Cindy Rippner, petitioned the school’s administration to start a varsity volleyball program to compete against other schools. The administration approved the program and Martin and Rippner’s request that Skertich coach the team.

“We could relate to coach Skertich,” said Rippner, a 1978 graduate and now known as Cindy Rippner Kurtz. “We liked her. But we also had great respect for her. She brought out the best in us, instilled confidence in us and treated us like adults. We were outgunned by opponents when we started out, but it didn’t matter.”

Skertich never coached club volleyball but encouraged her athletes to join those programs during the prep offseason. “The X’s and O’s were taught by the club coaches,” Skertich said. “I took that knowledge and turned it into a team. I set some guidelines, and it worked for me for a really long time.”

In Newman’s sixth season, 1982, the Greenies made their first of three consecutive state semifinal appearances. They finally broke through in the 1985 Class 2A state final at New Iberia, rallying from a 12-8 deficit in the third set for a 7-15, 15-2, 15-12 championship victory against Episcopal of Baton Rouge. That Newman team had one returning starter from the previous year.

Newman kept rolling under Skertich, reaching a state final 14 of the next 16 seasons and winning the championship 12 more times. Her Greenies were unbeaten in their final nine appearances in state finals. Skertich’s coaching career ended in 2001 after another state-title victory against Episcopal, 15-9, 5-15, 15-5.

“She’s the kind of coach you hope your kids get to play for,” said Lizzy Stemke, who as Lizzy Fitzgerald won Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year awards in her final two Newman seasons, 1996 and 1997. “When you played for Ms. Skertich, you knew how to work together. Teamwork was her foundation. She knew all about volleyball and how to coach it. I learned volleyball from Ms. Skertich. But it was much more than that. She prepared us for anything in life.”

Newman’s other two-time Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year, Meg Henican (2000 and 2001), fondly recalled the preseason team trips to Florida. “Those were bonding events,” Henican said. “Coach Skertich would put us in small groups. Freshmen would be with seniors. The groups had to prepare a meal for the team and plan the entire thing – creating the budget, shopping, cooking, cleaning up. I have great memories of the Florida trips. They were part of the little things that built a team.”

This will be Skertich’s second Hall of Fame induction. She was enshrined in the Louisiana High School Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.

Story by Ed Cassiere of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.

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