LAKEWOOD RANCH -- How valuable is Nicole Grant?
Consider this: When she entered Lakewood Ranch as a freshman four years ago, the volleyball program had never won a district title.
Now a senior, Grant celebrated her fourth district championship with an easy 3-0 sweep over visiting Sarasota on Thursday night in the Class 7A-District 10 final.
"It's really exciting to win four. It shows how much this program has improved and how hard we worked," Grant said. "This year we click a lot more and get along on and off the court. The goal is to finish what we started our sophomore and get back to state."
Perri Hankins, in her fifth year as the Mustangs head coach, knows better than anyone what Grant has meant to her program. She is the only senior who has been on the varsity all four years.
"She has been a true asset to the program, something obviously that will go down in history now that she has four district championships," Hankins said. "She is one of the players who has been playing year round, and a lot of the other players got on board with that.
"Nicole just kept getting better as a player, and we starting beating teams and getting more confidence. She is someone who had dreams of playing in college and has worked hard at that."
Lakewood Ranch (21-7), which had beaten Sarasota twice during the regular season in three-game sweeps, had little trouble again winning 25-17, 25-16 and 25-13.
Grant finished the match with a team-high 12 kills to go along with two blocks and eight digs. She had four kills in Lakewood Ranch's first four points of the first game. Kahlee York finished up with three kills in the final four points. The Mustangs trailed 10-7 when Kelley Ainsworth took over serve and registered four aces to spark a 9-1 run.
"It was definitely a goal (winning four district titles) and now that it has come true it's so surreal," said Grant, who has signed to play sand volleyball at Florida Atlantic. "This means a lot. It shows that we worked really hard."
Lakewood Ranch got stronger as the match went on and used an array of big hitters to make it extremely hard for Sarasota (19-7) to find any rhythm. Layne Thompson had seven kills in the second game for the Mustangs and finished second on the team with 11 kills.
The Mustangs led 15-12 in the third game before going on a 10-1 run that was sparked by three kills from sophomore Shelby Dollwet, who came off the bench.
York had seven skills and nine digs for Lakewood Ranch and senior setter Courtney Rapp was credited with 35 assists.
"Everyone came focused and we all bought into it tonight," said Grant who got her last kill on the final pint of the match. "I love them all (the district titles) and don't have a favorite. They are all special."
Lakewood Ranch will be home at 7 p.m. Wednesday for the 7A-Region 3 quarterfinal match against Tarpon Springs East Lake.