Short-handed Cavaliers fall in SED tourney

Published 11:22 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Heading into the Southeastern District Tournament, in one sense, Lakeland’s boys volleyball team had everything to gain and nothing to lose. The Cavaliers had already clinched their best season in school history.

However, from the start of the season, going deeper into the season than in 2007, when Lakeland reached the district tournament for the first time in program history, was the primary goal for the Cavs.

As Wednesday night’s semifinal match against No. 2 Western Branch played out and Western Branch swept the Cavaliers 25-12, 25-16, 25-20, it was clear the biggest blow to Lakeland’s chances in the postseason had taken place prior to the first serve between the Cavaliers and Bruins.

Email newsletter signup

Missing from Lakeland’s lineup was 6-foot-6 senior Alex Brooks, who throughout the last two seasons had been the top hitter and top blocker for the Cavaliers.

“Alex was released from the team for breaking team rules. Some things are bigger than the game itself,” said Lakeland head coach Daniel Waller. Brooks was released from the team prior to Lakeland’s final regular season match, last Tuesday against Western Branch.

“We try to teach character and the guys on this team have a great deal of character. They don’t make excuses, so I’m not going to make excuses.

“This is meant to be a learning experience for all of us,” said Waller, “but when someone doesn’t do the right things, there have to be consequences.”

The third-seeded Cavaliers challenged Western Branch, which had defeated Lakeland both times in the regular season, for a few stretches of the match. In the end though, Western Branch’s consistent attack was too much for Lakeland.

Having to revamp many things without Brooks, Bobby Estienne took up most of the setting duties so Lakeland’s usual setter, Russell Carr, could add to Lakeland’s attacking.

In the opening game, a 10-0 Bruin run broke it open to a 20-9 WB lead. Lakeland stayed with WB in game two until an 11-2 run put WB up 21-12. In the final game, Lakeland was within 16-15, and after three straight points, chipped away to a 22-20 WB lead before the Bruins finished the match out.

Lakeland’s usual defense and hustle were still there, but the Cavaliers could manage little threat at the net to turn their defense into offense, especially against an opponent as complete and consistent as Western Branch (18-4).

Estienne finished with eight assists and three aces. Carr had five kills.

“I’m proud of the effort of these guys and how they play the game for each other,” said Waller.

“We got here because we worked hard. We just have more work to do to get deeper into the season next year.”

Waller loses two seniors, Carr and defensive standout Christian Ehrenzeller. Lakeland’s best season in school history is now a 13-6 record.