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It’s not football, but the Xavier-Dillard rivalry is like no other in sports

The volleyball competition between these crosstown New Orleans schools renews Saturday

It might not be the Crosstown Classic, but in New Orleans, the excitement watching Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana going head-to-head in any sporting event is contagious. The Lady Bleu Devils and Lady Gold Nuggets faced off Saturday at Xavier, where they serve up some volleyball action. Xavier won 3-1.

While basketball is normally considered the main draw for fans of this college rivalry, these two private historically black universities (HBCUs) across town have been racking up records in volleyball. Both schools are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and play in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference.

The Xavier-Dillard volleyball series started in 2003. (The basketball rivalry began in 1948.) And as they play their first game this week, Xavier is ranked second and Dillard third in the conference.

Xavier outside hitter Monet Fontaine, a native of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, knows she has to bring her A-game for this matchup. Last year, Fontaine, 20, said she missed out on all the rivalry excitement (Xavier won) and couldn’t play because she forgot her glasses. But she is ready to dominate on the court now.

“It brings you back to a high school-type setting. From the adrenaline, the people, the crowd, the coaches, it’s very fun to play in that type of atmosphere,” Fontaine said. “I wish all our games were like that.”

She fondly recalled when they beat Dillard her sophomore year.

“It brings you back to a high school-type setting. From the adrenaline, the people, the crowd, the coaches, it’s very fun to play in that type of atmosphere,” Fontaine said. “I wish all our games were like that.”

The 5-foot-9 player transferred from Morgan State University, an NCAA Division I school in Baltimore, after her freshman year. Fontaine said she has never witnessed so much school spirit from a city and students. “It took me a while to get used to the whole crosstown rivalry and Dillard hype,” she said.

And while Xavier isn’t ranked No. 1 at the start of this season, it did win the conference tournament last year. Xavier women’s volleyball head coach Pat Kendrick said this upcoming game is crucial.

“Our first conference match is Dillard, so a couple of teams have already played some conference games,” Kendrick said. “So that will be our first test on Saturday.”

Dillard is 1-0 in conference and 6-8 overall; Xavier is 9-4. Xavier leads the series 18-7. The last time Dillard won was on Sept. 30, 2010.

Kendrick believes Xavier’s team is moving in the right direction from over the summer and preseason. “I think we’re very athletic, so we’re working on improving our skills overall,” she said.

One thing both teams have in common this year is that each has one senior left. Fontaine is one of them, while Dillard has Unice Kamui, a Kenya native who plays back row. “It’s very surreal being a senior; you question where did the time go,” Fontaine said.

Both teams are working to rebuild by putting younger players out front.

“I have like 13 incoming freshmen, so all of them are there to set standards this year,” said Dillard head coach Nancy Sikobe.

Sikobe said she hopes all her players set records this year, but she has noticed that freshman Codi Fillmore is showing great potential. Fillmore, a Houston native, is a strong hitter but is relatively small in size. Fillmore, at 5-foot-8, said she isn’t allowing size to affect her game.

“I think a lot of people my size kind of get discouraged,” Fillmore said. “My team is super supportive of my size, and so is my coach. … They always let me know even though I’m small, that shouldn’t stop me at all.”

Sikobe also said freshman Aryel Odomes, also from Houston, may be one of the shorter players, but she is also showing potential. “[Odomes] is doing what she’s supposed to do as a hitter. … She’s taking care of her business.”

As Dillard and Xavier prepare for their game Saturday, Fontaine knows that this rivalry is healthy competition and the love for a fellow HBCU will always be there. “May the best women win,” she said.

Allana J. Barefield is a senior mass communication major. The Bostonian is a student representative for the NABJ Sports Task Force, and loves writing feature stories because sports are more than just stats.