LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Lakewood Ranch High volleyball team is focused on building tradition.
The Lady Mustangs moved one step closer to their long-term goal by capturing their second-consecutive Class 6A-District 12 championship Oct. 25.
The top-seeded Lady Mustangs overcame an uncharacteristically shaky start to defeat second-seeded Seminole Osceola 25-27, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18.
“We’re very excited,” coach Perri Hankins says. “We wanted to win it.”
With the win, Lakewood (20-5) played host to District 11 runner-up Strawberry Crest in a Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinal match Oct. 30. Results from Tuesday’s district quarterfinal were unavailable as of press time. The winner will advance to the regional semifinals Nov. 6, to face the winner of the regional quarterfinal between Seminole Osceola (7-12) and District 11 champion Tampa Sickles.
“We want to try to start to build some tradition here,” Hankins says. “We want to go deep into the tournament every year.”
Lakewood advanced to the district championship game after defeating Largo 25-10, 25-16, 25-13 in a district semifinal. Mariah Robertson had six kills, one block, four aces and five digs to pace the Lady Mustangs. Nicole Grant had eight kills. Emily Ruple finished with seven kills one block, one assist and two digs. Ali Milbourn had 23 assists.
In the district championship, Lakewood overcame a slow start, in which it lost its first district game of the season. The Lady Mustangs beat the Lady Warriors in three games in their lone match during the regular season.
“(Osceola) played great,” Hankins says. “Their libero was unbelievable, and they just hit the ball hard all of the time. We were playing tentative, almost as if the pressure was on us to win, which is kind of different this year because we do have expectations. The years before we’ve just come in and thought, ‘Hey, we’re just doing better than we did the year before.’”
The Lady Mustangs committed numerous service errors early on in the match, which ultimately allowed the Lady Warriors to edge past Lakewood in Game 1.
“I just think we never got up to game speed and I’m not sure why,” Hankins says.
“We were playing about three-quarter speed most of the time. We started winning after the first game because we started just hitting the ball in the court, which is important in volleyball.
“When you’re not up to game speed, when you go to do things, the ball doesn’t go where it should,” Hankins says. “When we (weren’t) at maximum speed we were making bad decisions.”
However, Hankins credits junior Lauren Owens, who took over serve in the fourth game with the scored tied 18-18 and served the final seven points of the match, with giving the Lady Mustangs the spark they needed late in the match.
“She really pulled us through this,” Hankins says of Owens. “I call her ‘Magic,’ and I was like, ‘Thank God for Magic in this match.’”
A year ago, The Out-of-Door Academy volleyball team failed to win a district match and finished the season 0-7 in district play.
The team lacked a competitive identity.
But now, with a new coach and six seniors leading the charge, the Lady Thunder are heading in a new direction.
ODA advanced to the Class 3A-District 10 championship Oct. 25 for the first time since 2007.
The No. 3 seed Lady Thunder fell to No. 1 seed St. Stephen’s 25-20, 25-13, 25-17.
Lauren Maxey had seven kills and 13 perfect passes to pace ODA. Sam Albano added 14 digs. Natalie Buffett had five kills and three aces. Cameron Graham finished with 14 digs and nine perfect passes.
“I was very pleased with our performance at districts,” ODA coach Craig Wolfe says. “In the finals, our team played very well again, but it just wasn’t nearly enough versus an extremely strong and well-coached St. Stephen’s team.
“The goal all year was to make ODA volleyball competitive,” Wolfe says. “I think the program came a long way in two-and-a-half months, and the players have definitely raised the bar for the future of ODA volleyball.”
As the district runner-up, ODA earned a berth in the regional tournament. The Lady Thunder traveled to District 9 champion Clearwater Central Catholic Oct. 31 for a Class 3A-Region 3 quarterfinal. The winner will face the winner of the regional quarterfinal between St. Stephen’s and District 9 runner-up Clearwater Calvary Christian.
“My expectations for the regional tournament are for ODA to continue to play its best and compete,” Wolfe says. “That hasn’t changed from day one. These are the really fun matches — when you earn the right to play against another quality team. That’s what the postseason is all about.”
The Lady Thunder advanced to the district championship with a 15-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-16 victory over No. 2 seed Cardinal Mooney in the district semifinals Oct. 23.
The Braden River High volleyball team faced Class 7A-District 10 rival Manatee five times during the regular season, and each time the Lady Hurricanes had the Lady Pirates’ number.
That proved to be the case, once again, when the two teams met in a district semifinal match Oct. 23.
For the sixth time this season, the Lady Pirates failed to win a game, as the No. 2 seed Lady Hurricanes defeated the No. 3 seed Lady Pirates 13-25, 14-25, 16-25.
“(Manatee) served extremely well against us, and we couldn’t put our serve-receive together (Tuesday),” Braden River coach Matt McElhiney says. “We just couldn’t pass (Manatee’s) serving.”
Demi-Shay Watchorn finished with 22 assists, nine service points, six digs and three kills to pace Braden River (16-10). Madison Jaco added eight kills and eight digs. Courtney McDevitt had six kills and eight digs.
With the loss, the Lady Pirates saw their season come to an end. It was the final game for Watchorn, McDevitt and fellow senior Hailey Rapp in a Braden River uniform.
“Obviously when you lose two of the best setters in the area, with Courtney and Demi-Shay, it’s hard to replace them,” McElhiney says. “They are kind of like the glue that holds your team together. Hopefully, we can fill that gap.”
Despite having already played Braden River five times, Manatee coach Rachel Batey admitted she was nervous before the start of the district semifinal.
“You learn a team after playing them five times,” Batey says. “Braden River never gives up. It’s always good to play against a team that is going to push you. No matter what your lead is, they are not going to quit. It’s always fun to play them. They are like our friends across the line.”
Becca Butler paced Manatee with 16 kills and 12 digs. Jesse Durst added 13 digs and three aces. Haley Coulter had 12 kills and eight digs. Rachel Drummey finished with nine digs, nine kills and seven blocks. Kayla Armer had 35 assists and 10 digs.
“It kind of gets in your head a little,” Drummey says of facing a team six times. “You just have to go in with the same confidence that we knew that we could beat them and we just had to play to our potential.
“(Getting to the regional tournament) is really important for us,” Drummey says. We’ve had potential ever since I’ve been here, but we’ve never really been able to play up to it. So, this is the first year that we knew we were good enough to get that far, and so we’ve kind of been focusing on that this year.”
The Lady Pirates advanced to the district semifinals after beating No. 6 seed Port Charlotte (13-13) 25-20, 25-13, 25-20.
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.