LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Prior to watching their volleyball team go up against its biggest rival, members of Lakewood Ranch's student section sang along to the national anthem.
They were just as noisy the rest of the night, stomping and cheering and chanting along while the Mustangs swept Braden River 3-0 in a Class 7A-District 10 meeting between the East Manatee foes.
The Mustangs are 2-0 in the district. The top seeds in each district host tournament matches, meaning Lakewood Ranch (3-2 overall) could be playing much bigger matches in front of its large and loud fan base if it keeps winning.
"They bring a lot of energy for our games, for sure," said senior Nicole Grant, who had 15 kills. "It helps a lot. ... We have really great fans; they're really committed. It gets us really pumped up for home games because we know we have someone to play for."
Grant and her teammates gave their fans plenty to crow about, holding off a late Pirates rally to win Game 1 25-17 before rolling in Games 2 (25-7) and 3 (25-11).
Courtney Rapp, who was at Braden River last season, helped make the offense go by dishing out 39 assists. She was huge from the service line, too, plunking in seven aces, and was on the line when the Pirates mounted a 10-point rally to take an 18-4 lead in the middle game. Layne Thompson, Ranch's biggest hitter on the outside while Grant patrolled the middle, had two kills during the run.
"We're a little bit more in sync. We really weren't playing well together early," said Mustangs coach Perri Hankins, whose team competes in this weekend's Winter Park & Lake Highland Showcase. "Obviously, Courtney and Nicole were in sync, and they've been in sync for a while. And I think our outside hitters just did a great job ... when Nicole wasn't hitting the ball."
Kahlee York had nine kills and two blocks, and Ande McDonald totaled nine digs for Lakewood Ranch.
The Pirates (2-4, 0-1) had a four-point rally to close to within 22-15 in Game 1, but didn't mount another serious threat the rest of the night.
"We were completely out of our element. We weren't doing what we needed to be doing on the court," Pirates coach Matt McElhiney said. "Poor decisions with the ball, and we were out of position a lot on the court, and that created a lot of problems for us.
"Lakewood Ranch was on the offensive, and we were never able to get off our heels the whole match. They played a really good game."