Kellie Rowland guided the Lakewood team to the Class B state championship match in 1995.
What she learned from that experience and the 11 seasons over the past 17 years she has coached the Vikings since then helped prepare her for a return trip this fall.
This time, the Lansing State Journal coach of the year helped No. 1-ranked Lakewood top No. 2 North Branch and earn its first state title in volleyball.
“I was a smarter coach,” she said. “In ’95, I didn’t know how to prepare them for the media and things like that.
“This year, the CAAC Cup (final at DeWitt) really helped prepare the girls with media because the MHSAA had cameras and timeouts. I told them this is what you have to get used to, and we didn’t have that deer in the headlights look with any of them there or in Battle Creek.”
A key to reaching the semifinals and finals in Battle Creek was the work the team put in last summer with plyometrics, agility and weight training.
“We knew we would be good, but when we went to the University of Dayton team camp, we realized all of the things we had to work on,” Rowland said. “The staff there helped us a great deal.”
The team’s early tournaments were spent getting used to the additions of freshman Charlie Smith and senior Taylor Shook into the regular lineup.
“Charlie, Taylor, (freshman) Karly (Morris), and (sophomore) Vanessa (Reynhout) were nice surprises with how much they developed through the year,” Rowland said.
The newcomers learned to coordinate with four-year varsity players and eventual all-state hitters Emily Kutch and Olivia Davis and setter Brooke Wieland as well as third-year varsity senior and libero Beth Tingley.
Then the Vikings defeated Class A No. 1 Mattawan to win the Grandville Invitational on Sept. 22.
“We were ranked No. 1 in the state after beating Mattawan,” Rowland said. “That gave the team the confidence to know that this could be the year they could win a state title.”
The road wasn’t easy. Lakewood had to beat No. 6 Wayland in districts and No. 7 Holland Christian and No. 3 Ada Forest Hills Eastern in regionals, former No. 7 Berrien Springs in a quarterfinal and former No. 10 Dearborn Divine Child the semis.
“Our defense became relentless at the end,” Rowland said. “Taylor and Beth didn’t let many balls get by them, and that frustrates hitters to the point where they try to do things they’re not comfortable doing.
“And Olivia and Emily at the end could have put the ball anywhere they wanted to because they became so confident.”
Rowland also credited her assistant coaches, Jeff Duits and Clair Rowland.
“It helps to have a high school counselor on the coaching staff,” she said. “Clair keeps certain girls focused and calm.”