It seemed only fitting that the point that secured Lakewood’s first state championship came on a kill from senior Emily Kutch after a set from senior Brooke Wieland.
Kutch finished with 18 kills and Wieland with 31 assists as No. 1-ranked Lakewood defeated No. 2 North Branch 25-20, 25-18, 25-17 to earn a Class B title on Saturday in front of lots of Viking fans at Kellogg Arena.
“You would think the whole town was here,” Lakewood 18th-year coach Kellie Rowland said. “They had a send-off for us from school through town (Lake Odessa), and the girls felt like ‘we can’t let this community down’.”
Kutch kills on Wieland assists were responsible for four of the Vikings’ first five points.
“Brooke felt it in warm-ups and the hitters said ‘just keep setting, because it’s right where we need it’,” Rowland said.
There were 10 tie scores and five lead changes in the first set, but Lakewood erased a 19-17 deficit by scoring six straight points and eight of the last nine to win it by five.
“This year, we have been down even as much as eight points,” Rowland said. “But we know if we do what we need to do and people step up, we’ll come back.”
The Vikings led just 3-2 in the second game when they reeled off five straight points with Wieland serving. The stretch included two aces that the Broncos thought would be out of bounds but hit the court just inside the line.
“Especially when we’re in a close situation like that, it gives the team confidence and picks us up a lot,” Wieland said.
“She’s been serving tough all postseason,” Rowland said. “Everybody serving tough really helped us because they couldn’t get set up very easily. And that helped our middle blockers get situated to get their hands on the ball.”
The third game was tied at 15 when Olivia Davis got back-to-back kills to put the Vikings ahead for good. The senior also had seven of 14 kills in the second set.
“I was so fired up, and wanted to win so bad,” said Davis, a fourth-year varsity player along with Kutch and Wieland. “(Coach Rowland) showed us pictures of two years ago, and said you don’t want to be like that to try to amp us for this before the semifinal match.”
The Vikings were expected to go further but lost 3-2 to Plainwell in a 2010 regional final. Senior Beth Tingley, who along Wieland had 11 digs on Saturday, was also on that team.
“She had an awesome game,” Rowland said of Tingley.
“We have worked so hard the past six years,” Wieland said. “I had an All-American setter, Ashley Frost, come in and help me, and she’s done so much for me.”
Frost graduated from Lakewood in 2002 and played volleyball for NAIA Madonna.
Lakewood finished the season 52-4, and Rowland felt the Vikings’ tough schedule and tough tournament road helped them in the state final.
“Having that Berrien Springs girl (in a quarterfinal), Holland Christian girl (in a regional semifinal), and the Middleville girl that’s 6-4 (in a district final) pounding us made us feel good coming into this match that (North Branch) didn’t have one of them,” she said. “We have more size, and more power with Kutch and Davis. And we play a different defense so we knew they would go to the sidelines and fade back. We adjusted, and made that happen.”
But Rowland was concerned down to the final point.
“This game is such an intense game that it’s not over until it’s over,” she said. “I didn’t want to go into a fourth game. But they really executed and did what they needed to do to beat them.”