Moments after their match with visiting Utica ended, Lakewood’s players already knew how Licking Valley was doing.
“They won the first two games, but they lost the third,” outside hitter Sadie Davenport said after the fifth-seeded Lancers (17-7) had swept aside the Redskins 25-19, 25-10, 25-21 Saturday in a Division II district second-round match.
It turned out the fourth-seeded Panthers (19-5) also beat Hamilton Township, assuring the rubber match would be played as Valley and Lakewood will meet for a third time at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the district semifinals at Worthington Christian Middle School, after each won on the other’s home court in the Mid-State League-Ohio Division regular season.
It will be uncharted territory for the Lancers.
“We’ve been practicing really hard; this is a new thing for us in the tournament,” said Davenport, who had 10 kills and six digs. “Since I’ve been playing, we’ve never gotten past this second game.”
To do so, the Lancers had to take care of scrappy Utica (15-8) which rallied from 10 points down to within 20-19 in the first set before Lakewood recovered behind kills from its only two seniors, Davenport and Taylor Bollinger.
The Lancers then dominated the second set, with Davenport and sophomores Audrey McCullough and Madison Overman controlling the net and Lakewood going on a 17-1 run.
“We lost our focus a little bit when we were up 10, but we regained it and kept the momentum,” Lakewood coach April Keys said. “We played with intensity. We’ve really been concentrating on our blocking and defense.”
“We knew they (Utica) had talent and that they hustle; we had to buckle down and not give them a chance,” Davenport said.
Utica didn’t quit and battled back behind sophomore Rachel Londot, who had 12 kills and 19 digs and helped the Redskins get out to a 7-4 lead in the third set. But sophomore Haley Houdeshell had a late kill, and freshman Elaina Davenport set up Bollinger for the match-clinching kill.
A young team has come a long way, Sadie Davenport said.
“I’ve gotten to play with my little sister, which is pretty cool, and a lot of the sophomores have stepped up and done really well,” she said. “We’ve worked on our hitting and the other girls have really helped out.”
McCullough finished with four kills and five blocks, sophomore libero Emily Wogan had 17 digs and sophomore Callie Giacomelli added 15 assists and nine digs.
“Even from the end of last year, we’ve matured so much,” McCullough said. “Today our coverage was good, our hitting was good, we just played well all the way around.”
Kelly Overton had 14 digs, Brittney Potes 10 assists and Alex Preston seven assists for Utica, which graduates five seniors.
“I didn’t know that we would win 15 games; we exceeded my expectations,” Utica coach Laurie Londot said. “We played a very tough schedule, finished second in our league and played Centerburg tough twice. We have great kids who work hard and leave it all out on the floor, and at the end of the match, I thought we did. We have a lot of younger kids coming back and others who are ready to move up.”
Keys feels the grind of playing in the rugged MSL-Ohio has made her team ready for tournament play. Now, the Lancers will play what amounts to another league showdown.
“It was amazing beating them the first time; we hadn’t beaten them in softball or volleyball,” McCullough said. “Hopefully, we can do it again.”