Girls volleyball: Lakes clinches share of NLCC title
Lakes volleyball player Sara Smith didn't need any extra motivation. Not with it being Senior Night at Lakes. Not with the host Eagles trying to clinch a share of the Northern Lake County Conference championship.
And yet there he sat at the end of Grant's bench.
The boyfriend from another school.
Tavarus Williams, a varsity volleyball player for Grant, serves as team manager for the girls volleyball team.
"Fired up," Smith, who has lots of other Grant friends, said with a bragging-rights smile after helping Lakes beat the visiting Bulldogs 26-24, 25-18 on Thursday night.
Lakes improved to 22-6 and 6-0 in the NLCC. The Eagles can clinch the conference championship outright with a win next Thursday night at Grayslake North, which is 5-1 in the NLCC.
"I heard they're really scrappy, they bring a lot of fire, and they've got a couple of really good players," Lakes coach Kate Cheek said of Grayslake North's Knights. "We're excited for them."
Against Grant (9-13, 2-4), Cheek started seniors Smith, Allison Ulrich, Faith Conway, Abby Vanderwall and Paule Ceneac, while 6-foot-4 senior Keelan Bell came off the bench and saw her usual amount of heavy floor time. Smith, who is not related to fellow starter Ashley Smith, had an efficient night, hitting at a 90-percent clip, Cheek said, in putting down 6 kills. Cheek gives an MVP for each of her team's matches and was giving this one to Sara Smith.
"She brought it," Cheek said. "In the huddle, she was so positive. She just brought a lot of fire, even in our timeout talks."
That was just Sara Smith being Sara Smith.
"I always try to stay really positive for the team," Smith said. "It's what I'm known for. Especially tonight, having a big crowd and it being senior night, I just really wanted everyone to keep a smile on their face and have fun, and also get a win."
Grant looked like it would win the opening set. The Bulldogs led 24-22 after sophomore Grace Olszowska served an ace, but Lakes lefty sophomore setter Devinn Bell flipped a kill to the corner, and the 6-1 Ceneac notched 3 blocks in a row to end the set.
Grant's youth -- five sophomores started -- might have played a factor in the Bulldogs' inability to close. They also held a 22-19 advantage.
"We have a lot of skill," Grant coach Michele Keenan said. "But we get tense when (the score) comes to the 20s. Even if we're winning, we get a little tense. That's our youthfulness."
Senior captain Megan Mitchell led Grant with 5 kills, sophomore Laine Evans added 4 kills and 8 digs, and sophomore Jazzlyn Linbo slammed 3 kills.
Lakes led 15-13 in the second set, but Keelan Bell, an Eastern Illinois commit, hammered back-to-back kills, and Grant never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
Ashley Smith finished with 6 kills and zipped her second ace to end the match. Ceneac and Keelan Bell had 6 and 4 kills, respectively. Vanderwall (8 digs), Devinn Bell (18 assists) and Conway (8 assists) also made key contributions.
"I think we did a really good job of working on what we did wrong in the first game and fixing it in the second game," Keelan Bell said. "I think we missed a little too many serves (in the first game). We did a better job with serve-receive and serving in the second game."