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Dragons tame Colt, Mustangs for regional title

Junior Sophie Murdock belts a ball past a Birmingham Marian defender. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
November 16, 2011 - It had been 22 years since Lake Orion's girls volleyball team captured a regional championship.

That streak happily ended last week, when the 2011 Lady Dragons upset two-time defending state champ Birmingham Marian and then ousted Troy, continuing an exciting postseason run that vaulted Lake Orion into the Class A state quarter-finals this week.

No matter the outcome of Tuesday's match against Macomb Dakota, Head Coach Bob Howey has been proud of their play.

"It's been pretty amazing and I'm just happy for the girls," Howey said after the three-game sweep of Troy. "They've done all the work. This group of seniors that came back from last year had their minds made up what they wanted to accomplish and they bought right into how hard theyhad to work.

"The entire team bought into it, too, and it's paid off."

Howey said his team fed off the large, raucous crowds in the Lake Orion Fieldhouse, which hosted the regional matches.

"The louder the noise the better we played," the head coach said. "It's nice to see volleyball get that kind of support, especially from the students."

Tuesday's match again Marian was the best team effort of the year, Howey said. Lake Orion won 3-1, with the match nail-bitingly close. The Mustangs took the first game, 25-20, and the second appeared to be over when the score reached 24-19 in Marian's favor. But an electrifying comeback that had the crowd on its feet gave the Lady Dragons a stunning 27-25 win, tying the match at one game each.

From there, the lady spikers' momentum proved difficult to counter, resulting in a 25-16 win in the third game. The final game, a "classic" in Howey's opinion, saw Marian jump in front early and take a 14-9 lead. Lake Orion won five straight points, however, to tie it. The teams traded points thereafter, until the Lady Dragons came from behind again, winning the last three points, 27-25, and knocking the champs out of the tournament, three games to one.

Against Marian, senior Shannon Murdock had 17 kills and 21 digs, junior Sophie Murdock had 13 kills and three blocks, senior Elizabeth Kalugar had 10 kills and 16 digs and senior Dana Schrauben had a team high 34 assists.

Two nights later, Lake Orion captured its first regional title in more than two decades in front of an even larger home crowd. The match was not easy, for Troy came out swinging in all three games. The Lady Dragons' teamwork, skill, speed and efficiency ultimately prevailed, however, sweeping the match, 25-17, 25-21 and 25-21.

"Troy came out strong and it was a little harder to get pumped up after the hangover from Tuesday," said Howey, noting the Marian match was "emotionally draining" for the team.

Leading the offense were seniors Shannon Murdock with seven kills, Kalugar with five and Angelica LeDonne with four. Kalugar also helped defensively with nine digs, with Maddie Hutchison contributing 11. Seniors Dana Schrauben and Gwen Motley led in assists with 10 and eight, respectively. LeDonne and Sophie Murdock had three blocks each.

During the Troy match, news over the loudspeaker announced Farmington Hills Mercy, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, had been upset by Canton. The seemingly good news hit a strange note with the Lady Dragons, who had been looking forward to facing their season-long rivals in the playoffs.

"We really wanted to get to Mercy, to prove we could beat them," Howey said. "I don't really even know if it's an advantage because Canton is playing well and there's always a chance we'll play Clarkston (another key rival this season)."

Lake Orion played sixth-ranked Macomb Dakota in the quarter finals yesterday. (Visit The Review's website or Facebook page for the results.)

"We beat them at the North Branch Tournament earlier in the year," Howey said last week. "They're a good team and it should be a good match. Still, we're pretty confident going into Tuesday."

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