FOWLERVILLE – Lakewood volleyball coach Kellie Rowland has been in the thick of postseason play for the past couple of years. But this season’s different.
In 2012, when the Vikings won their first state title in program history, and in 2014, when her program finished as the Class B runner-up, the 21-year coach singled out individuals as the reason Lakewood has been able to cement itself as a state mainstay.
Things have changed this time around.
“This team is an all-around team. We need each and every player to play,” she said. “In years past, when we’ve gone deep, we’ve had a few superstars that just were horses and put the ball away.”
This year’s group, which has been the top-ranked team in Class B for nearly two months, is one of Rowland’s more balanced during her tenure, and it’s one of the reasons the Vikings are in prime position to get back to the sport’s final weekend.
Lakewood, which hasn’t dropped a single set during the playoffs, advanced to the regional championship game for the third straight year after sweeping conference foe Olivet — 25-7, 25-11, 25-15 — in Tuesday’s regional semis at Fowlerville High School.
“In past years, it’s always been an expectation for us to do well,” said senior setter Gabie Shellenbarger, who Rowland sees as the nucleus of this year’s squad. “This year, I feel we really have the talent to do it.”
The Vikings took no time putting that talent on display Thursday night, as they opened the first set with a 13-3 spurt, which included three kills from senior Breanna Wickerink, who finished the evening with 10. And after the Eagles were able to briefly stop Lakewood’s run, the state’s top-ranked team closed Game 1 with an 11-3 run.
The Vikings were able to rollover that momentum into Game 2 and jumped out to a 14-3 lead. They went on to win the set 25-11.
“When we played Olivet (earlier this year), at the league tournament, we kind of let down after we beat them in the first set,” said Shellenbarger, who had a match-high 30 assists. “That’s not what we wanted to do, so we came (into Game 2) very fiery.”
The third set started out as much of the same, as Lakewood got out to an early 15-6 lead. But Olivet, with its season hanging in the balance, battled tough down the stretch. The Vikings held a 22-8 lead after a kill from Erica Potter, but the Eagles rattled off a 7-2 run, which was fueled by a kill from senior Taylor Sinclair.
Lakewood was able to close it out after a kill from Wickerink.
“We definitely knew they were going to come out like that,” Olivet senior Noelle Rohde said. “We’ve worked hard in practice these past couple of weeks because we know what they’re going to do.
“We were so pumped up, and I don’t think our minds were right for that first game. … I think throughout the next two games we picked it up and got into the game a little bit more.”
The Vikings’ Alivia Benedict had a match-high 12 kills. The Eagles’ Bailey Hoffman had a team-high six kills and Karli Corey added 10 assists.
Lakewood will face the Haslett Vikings, who upset No. 8-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian in a five-set thriller, Thursday for the regional championship.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.