LAKEWOOD RANCH -- At this time of year, the Lakewood Ranch volleyball team doesn't take any opponent lightly.
It's one reason the Mustangs have won three straight district titles. They are one match away from making it four after disposing of visiting North Port 3-0 on Tuesday night in the Class 7A-District 10 semifinal.
"We are happy to be in the playoffs, and we are serious about every match right now," Lakewood Ranch head coach Perri Hankins said. "We want to go as far as we can go so we prepared for North Port like any other match. The program really has turned around. We have a lot more club players now who play all year round, and that helps a lot."
The Mustangs (20-6) also have senior Nicole Grant, which helps immensely. She was instrumental with 17 kills in sparking Lakewood Ranch to a 25-10, 25-14, 25-10 sweep.
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"She played one of her best all-around games, and I thought we played really sharp," Hankins said. "We've been working on some different offense and running some slides, and those were some of the best slides Nicole has run in her career. She had a great game blocking. Offensively, we've been able to play
her all the way around and she had a lot of nice passes and her defensive plays were good. It's good to see we are getting better."
Grant had six kills in Lakewood Ranch's first game and five in the second. North Port (13-14) played tough and trailed 15-11 in the second game when the Mustangs went on a 9-2 run that was sparked by Layne Thompson.
The third game was a rout with Lakewood Ranch leading 18-3 before North Port put together a little run. Grant also had four blocks. Kahlee York had nine kills, two blocks and six digs. Thompson had seven kills and two blocks.
The Mustangs also got a good game out of setter Courtney Rapp, a senior who played her first three years at Braden River.
"We played really well. We stayed at our maximum. We didn't drop. Sometimes when we play, we go on a roller coaster," Rapp said. "We definitely knew we had to play our best because this was for districts. I was just trying to move the ball around and get everybody ready.
"We beat them in three and four games during the season. Nicole always has a good night. We click really well. Basically, wherever I throw the ball up, she is going to get a kill."
Lakewood Ranch will be at home for the district championship match against Sarasota, a victor over Braden River, at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Mustangs advanced to the region final last year and in 2011. They reached the state final four in 2012.