Cavs beat Hawks, move toward playoff spot

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, October 9, 2008

About half an hour before his Lakeland High boys volleyball team hosted Hickory on Thursday, fifth-year Cavaliers coach Daniel Waller discussed his squad’s philosophy.

“We keep it simple,” Waller said. “Never let the ball hit the floor, get a good set and play hard.”

For the first two games, Lakeland executed that thinking with aplomb. The Cavaliers won both sets and every indication was they’d win the third and make it a quick night. It didn’t quite work out that way, however, as Hickory squeaked out a victory before falling in four games. Lakeland prevailed by scores of 25-21, 25-15, 25-27 and 26-24.

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“I don’t think conditioning affects us as much as the mental approach,” said Waller, whose team didn’t substitute the entire evening. “We do enough drills for endurance but going into an extended match can mean the focus isn’t there for 16-, 17- and 18-year olds.”

That the Cavaliers were irked by their failure to sweep the defending Southeastern District champions shows how far the program has traveled. Last year’s team was the first in school history to reach the four-team district tournament, and Thursday’s triumph left Lakeland at 12-3 overall and in district play and in third place with three matches remaining in the regular season.

“We took a huge step tonight towards securing a tournament spot,” Waller said. “I think we have to win at least one of our last three games against Indian River, Nansemond River and Western Branch, but we can’t think like that and settle. We have to keep this positive approach going.”

In Lakeland’s initial meeting with Hickory, the host Hawks won the match’s first two games before the Cavaliers prevailed in five. For a time Thursday, it appeared another five-game tilt might be in the offering, but Lakeland closed out the fourth game with three consecutive Alex Brooks kills. The tall senior finished with 21 kills and five blocks.

“Alex was slow to start tonight but he finished it for us,” Waller said. “This is the first season we’ve really had multiple attack options and we try to mix it up so teams don’t key on him. But when things get rough, he’s our go-to guy.”

Lakeland’s Taylor Bess had a career-high 15 kills and Scott Asbell had 10 and four blocks. Cavalier setter Russell Carr had 38 assists and all six players showed a willingness to hit the floor or catapult into the bleachers after balls.

“We’re not the most athletic team and we don’t have a lot of height,” Waller said. “But we try to limit our mistakes and play consistent, clean volleyball.”

Michael Foley and Greg Knight combined for 32 kills for Hickory, which entered the night in fourth place.