ORLANDO — The aspirations of the Lake Mary girls volleyball team were plentiful, but on Tuesday night, the team saw one of the best seasons in program history come to an end.
After a 3-0 sweep of Timber Creek in the first round of the playoffs last Tuesday Lake Mary traveled to Boone to take on a Braves team that had never even reached the regional semifinals before this season.
As the semifinal got underway, the Rams fell behind in a match for the first time in almost a month. Lake Mary came back to win the next two sets and appeared to be in control. But they lost the fourth set, forcing a fifth set where the first to 15 (by two, of course) would move on.
That berth in the regional final was just five points away when Lake Mary went up 10-3 in the fifth set. But Boone ran off 10 of the next 12 points to take a 13-12 lead and despite ties at 13 and 14, Lake Mary never did reach that magical 15th fifth set point, falling 16-14.
“It’s heartbreaking because you know how far you can go and you know everyone to their full potential,” senior libero Casey Albano said after her last match as a Ram. “But when it ends in defeat, that’s what you remember.”
After the match came to an end, Lake Mary coach Trav Green gathered a tearful group of girls together and told them not to look back at what could have been and what happened on Tuesday. But instead, think about what they did do. How they were the first volleyball district champions at Lake Mary in 13 years and how well they played when they were at their best.
“You have to focus on the good things of the game,” Albano said. “ Just how well we played together. We all had such great chemistry on the floor and we all are such fiery players when we’re playing together. I’m definitely going to miss that the most.”
Lake Mary will certainly miss Albano, who officially signed her letter of intent to play volleyball at the University of South Florida in college non Wednesday. Green said Rams teams past didn’t keep many libero stats, but Albano goes down as the program’s record holder in every category and leaves an indelible mark on the program.
“Casey is the heart and soul of our team. She’s done a fantastic job,” Green said. “She’s one of the best kids to have in practice. She expects a lot out of the rest of the team. You have a kid in there that’s working her but off. She really kind of leads by example and the other kids follow. That’s something that’s going to be really hard for us to replace.”
Albano finished the season with 705 digs after registering 490 last season.
The team’s other senior captain, Morgan Jones, finished this season with a career-high 305 kills after having 245 last year. Tuesday represented the end of Jones’ volleyball career as she will move full steam ahead into her senior basketball season and then on to college hoops. But Green said he won’t soon forget what Jones brought to the program either.
“Morgan is a once in a lifetime type of talent,” Green said. “There aren’t going to be too many kids that come through this program with her type of maturity, her type of athleticism. She just did a great job balancing all the things going on in her life.”
Lake Mary entered the match on a roll after a sweep of Timber Creek in the first round.
But the Rams would soon learn that the Boone Braves weren’t going to let them have it so easy.
Much like the Timber Creek match, Lake Mary got out to a 5-1 lead in the first set, but rather than letting it extend all the way to 7-1, as the Wolves did, Boone stayed in it. After the teams traded service errors to make it 6-2, Boone rallied for five of the next six points to draw even.
Over the course of the first set, the teams tied a whopping 10 times. Lake Mary broke Boone’s serve to grab the lead each of the first five times, but Boone pulled ahead for the first time since the match’s first point, 16-15, on a Lake Mary attack error. Lake Mary took the lead right back with two consecutive points and was ahead by two three times until Boone tied it again at 22.
The Braves took a 24-22 lead and served for match point, but Lake Mary pulled within one on a kill by Jones. A double on Boone tied the match at 24 and on Boone’s second match point, Lake Mary freshman Cydney Bowman got a kill to knot the match at 25. But after a long serve over the back line by Albano, Boone closed the set with a kill by senior hitter Kristin Faust.
The second set started much as the first went, tight with tie after tie. Over the first 14 points, the score was tied four times. Lake Mary tallied seven of the match’s next nine points to take a five-point lead, but Boone answered out of a timeout with a 5-0 run to tie the match at 14.
After their own timeout, Lake Mary scored four straight points thanks to inspired play by middle hitter Ariana Von Lersner, who registered three kills and a block as Lake Mary jumped out 20-16, forcing another Boone timeout. But Boone couldn’t stem the momentum as the Rams gained steam down the stretch and cruised to a 25-18 second set win.
In the third, Lake Mary never trailed and used a very similar strategy to get a two sets to one advantage. After the Rams took a 5-2 lead, on the back of a blistering hot Jones, Boone tied the match six different times. But Lake Mary never relinquished the lead. After the Braves tied the score at 13, the Rams scored five of the next six points, including two more kills and an ace by Jones to take an 18-14 lead.
