LAKELAND — In advancing to its Class 5A region final, Durant played its best when it mattered most. The Cougars earned a pair of nail-biting five-game wins on the road at Ocala Forest and Riverview to get one step away from state.
On Saturday afternoon, Durant didn’t have the opportunity to match the drama of its first two region wins. A quick, aggressive and poised Lakeland team put the Cougars on the defensive from the first point, ending Durant’s season 25-13, 25-23, 25-23.
“It’s hard to think that we were that close, but also exciting knowing that we got this far and made it here,” said senior outside hitter Alison Wade, who led the Cougars with 13 kills. “I think we just got really nervous early on. It took us a while to start playing our game and moving our feet.”
Durant (16-7) fell behind 13-2 in the first game as the Dreadnaughts picked apart the Cougars’ defense with pinpoint serving and fast-paced hitting.
“We were tight early for whatever reason,” coach Jeff Davis said. “They didn’t make many errors. I was surprised we came out tight. I think a little bit had to so with how Lakeland plays.
“We weren’t playing well, but Lakeland had a lot to do with that. We weren’t getting easy points. They put a lot of pressure on us.”
The Cougars played point to point with Lakeland in the final two games. They led Game 2 23-21 before the Dreadnaughts scored the frame’s final four points. Durant then rallied from a 17-11 deficit in Game 3 to tie at 23 before dropping the last two points.
Lakeland outside hitter Rachel Martin had 14 kills, but setter Lauren Anderson dictated the pace of the game with 33 assists, six kills and four solo blocks.
“Every team that makes it to this stage makes it for a reason,” Lakeland coach Crystal Ramsey said. “Durant is a very good team. My girls just weren’t going to take no for an answer.”
And as the Cougars left Lakeland’s gym, the Dreadnaughts (24-4) lapped around the court celebrating their first state tournament berth.
“They just outplayed us,” Davis said.