Lakewood Ranch Ends Winter Haven's Run
Sun. November 11, 2012 at 2:33 a.m. | By Mike Cobb
Winter Haven #27 Jessica Dills spikes past Lakewood Ranch #7 Mariah Robertson during the FHSAA Volleyball Class 6a Regional Finals in Winter Haven, Florida November 10, 2012. (Photo by PIERRE DUCHARME | THE LEDGER )
BY MIKE COBB | LEDGER CORRESPONDENT
WINTER HAVEN | As they have done all season, Winter Haven kept battling back Saturday in the Class 6A regional volleyball finals.
However, the Blue Devils couldn't quite get over the hump and lost to Bradenton Lakewood Ranch 25-18, 25-20, 25-21.
In a season that began with their head coach and assistant coach both being dismissed and a new coach brought in, the Blue Devils turned their year around to finish 20-5.
"They definitely dealt with a lot all year and they overcame more than anyone should have to," said head coach Derrick Bennett.
Saturday, Winter Haven played without senior setter Ali Mann, who was injured during warm-ups prior to Tuesday night's regional semifinal win over Tarpon Springs. The Blue Devils fell behind in each of the three games, then rallied to pull even or close to it each game, only to see the Mustangs pull away at the end.
"We just did not play anything like our normal selves," Bennett said.
Saturday, Madison Speyerer stepped up as the main setter and finished with 23 assists. Katora Roberts led Winter Haven with eight kills and one block, Megan Piatnik added six kills and eight digs, and Marley Messner had 10 serving points and 22 digs.
The Blue Devils, however, couldn't overcome a higher-than-normal amount of mistakes that included nine service errors.
"We had trouble getting started. They just wanted it more," Speyerer said. "I'm proud of our girls with everything they went through. We had ups and downs but we stayed together."
That included Saturday when they fell behind.
"I was nervous in the beginning because I wanted to play well so bad," said Roberts. "When I noticed I wasn't on my game, I got down a little bit, but I tried to put all the negative things behind me and tried to push through."
In the first game, Lakewood Ranch took a 19-11 lead. Winter Haven cut it to 20-16 before the Mustangs scored five of the game's final seven points.
"It was an even match," Lakewood Ranch coach Perri Hankins said. "I think both teams were a little nervous, but we've been working on our mental game lately. We jumped ahead of them and it put a little bit of pressure on them."
In the second game, Winter Haven trailed 17-13 but rallied with four consecutive points to tie it. Lakewood Ranch answered with a 7-2 run to make it 24-19 before putting the game away.
And in game three, the Blue Devils came back from an 18-10 deficit to pull within one, 20-19, before the Mustangs scored five of the game's final seven points.
"It was great to see them get up and fight back like that," Hankins said of Winter Haven. "Everyone's going to fight at this point. They challenged us the whole match."
Mariah Robertson and Ashlyn Falahee led Lakewood Ranch with eight kills each, and Ali Milbourn had 22 assists. The Mustangs, 23-5, will make their first appearance in the FHSAA State Finals against St. Augustine next Tuesday in Kissimmee.