CHARLOTTE – The Lakewood Vikings’ run to the Class B state volleyball title game last season was a surprise to many, including themselves.
But after falling short in the championship, the Vikings have been on a mission to return. And it’s been apparent all year.
No. 3-ranked Lakewood picked up its third sweep in the playoffs Tuesday night with a three-set victory over conference foe Olivet in the regional semifinals at Charlotte High School.
“We think about it (losing in the championship game) a lot,” senior Charlie Smith said. “(Coach Kellie Rowland) has been saying our energy and emotion, never letting up, really helped us get all the way last year.
“We came in a little tense today, a little tight. We need to loosen up because we play a lot better when we’re loose.”
Thursday night’s regional championship game will be a clash between two of Class B’s top teams, as the Vikings (51-6) take on No. 9-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian. Lakewood lost to the Sailors, who beat Lansing Catholic in three sets Tuesday night, earlier this season.
“That’s the day we went back and had practice (after the tournament) because we played so bad,” Rowland said. “We have a rough road.”
From the jump Tuesday night, the Vikings showed why they are one of the state’s best. Lakewood started the first set with a 15-7 lead, led by two kills from sophomore Lisa Hewitt. The Eagles were able to remain competitive midway through the set, but a kill by Smith, which made the score 17-9, ignited a 9-6 run for the Vikings down the stretch.
The second set was all Lakewood. Hewitt, Smith and senior Karly Morris all had multiple kills in the Vikings’ 25-6 victory in Game 2.
“(Game 2) was more of the mental game,” said Olivet senior Taylor Holmes, whose team lost to the Vikings twice during the regular season and finished second behind them in the GLAC standings. “After the loss in the first game, the second game was more of, while they’re in our heads, this is what they can do. We know how to do it, but we’re not fixing it.”
With their season in jeopardy, the Eagles put forth their best effort in the final set. A kill by senior Hailey Jungel started a 6-2 run for Olivet and gave them a 6-4 advantage. But another kill by Smith once again swung the momentum and Lakewood went on an 11-4 run to regain the lead. The defending regional champs capped the evening by outscoring the Eagles, 10-2, down the stretch.
“We definitely have to keep working hard and not let up at all,” Smith said. “We want to get to the state finals and we want to win it.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.