High School Sports

Prep volleyball | Lakewood Ranch survives Sarasota, rolls to third straight region final

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- If beating a good team three times is difficult, what's it like trying to do it a fourth time?

The Lakewood Ranch volleyball team learned it's far from easy, but the host Mustangs managed to survive Sarasota 3-1 in the Class 7A-Region 3 semifinal match on Tuesday night.

Lakewood Ranch (23-6) had beaten Sarasota three times this season, all in three-set matches, and dominated play when the ousted the Sailors (20-9) in the district final.

This time it was different. After losing the first set 25-14, Sarasota won the second set 26-24, and the Sailers were looking confident with a lot of energy.

"We couldn't play our best volleyball. It's tough to play in this situation where you are playing a team again for the fourth time," Lakewood Ranch head coach Perri Hankins said. "We didn't have the spark that we normally would have if we were playing somebody different. But I am so proud of our kids to be able to pull it out. We were playing good enough, but we weren't playing our best."

Behind the hard hitting of Nicole Grant and Kahlee York, Lakewood Ranch took the third set 25-14 and appeared to have gained the momentum back.

But Sarasota was determined to go out fighting. The Sailors led 19-16 in the fourth set and had Lakewood Ranch on the ropes, but the Mustangs went on a 9-1 run to close out the match.

Grant had one of her best matches of the year with 23 kills, six blocks and 14 digs. York had 11 kills, six digs, a block and an ace.

"We knew Sarasota was going to come out really strong and that they wanted to beat us really bad," Grant said. "After we lost the second set, I wasn't worried but we were nervous. We just all pumped each other up and got the momentum back and played our game. It's definitely hard to beat any team four times. This is the best they played against us."

The Mustangs also got a strong game from Courtney Rapp, who had a team-high 39 assists with two kills and two digs. Kelley Ainsworth had four aces and nine digs.

"They came out with some fire, but I wasn't worried. I knew our team could do it," York said. "In the second set, we made some unforced errors. But in the third set, we were able to pick it up and did well. It's fun to play a tight match, and it's a lot sweeter when

you win."

The Mustangs will be home Saturday to face Fort Myers at 2 p.m. in the region final. The Green Wave defeated District 11 champion Naples Gulf Coast 3-1 in their region semifinal match Tuesday night in Naples.

This is the Mustangs' third straight trip to the region final. They lost to Naples Gulf Coast last year and in 2012 went to the Class 6A state final four.

"As a coach, I know how good this team is, though we might not always show it," Hankins said. "I have faith in this team that every time we step on the court we are going to do everything we can to win. I wasn't worried. You can't be. It takes your mind off the game. I can this is a different team, and it's not really a factor what happened last year."