EAST LAKE — The East Lake gymnasium shook from the roar of the ovation for the final regular-season home match for Lauran Eschenroeder and Baylie Barber, the lone two in a senior class that was small but special enough to help define a storied program.
It turned out to be three-game embrace for Eschenroeder, the Eagles’ 6-foot-1 middle hitter. On the last chance for the seniors to walk away winners, it was Eschenroeder who came up the biggest, recording a team-high 14 kills to lead East Lake to a 25-15, 28-26, 25-16 victory over Lakewood.
“Lauran has a big night every night,” Eagles coach Terry Small said. “She always plays at a high level. And because we have the middles that we have, we can neutralize great players until they rotate out of the front row.”
That was the strategy that helped East Lake (20-2) keep the Spartans’ best player, Berkley Whaley, at bay most of the night.
Whaley, the St. Petersburg Times’ 2009 player of the year, was honored before the match for committing to Florida.
But Whaley couldn’t generate much against the sharp passing and the solid front wall of defenders the Eagles put in front of her.
In the first game, East Lake turned a slim 5-4 lead into a comfortable 14-7 advantage thanks to two key kills by Eschenroeder and a service ace by Jackie Wegner.
The second game was closer as the Spartans (13-4) erased a 15-11 deficit to take a 24-23 lead. But the Eagles held off match point twice and closed out the game with kills by Brittnay Estes and Eschenroeder.
East Lake, with a barrage of kills, led the entire way in the deciding game. Brianna McComeskey had three kills late as the Eagles scored seven of the final six points.
“It was a big night for me because it was possibly my last match at home,” Eschenroeder said. “I definitely wanted to have a good match, especially against a great player like Berkley.
“It was a good test for us because we’re going to face teams with strong outside hitters the rest of the season. We knew Berkley was going to get her kills. We just couldn’t let that get into our head.”