LAKEWOOD RANCH -- As far as postseason tune-ups go, Lakewood Ranch's and Manatee's volleyball teams could have done far worse than scheduling each other.
The Mustangs beat the Hurricanes 3-1 on Wednesday in a battle between two teams set to take No. 1 seeds into their district tournaments next week. It marked the final match of the regular season for Lakewood Ranch, which finishes 20-5 and hosts either North Port or Palmetto on Tuesday in a Class 7A-District 10 semifinal.
It also came a night after the Mustangs lost to nationally ranked Venice.
"We needed to play this kind of competition," said Lakewood Ranch coach Perri Hankins, whose team dropped the first game before winning the next three. "We definitely needed to play two good teams before the playoffs, so we were happy to get this schedule, even though it was back to back."
Lakewood Ranch sustained a furious rally from
Manatee (17-5) in Game 4, when the Hurricanes strung together five straight points to knot the score at 23, to win the rematch of this year's county tournament final.
"We really wanted to win," Hankins said. "And if we would have dropped the first game or the second game, I think we would have battled. Even if it would have went to five, our team was ready to battle. And I think it was important to have a win going into the playoffs."
Nicole Grant had 13 kills, Layne Thompson had 12, and Kahlee York added 10, while Courtney Rapp had 35 assists for Lakewood Ranch.
Manatee was without middle blocker Jacqui Armer, who is recovering from mononucleosis. Coach Tony Cothron said Armer is questionable for next week's Class 8A-District 8 tournament, which gets underway Tuesday when the Canes host fourth-seeded St. Petersburg in a semifinal.
"We're just trying to play some people in there just to get through and compete a little bit," Cothron said. "The entire team is getting a lot of experience, a lot of court time. And that's a good thing. It's always good when you're able to get the girls some competition and good competition."
Haley Coulter had 24 kills, and JoJo Coulter added 16 for the Hurricanes. Gabby Coulter had 33 assists and Jesse Durst paced the defense with 21 digs.