BATTLE CREEK – Propped up on the first row of the Lakewood student section was a fan-made sign that read, “Don’t Let Up.”
It was a harmless message, one that was meant to encourage the No. 1-ranked Lakewood volleyball team as it battled in the Class B state semifinals for the second time in three years.
And as the Vikings held a 2-0 lead over No. 5-ranked Cadillac at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, the kind-hearted memo plastered across the sign morphed into foreshadowing, and Lakewood saw its state title hopes dwindle as Cadillac quickly showed the state’s top-ranked team what can happen when one lets its foot off the gas.
Lakewood got a wake-up call shortly after its 2-0 lead Thursday night, but it was able to put it’s mid-match struggles in the past and look toward the future. The Lakewood Vikings pulled out a four-set victory over the Vikings of Cadillac – 25-22, 25-16, 14-25, 25-21 – in the state semifinals.
“We were so comfortable with our lead. We started out very strong and then we got real comfortable with the spot that we were at,” said Lakewood senior Gabie Shellenbarger, who had a match-high 41 assists. “Today, all that was on my mind was winning and getting back to the place that we all wanted to be at.”
That place is Saturday’s state championship, and it’s where the Lakewood Vikings will face North Branch for a chance at their first state title since 2012. The two programs have some history, as Lakewood defeated the Broncos for the championship four seasons ago. And it was North Branch that snatched the title from the Vikings in 2014 – the program’s last trip to the state finals.
“We haven’t brought it up,” Lakewood coach Kellie Rowland said of her team’s last visit to the championship match, “but we will tomorrow.”
The Vikings’ chances of seeing tomorrow momentarily looked slim after their 2-0 lead. Cadillac dominated Lakewood in the third set, 25-14, and at one point held an 18-5 lead. Junior hitter Lisa Hewitt was surprised by the sudden change in momentum.
“We worked so hard in practice, and to let up in the third set like we did, it was such a letdown,” Hewitt added. “We can’t do that. We’re a team that really needs our emotions up. The third set we didn’t really have a whole lot of anything.”
The fourth set started out the same way. Cadillac jumped out to a 7-2 lead before Lakewood was able to string together consecutive points. Lakewood trailed the entire set until a block from Hewitt and an ace from Breanna Wickerink, who had a team-high 20 kills, gave the Vikings of Lakewood a 17-16 lead – which was their first of the set.
The jubilant emotions started to resurface for Lakewood and multiple points from Wickerink allowed the Lansing-area team to pull away and close the match.
“We need to put our heads together (for Saturday) because North Branch is a good team,” Wickerink said.
Lakewood’s Kate Senneker had a match-high 26 digs.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.