KISSIMMEE — There was never any doubt.
After winning the first two games and leading 23-22 in the third game of the Class 6A state semifinals Nov. 13, at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, the Lady Mustangs were confident they would be playing for a state championship.
Lakewood, which was making its inaugural appearance in the state semifinals, was bursting with confidence and enthusiasm and already had begun to make plans to return to the arena the following day.
The Lady Mustangs were two points away from reaching their first state final.
And then the tide changed.
Lakewood watched St. Augustine score three straight points to take Game 3 25-23.
In a matter of moments, the Lady Mustangs’ momentum shifted, and Lakewood found itself fighting to hold off the Lady Yellow Jackets.
St. Augustine came back to defeat Lakewood 25-20 in Game 4 and 15-10 in Game 5, as the Lady Mustangs saw their season come to a disappointing close.
“You get so close that you can almost taste it,” senior hitter Mariah Robertson says. “It’s as if nothing is going to stop you from getting there.
“With momentum, it’s one way or the other,” Robertson says. “When one team gets momentum, you just have to try and break through it and fight your way back. We just got stuck. It stinks, but it’s something that happens in volleyball.”
Lakewood took control early in the match, winning the first two games 25-19 before St. Augustine mounted its comeback.
“There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go to the state finals, but, obviously, we lost,” an emotional Ashlyn Falahee says.
Robertson paced the Lady Mustangs with 23 kills, 17 digs and one block. Falahee added 11 kills, three digs and one block. Emily Ruple finished with 10 kills, 11 digs and four blocks. Jordan Wopinski had 26 digs, and Ali Milbourn finished with 20 digs and 44 assists.
“We got ahead and (knowing) we haven’t been here before we thought this would really be our year and we had a chance to win it,” coach Perri Hankins said. “I think we started thinking about winning and not focusing on the points we (needed) to win.
“The pressure got to us a little bit,” Hankins said. “These are high school kids. They want it more than anything. It’s all in their mind.”
The Lady Mustangs will lose three seniors from this year’s state semifinal squad, including Robertson, Wopinski and Ruple.
It wasn’t the way they envisioned having to walk off of the court for the last time.
But in winning their second consecutive district championship, first regional championship and having advanced to the state semifinals for the first time, the Lady Mustangs legacy has already been paved.
A single match won’t change that.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].