MATTOON — Youth and injuries don’t mix, and the Lake Land volleyball team is finding out that lesson the hard way.
Since preseason camp began, the Lady Lakers have dealt with injuries. Freshman middle hitter Taylor Williams and sophomore middle hitter Dori Gowin both have missed time, and the major blow is the foot injury to sophomore setter Emily Watson. The Mattoon graduate was going to be a key piece for the offense and was effective as a freshman, but she has missed every match to begin the season.
Plus freshman libero Jannah Mullen has been in and out with an injury, and the back row is where Lake Land was dealing with some inexperience already.
Lake Land came into Wednesday’s match against John A. Logan with a 3-8 record. The 5-2 Lady Vols took advantage of Lake Land’s youth and came away with a 25-17, 25-19 and 25-10 victory to improve to 3-0 in Great Rivers Athletic Conference. Lake Land fell to 1-2 in the GRAC.
“Injuries aren’t an excuse because we still have some good players out there who are healthy,” Lake Land coach Ashli Robison said. “We are just so young and inexperienced. My sophomores this year were carried by my sophomores last year. They are getting a lot of experience now and I am not getting leadership from my sophomore class. It’s taking the whole group to find it within them and that’s a challenge. It’s a good thing our season is long because we will get there someday.”
Losing Watson is the biggest blow because of the leadership she provided on the court.
“I am expecting her to be out the whole season, so we have to adjust to that,” Robison said. “They are learning new defenses, new offenses, a faster level of play and playing with each other. It’s all wrapped up into one.”
John A. Logan jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first set, but the Lady Lakers battled back. An 11-6 run cut John A. Logan’s lead to 16-13. Lake Land stayed with the Lady Vols and was down 21-17 when John A. Logan closed out the first set on a 4-0 run for a 25-17 win.
For the second straight set, Lake Land dug itself a big hole as John A. Logan started out the second set on an 8-0 run and later led 15-5. Just like the first set, Lake Land battled back. The Lady Lakers went on a 7-1 run to cut the Lady Vols’ lead to 16-12. Lake Land wound up cutting the lead to 17-15 when the Lady Vols won the next two points.
Lake Land responded with a 4-1 run to cut the set to 21-19, but the Lady Vols took control of the set. Three errors and a block helped John A. Logan on a couple of rallies, and the Lady Vols took the second set 25-19.
The Lady Vols took advantage of a young back row for Lake Land for much of the match.
“We played without (Jannah) all weekend. Then she comes and plays and that’s another thing we have to get used to and they know that,” Robison said. “I told them everybody has to be ready to play at any time and any given position. Jannah has a big weight on her shoulders and she knows she is relied on a lot and tonight it just wasn’t gelling for her.”
In the third set, John A. Logan gave itself a bit of a cushion again with a 7-2 lead early. Lake Land followed the same theme from the first two sets and went on a 5-2 run to pull within two at 9-7.
“Getting down big, that’s what they are learning, there’s no recovery time. High school, you could just flip a switch,” Robison said. “Tonight, it was just not our night tonight. We’ve ran points on teams, it’s just a mental thing. The girls just have to hold their head up high. Experience will come with that.”
Lake Land stayed close at 11-8 when the Lady Lakers started to have problems with John A. Logan’s serve. The Lady Vols won two of the next three points and two came from aces.
The Lady Vols started to stretch the lead from there. John A. Logan jumped out to a 21-9 lead after a 6-0 run. Lake Land did get to 10 points, but John A. Logan closed the final set on a 4-0 run for a 25-10 victory.