LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Winning championships never gets old, but it does get a little tougher.
"Now it's expected of us and that changes things," Lakewood Ranch head volleyball coach Perri Hankins said with a sigh of relief after her Mustangs defeated Sarasota 3-1 to win the Class 7A-District 10 title Thursday night.
It was the third straight district championship for Hankins and the Mustangs in a match that had its up and downs.
"Our team has been so anxious to get to this match and get into that tournament to
see what we can do," Hankins said. "This one has been the hardest in that we had a lot of kids injured and had to make a lot of changes. It's special because of our four seniors who have been with me. You are starting to be expected to win, so there is a little more on it."
It was the third time Lakewood Ranch (22-5) has beaten Sarasota (19-8) this season but none of the matches has been easy.
Lakewood Ranch struggled to win the first game 25-23 and then seemed to gain momentum when it won the second game 25-15.
In the third game, the Mustangs were behind 22-17 before scoring six straight points and appearing to have the match wrapped up leading 23-22. But Sarasota refused to quit and regained the momentum to win 25-23.
In the fourth game, Sarasota led 19-15 and seemed to be in command. Trailing 20-18, Lakewood Ranch scored five straight points to lead 23-20. The Sailors responded with a point, but the Mustangs closed out the match.
Lakewood Ranch has gotten a big boost out of the return of setter Ali Milbourn, who finished with the night with 47 assists, seven digs and two aces. The senior missed a good part of the season due to an injury and returned about a month ago. "She was moving very well tonight, had a lot of sets and got our hitters a lot of one on ones. We knew we could take advantage of them in the middle, and she did a good job of setting us up there," Hankins said.
Lakewood Ranch got another good match out of its big hitters. Ashlyn Falahee had 15 kills, Nicole Grant had 13 and Coleen Campbell chipped in with 10 and added seven digs. Kelly Ainsworth contributed with 12 digs.
"It never gets easier, but this one is special for me because I am a senior," Milbourn said. "We are expected to win now. The first one felt great because it was the first one for the program, but they all feel great. We lost the momentum for awhile and then got it back because we stopped thinking about our errors."
Lakewood Ranch will be home at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a region quarterfinal match against Seminole, the runner-up from District 9. Clearwater will host Sarasota in another region quarterfinal.