Boone once again tried to stop the momentum with a timeout, but couldn’t slow Lake Mary’s roll. Each time Boone would post a point, Lake Mary would answer with two until the Rams built up a 24-17 lead. Boone got one more shot in, but Von Lersner ended the set with a block to put the Rams up two to one heading to the fourth.
“We were clicking a little bit better offensively [at that point],” Green said. “In the first set, Ariana was struggling a little bit to get her middle in rhythm. That changed it a little bit. But we also picked it up on the defensive end. We controlled the momentum a little bit better.”
In the fourth set Lake Mary looked to close out the win, but with her season on the line, Boone’s Kristin Faust, an outside hitter who is bound for Clemson in the fall, caught fire.
Faust tallied nine kills in the fourth set alone and Boone led the set from wire-to-wire.
“She was hot and cold all night,” Green said. “Sets two and three we forced her into some errors, but that’s just a senior going back there and battling. She didn’t want her season to end and she fought hard and she played well.”
Lake Mary entered the fifth set without momentum, but quickly built it on their own accord.
After Boone took a 1-0 lead, Lake Mary scored the next four leading to a Boone timeout. Faust got a kill out of the break, but followed with a service error to turn over serve and make it 5-2. An attack error by Boone made it 6-2 and after a kill by Bowman and an ace by Nikki Unger, the Rams had an 8-2 lead. Boone’s coach Mike Ladewski called his final timeout.
Out of the timeout, Lake Mary’s Lauren Overby was whistled for a double on a set to make it 8-3, but Boone gave serve right back with a hit out of bounds to make it 9-3. A kill by Morgan Jones made it 10-3 and a victory was just a ‘race to five’ away. Boone cut into the lead with three straight points, but an attack error on Faust made it 11-6. Yet the Braves overcame and back-to-back kills by Caroline Jordan and Faust made it 11-8, forcing a Rams timeout.
Out of the timeout, Faust got another kill and a Jordan ace made it 11-10. Maura O’Donnell kept the Lake Mary ahead with a kill, but it was only temporary as Boone scored the next three to take a 13-12 lead. Lake Mary would tie it at 13, and again at 14 on kills by Von Lersner, but a service error turned the ball over to Boone with a 15-14 lead and Megan Chavalier finished Lake Mary’s season with a kill.
Albano felt she and her teammates got too comfortable with a 10-3 lead.
“You can’t get complacent with where you are and I think that we did,” she said. “With us being comfortable and not being able to finish strong, they got the boost, came back up and just took us over.”
Green concurred with that statement.
“It’s just the nature of the beast. We’re playing in a single elimination game and they’re going to fight,” Green said. “The score of the game can’t reflect how we play. We got stuck in a couple rotations where they started scoring points.
“We fought hard and that’s just what you want to see from your team. We put forth the effort, at the end of the day it just wasn’t enough.”
BEST IS YET TO COME
While the season’s heartbreaking finish is still fresh, thoughts can now drift to what the future could hold for Lake Mary.
Next season, Lake Mary will have nine players return from this year’s squad, including five who had extended experience this season. While replacing the leadership, experience and talent of Jones and Albano is no small task, Green believes the Rams are well equipped for continued success.
“It’s kind of sad to finish here, but I told the team, we knew it was going to come to an end at some point,” Green said. “The run we had took the next step [for this program]. Now moving forward, next year, there are a lot higher expectations.”
The Lake Mary program is loaded with talent at the sub-varsity levels as well. The freshman team went 24-0 this season and the junior varsity finished with only three losses. And of course the varsity was the program’s best in over a decade.
“We’re going to be in a great place for next year and the future years,” Albano said. “We have a great sophomore setter. She’s running the team and she’s just learning, so imagine what she’s going to be doing in two years. Everyone is so strong. With practice and everything is going to be played to their full potential and I’m so proud of that.”
Green believes the playoff experience earned, even in defeat will teach his returning players a lot about who they are and what they can become.
“The future is very bright for our program,” Green said. “Constantly taking that next step as far as the program is concerned is really important, because now we know we can do it. We know what it takes. We know how close it is in these type of situations. The learning experiences that we’ve had this year are going to be shared by a lot of kids that we have on the team. We can only draw off of that.”