4A Region 1 volleyball championship: Hawks soar back to state
By MARK NELKE
RATHDRUM — It's one to be the new kids on the block, experiencing success at this level at the first time, without much pressure.
It's another to come back the next year with the expectations of doing the same thing — or even better.
The top-seeded Lakeland High volleyball team matched where it was at this stage last year on Thursday night, beating the second-seeded Sandpoint Bulldogs 25-15, 25-14, 19-25, 25-14 to win the 4A Region 1 championship at Hawk Court.
Next up — improving on last year's fourth-place finish at state.
"Last year our goal was to get to state, and we succeeded, and I think we learned from that, and we got fourth," said Lakeland senior setter Abbey Neff, who had 29 assists in the title match. "And this year our goal was to do better at state."
Lakeland (10-6) advances to state next Friday and Saturday at Kimberly High, where the Hawks will open against the District 5 champion in the tourney's first match Friday at 7 a.m. PST.
Sandpoint finished 5-11.
"I guess there’s more pressure this year, because we have so many of our players returning, so a lot more pressure going into this district game than there was last year," third-year Lakeland head coach Kelsie Badger said. "Just because others thought it was expected, so the girls played with more pressure, and not as fluid."
Add in the cutthroat way the 4A Inland Empire League decides its lone state representative — one title game, win or go home, no way to play your way back into a state berth if you lose the title game.
"That adds more pressure, and with it being on our home court, this truly is our last game here, so our seniors have that senior night feel again," Badger said.
Prior to last season, Lakeland had not been to state since 2005, and had not won a regional/district title since capturing the 3A District 1 crown in 2000. Last year was the Hawks' first league title since winning the Intermountain League in 2002.
"It’s a lot of the same people (as last year), but we all got older so it makes us more confident, and give us more of a fighting mentality," said senior right-side hitter Katy Ryan, the Washington State commit who had 25 kills and seven blocks on Thursday night. "A lot of knew we’d done it before, so we knew we could do it again."
Olivia Cooper added 21 digs for Lakeland. Jozie Russell had nine kills, Addisen Kiefer eight kills, Ellie Carlson four aces.
Lakeland overcame a third-set blip, which saw Sandpoint charge out to a 12-3 lead, before the Hawks regained control in the fourth set.
"It was super exciting," Cooper said. "I feel all of us were nervous with the expectation of just winning. But I think we executed that."
Sandpoint star Gabby Hicks finished with 19 kills, 13 digs and one ace. Kaylee Banks had 28 assists, Kinzie Ward 15 digs, Bella Phillips three blocks.
"I think when the other team makes it very clear that they are to be the team that moves on, at that point you end with respect," Sandpoint coach Karen Alsager said. "I've never seen Lakeland play so well. They earned it tonight."