Mark Schmetzer reports:
Almost as if they couldn’t wait, the Lakota East Thunderhawks were on the floor with a minute left before the fourth game of their Division I regional semifinal match against Mount Notre Dame.
That normally wouldn’t be unusual, except most teams aren’t that anxious to take on the undefeated defending state champions – but then, most teams weren’t Lakota East Thursday night at Lebanon High School.
“We didn’t want a delay,” senior outside hitter-setter Ashley Evans said. “We wanted to keep the momentum, because volleyball is such a game of momentum.”
The approach paid off as the Thunderhawks went on to win the fourth game and complete an historic 25-19, 21-25, 25-22, 25-20 win that sent them to the regional finals for the first time in the 16-year history of the program.
“I’m speechless,” said Evans, who led Lakota East with 26 kills. “I’m going to have to slap myself to make sure I’m awake. We’re coming together as a team. We tried to play them like they were any other team. We were the last team to beat them last year and the first team to beat them this year.”“This is huge,” Thunderhawks’ coach Casie Garland said. “It’s incredible.”
Senior Madeline Garda had 40 digs and classmate Anna Starr finished with 45 assists for Lakota East (24-2), which is scheduled to face Ursuline (20-6) in the regional finals on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Lebanon.
The Lions advanced with a taut 15-25, 25-12, 21-25, 25-22, 15-11 win over Lakota West (20-6) in Thursday’s second match.
The state semifinals are scheduled to be played on Nov. 8 with the finals on Nov. 10, all at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
Lakota East, the No. 3 team in the Enquirer’s Division I coaches poll and fourth-ranked team in the Division I state coaches association poll, had several motivational cards to play, including a season loss to Mount Notre Dame (25-1), the top-ranked team in both the Enquirer and statewide polls, late in the regular season.
“They served and passed a lot better,” Cougars coach Joe Burke said about the difference in the two matches. “We didn’t have our ‘A’ game. We worked and played hard, but when you don’t give your best effort and the other team is on, it’s hard.”
“We weren’t clicking then,” Garland said. “I’d rather lose in the regular season than in the tournament. We’re jelling and clicking at the right time.’
“It came down to who played defense – and Evans was a game-changer.”
Evans and her teammates also made sure to remember that no Lakota East team had gotten past the regional semifinals.
“We found some old jerseys and wore them around school today,” Evans said. “We called it ‘Throwback Thursday.’”
Ursuline, ranked second in the Enquirer and sixth in the state, lost to Lakota East in the third match of the regular season.
The Firebirds (20-6), ranked third third in the Enquirer and ninth in the state, fell short of their second trip in three year to the regional championship match.
“We played them twice earlier in the season and beat them both times, but I knew it’d be close,” Lions coach Jeni Case said. “It looked like they wanted it more in the beginning, but we picked it up.”
Volleyball – Regional semifinals at Lebanon High School
Lakota East (24-2) def. Mount Notre Dame (25-1) 25-19, 21-25, 25-22, 25-20
Ursuline (20-6) def. Lakota West (20-6) 15-25, 25-12, 21-25, 25-22, 15-11.