Story and photo by Mike Monahan

Lake Land seemed ready to cruise to an easy victory Thursday night.

The Lakers had already captured the first two sets and seemed primed to win the third for a sweep of Southwestern Illinois College at Laker Fieldhouse.

But the Blue Storm rallied, winning the third set, 25-22.

It took a wild, high-scoring, back-and-forth fourth set for the Lakers to earn the conference victory.

Lake Land led in the fourth set by six on three different occasions, which was the largest lead of a set that featured 25 ties. Lake Land ultimately withstood SWIC, 38-36, to improve to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference. 

It was SW Illinois’s third straight loss that puts the squad at 1-5 overall, 0-2 in the GRAC. 

Lake Land plays at Illinois Central College tonight against Frontier Community College at 3:30 p.m. and takes on ICC at 6 p.m. Frontier is 0-3 while Illinois College is 2-0. 

LLC’s last two matches were five-set losses.

Said Lakers coach Ashli Wicker: “I told them at one time out: ‘We have been in this situation before. I know you guys can do it. You have already proven that to me. We just need to do it again.”

The final set was tied at 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 and 5-5 before Lake Land took its first three-point lead of the set on a point by Ayrianna Adams-Pender. The Lady Lakers led 12-11 when SWIC tied it yet again, and subsequently took a one-point lead on an ace by Amanda Miller.

A block by Alondra Aldarondo Perez put Lake Land ahead, 20-17, before the Blue Storm ran off four straight points, three off service points by Kelsey Cowan.

The game was then tied at 21.

And again at 24-24 when Southwestern scored three points in a row.

Mackinzee Reynolds, a Strewardson-Strasburg grad, put the Lake Lakers within a point of winning the match, but SWIC tied it at 26.

On a set point at 28-27, a kill by Lake Land’s Craig tied it yet again.

Lake Land had its third chance to win, but failed. A kill by Adams-Pender gave the Lakers another chance, but SWIC tied it and also went ahead 32-21 – but one of its 12 service errors (in the match) created another stalemate at 32.

What turned out to be the Blue Storm’s last lead, 34-33, ended when a tip tied the score. A service error put LLC ahead, 36-35, but SWIC tied it for a final time.

But Parsons served the final two points to win the marathon set and give Lake Land the 3-1 victory.

Lake Land had eight chances to win the final set before doing so while SWIC had six attempts. 

“Our passing saved us and our serve receive is something we work on at least 20 minutes a day in practice,” said Wicker. “Just controlling the ball and really controlling our side is what we are really focusing on right now at this point in the season.”

In the third set, SWIC took control with a 7-0 run to lead 13-6, which it extended to 20-11. Lake Land rallied to close to 23-22 on a service points by Abby Kallis. But SWIC closed it out.

“I had six freshmen and one sophomore playing,” said Wicker. “It is a part of growing. We are all growing up. I have 10 freshmen, and it’s something that we are always battling. I will continue to say that I don’t want to peak until the end of March. This is a part of our growth and learning and they are adjusting to college volleyball. Some of them have to take different roles than what they are used to. We are all adjusting to that all at once. They are also going through a global pandemic so it is like one thing after another, and we are out of season right now, technically. We are just adjusting to grow. That is all I can ask of them is to continue to get better.”

In the second set Lake Land trailed 1-0 when Reynolds served five points and the Lady Lakers never trailed again. This included a kill by Michels off a set by Craig and a block by Perez. It was 11-4 after an ace by Adams-Pender and 14-7 when SWIC fought back to within one, 18-17 and 20-19 when Kallis set Parsons for a kill. Adams-Pender earned the serve and got LLC within a point of taking the match, leading 24-19. Lake Land went on to win by five. 

Lake Land took an early lead in the first, bolstered by a 5-0 run bolstered by four service points by Nickael Clark. 

Freshmen Craig and Kallis are filling in for Lara Calderia, who was injured Saturday after averaging 7.3 assists. Calderia, wearing a boot Thursday, will get an MRI on her knee Monday.  

“It is just part of them having to get on the saddle and ride with it,” said Wicker. “They are both strong girls. This is a part of growing with that injury that is like losing your quarterback, and that is why we carry three setters. We can have the ability to adjust.”

Wicker was happy to hear they had just seven service errors compared to 12 for SWIC. 

“Against Vincennes, we gave away a whole set of missed serves,” said Wicker. “We have been working on our serves all week. Serves are something we have been stressing in practice that service errors can make or break a match. It is like a free throw in basketball. If we can control just putting the ball in, then the percentage of winning the game is higher.”