By John Raffel
Lakewood came to Battle Creek for the Class B volleyball state finals, hoping to take their second state title in the last three seasons. But the Vikings fell short against a North Branch team that had lost to Lakewood in the 2012 state final.
This time, it was North Branch, 25-19, 25-15, 25-23. “We’re so excited to be this far,” said Lakewood coach Kellie Rowland, who has a 17-year record of 872-135. “With the age of the team, like I told them, we could have let regionals slip through our hands. We could have let quarterfinals slip and semifinals slip and they didn’t. They fought hard.”
A solid season ended for Lakewood with a record of 51-9.
“Our size played a little factor,” Rowland said. “We didn’t want to go up against Wilson. They played hard; a few points here and there could have made a difference in that third set.
“Wilson folded two years ago. She didn’t fold today. We had more size and more experience than they did two years ago. They had it on us today.”
Laura Wilson gave the Vikings fits all match long with 22 kills. Gracie Shellenbarger and Vanessa Reynhout, with seven kills each, led the Lakewood attack. Gabie Shellenbarger had 26 assists.
In its lineup at the state finals, Lakewood had seven freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors, and three seniors. Alivia Benedict, a freshman middle blocker, sustained a knee injury in the semifinal and didn’t play in the final.
“I told the young ones, look at it, feel it, and know how it feels so you want to get back and win it all,” Rowland said, adding that after the second game, she told her players, “There’s nothing to lose here. Go out and play our game, and let everything come up. Do what you need to do and score.
“If someone would have asked me this summer if we’d be here, I’d say no. They kept improving. We sometimes had two freshmen and two sophomores at one time. It’s tough. We didn’t get the ball to our setter as easily as we should have. You’re out of system and that kills you.”
Rowland said she constantly looks for opponents who increase the speed of the game.
“It feels, great, no doubt about it,” Rowland said of being in the state finals. “It feels better to win it.”
“I wanted another state title before I leave,” Reynhout, a senior, said.
That didn’t come to fruition. But the Vikings still pushed it to the limit during the title game.