BY DAN STICKRADT
LAKE ORION — The last time Lake Orion won a volleyball district, most of the current players were very young. In fact, some of those sophomores and freshmen in the program weren’t even born yet.
The year was 1995, and the title came in March of that year when volleyball was still a winter sport.
“We finally got one,” smiled Lake Orion coach Bob Howey, who took over the program five years ago. “It’s been a long-time coming.”
The Dragons captured their first Class A district volleyball championship in 15 years with a 25-15, 25-17, 25-15 sweep of visiting Rochester Saturday afternoon. The win came after Lake Orion had defeated Rochester twice within the past month and three straight times coming into the match.
Lake Orion (40-15-5) moves into Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. district semifinals at Oxford against Auburn Hills Avondale, which captured its first district title in school history with a sweep of Waterford Kettering last Thursday.
“I thought if we just played our game that we would be fine,” said Howey. “I have been telling them that we hadn’t won a district in 15 years. I think they really wanted it.”
Rochester coach Shana Poll felt that Lake Orion was simply a better team on this day than her Falcons.
“They just played with more energy than us,” conceded Poll. “They hit harder than us and they have more (hitters).”
“They sat back a little and we are very balanced, so we were able to find the open spaces,” said Howey. “I thought played well. We took some early leads and made them try to catch up, especially the first game.”
Erin Leppek, Rochester’s Iowa-bound senior, bowed out with nine kills. She could not match Lake Orion’s balanced front-line, where four players notched between six and 10 kills.
Shannon Murdock led a balanced attack with two blocks and 10 kills, the same amount as Liz Kalugar. Tracey Hargraves had seven kills, Alyssa Wesley chipped in with 33 assists, Linnea Berriman had seven blocks and Maddie Hutchinson supplied 20 digs for the Dragons.
“Lake Orion is a good team,” said Poll, whose team finished 25-19-3. “We played them three times and this season and they beat us all three times.”
Lake Orion also defeated Rochester in the opening-round of the 2009 state tournament, after the Falcons had swept them in the regular season. This season, Lake Orion swept Rochester in the OAA Red Division regular season and OAA league jamboree before the quick strike in the district finals.
Against Rochester this time, the Dragons never trailed, jumping out to quick leads and coasting past the Falcons.
“We knew we had to play a great game to beat them,” said Poll. “We fell behind early, especially in that first game, and that hurt us.”