HOLCOMBE — Tuesday night was a familiar sight for Lake Holcombe volleyball fans as the Chieftains clinched the program’s sixth East Lakeland Conference title in seven seasons with a straight-set victory over New Auburn (25-5, 25-17, 25-13).
Lake Holcombe (12-9, 11-0) jumped out quickly against the Trojans with the first eight points of the first set to set the tone in the win.
Aubrey Meddaugh led the Chieftains with 10 kills while adding 11 digs and 13 aces, including six in a row at one stretch early in the second set. Taylor Hartzell had six kills, nine digs and five aces while Carley Yeager led the team with 10 assists and had five aces of her own.
Allison Golat-Hattamer added six assists and Kirsten Larson chipped in with seven digs for the Chieftains.
“I’m just so proud of what they’ve done this season,” Lake Holcombe coach Beth Meddaugh said. “They have a couple really experienced players, a few that are middle of the road (in experience) and we’ve got freshmen that have come in and filled a big hole for us. They’ve come together so well. They came together and worked together as a team, more than any other team I’ve coached.
“They really knew they needed to depend on each other and that one or two people weren’t going to be able to take care of business. They needed all six people plus whoever was on the bench working together to make the season happen.”
Following a first-set win capped by an ace from Golat-Hattamer, Lake Holcombe jumped out to a 9-1 lead with nine straight points with Meddaugh doing much of the heavy lifting with a kill to start the run and seven aces to follow. The Trojans would battle back though, pulling even with a 6-0 run before exchanging points in the set. Back-to-back aces from Alycia Emmons gave the Chieftains a little breathing room and aces later from Yeager and Hartzell pushed the Chieftains to a 2-0 set advantage.
Lake Holcombe won 11 of the first 12 points in set three and breezed to a win, closed out with three consecutive kills from Meddaugh.
Emily Bischel had three aces for the Trojans, all coming during a 5-0 run by New Auburn in the third set. Christina Gordon had three kills, Zoey Rada had four assists and Nadia Rada added four digs.
“We’ve got good spurts of things where we’re very capable,” New Auburn coach Liz Cruse said. “We had some really close sets with some pretty good teams in our conference, so that’s encouraging. They can play along with most of the teams in the conference.”
East Lakeland dominance
Tuesday’s win wrapped up Lake Holcombe’s sixth league title this decade. It is the program’s fourth outright title during that period after sharing in 2011 and 2012. The Chieftains put together a 41-game conference winning streak from 2013-2016, winning titles in 2013-2015 before a 9-3 mark a season ago in league play with a mostly young squad.
“They were a really young team last year,” coach Meddaugh said. “We really only had three girls that had any varsity experience at all. So that was appropriate and the East Lakeland Conference is building and there’s some competition there, which is great. When we came into this season, especially for the seniors, that was a goal for them to take back the conference title this year.
“They worked really hard at that and it paid off.”
That youthful squad has taken a big step forward this season to return the program atop the conference. Lake Holcombe has a combined 77-6 record in East Lakeland play since the start of the 2011 season.
Lake Holcombe closes out the conference season at Bruce on Thursday.
“They want to finish the season strong,” coach Meddaugh said of the team. “They know wherever we’re heading in the playoffs it’s going to be a tough road because it’s a tough sectional. We have three top-five ranked teams (from last week’s state coaches poll: Clayton, McDonell, Luck) in our (Division 4) sectional. It’s ridiculous and we know it’s a tough road but we’re working really hard and if we can rise to the challenge and know we might not come out on the winning end, work hard and know we played our best that’s going to mean a lot to us.”
The Trojans are a young team that has used the 2017 season for experience and skill building. With just one senior on the team (Gordon) and three returning players from a season ago, Cruse has focused on developing the program that is short on numbers this season and fielding only a varsity team.
As the Trojans close the regular season, Cruse has been pleased with the work ethic her team has shown even in a challenging situation for one-win New Auburn.
“They really impress me with coming back and working hard and not quitting,” Cruse said. “They have a good attitude. It’s hard to lose and I have some pretty competitive girls out here so they’re holding their heads high and I’m proud of that.”