Splitting the defense

Lakewood Park’s Vanessa Lehman tries to thread a spike between Blackhawk’s 6-4 Cara Cresse (14) and Karsen Brandt during Saturday’s championship match.

AUBURN — There’s a reason for all of those extra reps in and after practice.

When you have the chance to hoist some hardware, it makes all of those swings, digs, serves, sweat, bumps and bruises worth it.

After Blackhawk and host Lakewood Park split the first four sets of Saturday’s Class 1A sectional championship match, it came down to one set.

Lakewood Park jumped ahead 5-2, fell behind 10-8, but came back to win the clincher 15-12.

The Panthers won the first and third sets by identical 25-20 scores. The Braves won the second set 25-20 and the fourth 25-22.

“I think it just came down to confidence. A lot of times, we were against the wall, but how I told the girls the whole season, we have put so much time in practice, outside of practice, extra reps, whatever they do outside of practice, we should have trust in our abilities to overcome situations like this, and we did,” said Lakewood Park coach Omar Rivera.

“I’m super-happy, super-proud,” he continued. “The girls, they fought. We were down a lot of the time.”

The Panthers improved to 13-10 in all matches. Blackhawk’s season ended at 14-13.

Lakewood Park will play the winner of the Pioneer Sectional in the second match of the Culver Community Regional at noon Saturday.

Junior Haley Kruse led the way for Lakewood Park with 39 kills. She got help from seniors Vanessa Lehman and Elizabeth Salzer, who had seven kills each.

Kruse served seven aces and Olivia Rose added five.

Lakewood Park jumped ahead 5-2 in the fifth set behind an ace and a back-row kill from Kruse. Blackhawk took an 8-7 lead when 6-foot freshman Abigail Cresse had a block.

Cresse had another block, and 6-2 freshman Allie Boyer delivered a kill for a 10-8 lead.

Lakewood Park drew even when Kruse buried a Blackhawk overpass. After a net spike by the Braves, Kruse whistled a spike down the line for an 11-10 Panther lead.

Kruse and the younger Cresse had a brief duel at the net. A Kruse spike got through one block, but Cresse stuffed her next attempt as Lakewood held a 13-11 lead.

Big sister Cara Cresse, a 6-4 senior, got in on the act by blocking Kruse to make it 14-12 and giving Blackhawk the ball.

Rivera called timeout to ice the Braves’ next server, whose subsequent attempt sailed out of bounds, setting off the Panthers’ celebration.

Each set was a back-and-forth affair.

Blackhawk led the first by a 14-9 score on Cara Cresse’s block of Kruse, but three Lauren Korte aces in a run of six points staked Lakewood to a 17-14 lead. The Panthers closed that set with another Korte ace, plus kills by Lehman and Kruse.

The Panthers led 3-1 in set two, but Karsen Brandt had a tip kill and an ace and Boyer added two aces to give Blackhawk an 11-7 lead.

Cara Cresse delivered two back-row kills and an ace, while a Lakewood spike sailed out of play to end the second set.

Lakewood never trailed the third set after Kruse hammered two spikes off Blackhawk blocks for a 20-18 lead. Rose served two aces, and Salser made the Braves pay for an overpass to close out the set.

Lakewood Park was called for a double hit, and Cara Cresse blocked Kruse on the next play as Blackhawk led 21-19 in the fourth set.

Kruse came back with a kill off a Cresse block, and added an ace to make it 24-22, but her next serve got nothing but net to send the match to a deciding set.

Rivera called the sophomore setter Korte the team’s quarterback.

“A lot of people were not counting on her to do the job she’s been doing,” he said. “A lot of people think it’s the offense, Kruse, and others. But we have to give credit where credit is due. Lauren, our quarterback, has done a tremendous job all season long.”

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