KISSIMMEE -- Momentum is fickle, perhaps more in volleyball than any other sport.
The Lakewood Ranch girls volleyball team will attest to that.
Making their inaugural appearance in the state volleyball tournament, the Mustangs had all the momentum after winning the first two games (25-19, 25-19) against Saint Augustine in the Class 6A semifinal Tuesday at the Silver Spurs Arena.
Lakewood Ranch led 23-22 in the third game, needing just two points to win the match and move on to the state final.
Then "old mo" left and never returned.
The Mustangs lost 23-25, dropped the next game 20-25 and the next 10-15 to see their season end on a disappointing note.
"It (momentum) is one way or another. You can't have it split down the middle," Lakewood Ranch's top power hitter, Mariah Robertson, said. "When a team gets momentum, you have to try your best to break it and fight back, which is something in the last couple of sets we were having trouble doing."
Lakewood Ranch (22-6) never got it back. Saint Augustine (17-4) stole it and wouldn't let go. The fifth game was tied at 8, and the Yellow Jackets outscored the Mustangs 6-1 to win going away.
"We got stuck and had to fight our best to break the momentum, and they stayed up," Robertson said. "It stings. It is something that just happens with volleyball and there is not much you can do. Either the gods are on your side or they are not. Today I guess we didn't have them."
The Lakewood Ranch girls seemed to lose focus and Saint Augustine got very aggressive. After getting 20 kills in the first two games, the Yellow Jackets racked up 30 in the next two, including 18 in the fourth game. A big factor was that they had 19 hitting
errors combined in the first two games and only 11 during the next three games.
"We got up 2-0 and then started about thinking about winning and going to the final and not focusing on the points we were in," Hankins said. "They just got hot and then we are losing and we should be winning and the pressure got to us. In volleyball, you can just get killed in a game and come back and kill the other team. You never know who is going to win. Volleyball is a big momentum sport."
Robertson led both teams with 23 kills to finish her season with a team-high 482. For the Mustangs, Ashlyn Falahee had 11 kills (254 for the season). Emily Ruple was the only other Ranch player to reach double digits in kills with 10 and finished with 283 for the season. Lauren Owens had five kills to finish the season third on the team with 306.
"What turned this around is that we hadn't gone down in a three-game match all season so when we looked up and it was 19-13 in the third game I called a timeout and some of them said to me 'We are not going to lose,'" St. Augustine head coach Anna Renton said. "They made a mental note and started taking momentum, and volleyball is a game of momentum. We didn't change any strategy."
Ali Milbourn led Lakewood Ranch with 44 assists (935 for the season) and had 20 digs. Jordan Wopinski topped the Mustang with 26 digs, and Robertson had 17.
The Yellow Jackets had 10 aces and nine service errors while Ranch had four service errors and three aces. Saint Augustine had 57 kills, led by Sierra Riter with 21. The Mustangs had 58 kills.
"They (St. Augustine) got the best Christmas present in the world," Hankins said. "We let our emotions get to us and got a little ahead of ourselves while St. Augustine picked up their game. I told our girls that I love them and we still need to feel good because we went further than this program has ever been. We will be back next year."
The Mustangs lose three players to graduation in Robertson, Wopinski and Ruple. For the season, Wopinski led the Mustangs with 647 digs, and Ruple had 195 digs.