LAKELAND — Terry Small says he won’t be back as coach of the East Lake volleyball team, but the Eagles look pretty intent on sending him out as a winner.
Maybe a state champion, even.
Playing fast, furious and fantastic, the Eagles left the Lakeland Dreadnaughts rubbing their bloodshot eyes and scratching their heads after a 25-11, 25-21, 25-13 takedown in the Class 5A state semifinals Friday afternoon at the Lakeland Center.
Hoping to soak in and share the experience, Small showed up at the post-match news conference with 10-year-old son Tyler, who gave the Eagles performance not one, but two thumbs up.
Lakeland never had a chance. The Eagles’ calling card is their versatility, and Friday it was in full effect. Four players had eight or more kills, three players had double-digit digs and setter Rachel Reed had 37 assists and played aggressively at the net, getting six kills of her own.
“We’re just really good at working as a team,” said sophomore libero Brooke Burkett, a point teammates Jackie Wegner and Reed repeated.
The East Lake shutout sends the Eagles (28-2) into today’s championship against Stuart Martin County, a 3-2 winner over Niceville. The Eagles’ last trip to Lakeland was a title game loss to Durant in 2002.
“We’ve played middle-dominated offenses all season, but their offense was so much faster,” Lakeland coach Crystal Ramsey said.
“Their defense was really good too,” chimed in setter Lauren Andersen.
The Eagles jumped out to an 11-2 lead and never looked back. Lauran Eschenroeder had two kills in the initial run (and 11 in 14 attempts for the match), and Brittnay Estes (11 digs, eight kills) had a block and tip for a point as well.
East Lake had a few sloppy moments, but corrected them quickly. After Lakeland took a 13-12 lead in Game 2, Wegner had consecutive aces, Brianna McComeskey had a kill and Reed had two gorgeous dinks as the Eagles pulled away.
In Game 3, five Eagles had kills in the first 10 East Lake points.