LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Lakewood Ranch volleyball team has a tendency to play to the level of its competition.
It turned out to be a good thing when the Mustangs played host to a strong Dover Strawberry Crest team (17-6) on Tuesday in a Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinal.
Coming off a somewhat uninspired performance in winning its second straight district title last week, Lakewood Ranch was focused from the outset and rolled to a 25-22, 25-13, 25-18 sweep.
"Our team was waiting for a challenge, and we knew that Strawberry Crest was a good team," Lakewood Ranch head coach Perri Hankins said. "We stepped up our level of play tonight to beat this team. We were ready for a challenge and that's what we got."
The Mustangs received a strong performance from Mariah Robertson, who used her power to dominate by racking up 19 kills to lead both teams. The senior also had a block and two digs and finished off the match with a kill.
"I think Mariah had her best match of the year, and it's great to see a senior step up when it's an important match," Hankins said. "It was just about getting
in our rhythm and once we got in our rhythm we didn't look back."
Unlike the district championship match, in which the loser still gets to play, Robertson knew this was do or die and wasn't taking any chances. She wants to match last year when the Mustangs went to the region final for the first time in school history.
"We definitely had a lot more energy than last time and came in really focused," Robertson said. "We had a meeting before the game and got done what we needed to get done. You have nothing to lose now at this point and you might as well go out hard. It's win or go home. "
Lakewood Ranch (21-5) struggled a little in the first game and trailed 13-9 before it started to get its game going. The Mustangs were behind 18-15 when they scored four straight points and never lost the lead. They got big kills down the stretch from Nicole Grant and Robertson.
The Mustangs never trailed in the second game and led 19-11 before they closed it out with a 6-2 run sparked by three kills from Ashlyn Falahee.
The third game was tied at 7 when Lakewood Ranch ran off seven straight points. Strawberry Crest cut its deficit to 18-15, but the Mustangs got two kills from Falahee and Robertson to win going away.
Falahee had 10 kills, three blocks, one ace and a five digs. Grant chipped in with six kills, and libero Jordan Wopinksi had 12 digs. Setter Ali Milbourn was credited with 34 assists.
Lakewood Ranch will be home Nov. 6 in the region semifinals against District 11 champion Sickles, which swept Seminole Osceola in its region quarterfinal.
25-5, 25-7, 25-9.