LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For the first time this season, the Lakewood Ranch volleyball team lost a game in district play. Fortunately for the Mustangs, they were able to rebound and win their second straight district title.
An inspired Seminole Osceola team took the somewhat lethargic Mustangs to task early, winning the first game 27-25. It seemed to wake up top-seeded Lakewood Ranch (20-5), and it took the next three games 25-17, 25-15 and 25-18 to win the Class 6A-District 12 title.
Sophomore Ashlyn Falahee was one of the few Mustangs who played a steady game along with Lauren Owens as the visiting Warriors (7-12) battled all the way.
"It was definitely closer than we thought it would be. I think we went into the match with a big head," Falahee said. "They fought really hard, but we managed to keep up with them and won in the end. I am always trying to be the best that I can be for the team ... After the first game we talked about playing smarter and more aggressive."
The 6-foot Falahee led the Mustangs with 12 kills and had four blocks an ace. The Mustangs also got strong play out of senior Mariah Robertson, who had 10 kills, one block, four aces and 17 digs. Nicole Grant chipped in eight kills and had one block.
Osceola kept returning nearly all of the Lakewood Ranch kill attempts in the first game. In the second game, the Mustangs starting going for dinks and had a lot of success.
"We were not up to game speed and I am not sure why," Lakewood Ranch head coach Perri Hankins said. "We were playing about three-quarter speed most of the time. We did better when we started hitting the ball into the court, which is important in volleyball. The first game we had a lot of errors. When you are not up to game speed, the ball doesn't go where it should."
The Mustangs jumped off to a 5-1 lead in the third game and led 12-3, but Osceola continued to fight and cut its deficit to 17-13.
The fourth game was a see-saw battle. It was tied at 18 when Ranch ran off seven straight points with Owens serving to win the match. In the spree, she had a kill and an ace and Roberson had two kills.
"I thought Lauren had a great match and pulled us through especially in the last game," Hankins said. "I call her magic and I said thank God for magic because she did well. We are very excited to win district again and to try and build some tradition. We want to go deep into the tournament every year."
Lakewood Ranch libero Jordan Wopinski had six aces and 12 digs and setter Ali Milbourn had 35 assists.
The Mustangs will be at home for its region quarterfinal match on Tuesday.