EAST MANATEE -- In the four years since taking over Lakewood Ranch's volleyball program, Perri Hankins has turned the Mustangs into perennial contenders.
They've won district titles. They've made deep runs through the playoffs. They even reached the state semifinals in 2012 for the first time in program history.
What Hankins had never seen, however, was her girls win a county championship.
That all changed Saturday afternoon, when Lakewood Ranch swept Manatee, the tournament's top seed and two-time defending champion, in the finals at Braden River. The Mustangs won each match 25-22 before posing with the tall trophy in front of their picture-taking parents to toast their first county championship since 2007.
"I really wanted to win this tournament, and I thought it would be against Manatee," said Hankins, whose Mustangs swept their three pool-play matches before beating Saint Stephen's in the semifinals. "It was even more exciting to beat Manatee after they beat us earlier this year and we lost to them last year. ... It's important to get that one win against them, because your kids know that you can."
The Hurricanes swept Lakewood Ranch earlier this season in Bradenton. But these aren't the same Mustangs, who have won 15 of their last 18 matches to improve to 16-5.
Hankins also did some tinkering with the lineup, switching Kahlee York from the outside to the middle while moving Ande McDonald, the team's libero, to different spots on the court.
But Lakewood Ranch's biggest performance came from one of its most reliable players, senior Nicole Grant, who had 11 kills in the championship match to earn the tournament's most valuable player award.
Layne Thompson had seven kills for the Mustangs and Courtney Rapp, who joined Grant on the all-tournament team, had 23 assists.
"We know (Manatee) is a really strong team," Rapp said. "Beating them was not only fun for (Saturday), but it's a marking point in our future games, too. We got a lot of confidence from winning that.
"We're definitely clicking a lot more now."
Rapp, played at Braden River before transferring to Lakewood Ranch, dished out as much praise for her teammates as she did assists.
"I always have three options all the time," Rapp said, "and I know whoever I give it to, they're going to kill it."
Braden River finished third, followed by Saint Stephen's. Bradenton Christian beat Southeast to finish fifth, while Bayshore took seventh and Palmetto was eighth.