Dreams of a volleyball state championship came crashing down for the Leopards Thursday night, as Pender knocked Lakewood out of the state 1A tournament in the third round, winning in three consecutive sets, 25-11, 25-22, and 25-21.
It was a tough way to end a very promising season, but the Lakewood girls battled to the very end.
Pender jumped out ahead early and seemed able to know when to attack and when to just tap the ball over the net. In the first game, the Patriots took a quick 10-2 lead and the Leopards were never able to recovery. It didn’t help that changed call against Lakewood went against them just as the momentum seemed to shift in the Leopard’s favor.
In the second game, the Leopards finally took the lead at 3-4, but didn’t hold it for long. The Patriots tied it up at 7-all, then 11-all, then 14-all, but soon Pender jumped ahead to 16-14. Lakewood wasn’t able to take the lead back.
The Patriots soared to a 10-2 lead in the third game, but the Leopards battled back, closing the gap to just 3 points before the red-white-and blue got the winning point.
“I wish we had played all three sets with the intensity that we played in the middle part and end of the third set,” Lakewood head coach Sheila Davidson said after the game. “Our girls had game point five or six times and we kept winning the point. We had a more composed hunger for the win then, whereas earlier it was more of a chaotic, nervous hunger.”
Davidson said that, in the end, the Patriots exploited Lakewood’s weaknesses.
“Our game plan was to come in and control their serving game and we did that,” she said. “They aced us eight times in three games. Our offense was inaccurate. We were just all over the place. Our hitters hit in the same spot and didn’t have the opportunity to hit in the opposite direction. We just didn’t have the opportunity to fire away at the ball.”
The Patriots are the only conference team this season to beat Lakewood, and they did it three of the four times these two teams met. The Leopards and Patriots are regular season co-champs. Lakewood lost to them in the Tri-County tournament final, as well.
Individual stats for the Lakewood players were not available by press time.