LAKEWOOD RANCH — The looks on their faces said it all.
Shock and disappointment were two emotions the Lakewood Ranch High volleyball team wasn’t expecting to face walking off its home court in the Class 7A-Region 3 finals Nov. 9.
For a team that had won three consecutive district championships and reached the Final Four last season, the Mustangs had high expectations for their third straight regional final appearance.
And a return trip to the Final Four was definitely on the forefront of their minds.
But for a team that faced adversity all season, including the loss of setter Ali Milbourn for most of the season and the recent injury of outside hitter Layne Thompson, the pressure of trying to get back to the Final Four proved to be too much for the Mustangs to handle.
Lakewood saw its season come to an unexpected end with a 3-0 loss to Naples Gulf Coast, which had knocked off a pair of district champions in five sets to reach the regional finals.
“We’ve had to persevere through a lot of things this season,” coach Perri Hankins says. “It’s been a long season. I don’t think we’ve ever put the same starting group on in any match.”
The Mustangs lose four seniors from this season’s squad in Milbourn and outside hitters Ashlyn Falahee, Savannah Sears and Lauren Owens.
Over the past four years, these four seniors have helped transform Lakewood into one of the area’s premier volleyball teams.
They’ve won three consecutive district championships, a regional championship and reached the Final Four for the first time in school history last season.
“It’s incredibly hard to get to state, and now we understand that a little bit more,” Hankins says. “They have gotten district championships and regional championships. They have really built a legacy.
“It’s been interesting because I’ve been here four years with them,” Hankins says. “It’s a special year and a special team because of that.”
Falahee finished with 11 kills and seven digs in her final match. Milbourn added 25 assists.
Junior Nicole Grant powered the Mustangs with 12 kills and a block. Freshman Ande McDonald recorded 15 digs.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].