MATTOON ---The Lake Land volleyball team is going into the District J tournament on a high note.
Four teams from Region 24 qualified for the District J tournament with John A. Logan and Vincennes grabbing the top two seeds. That left Lake Land and Kaskaskia to battle for the No. 3 and 4 seeds. Even though the Lady Lakers were already qualified for the District J tournament, head coach Ashli Wicker wanted the team to go into districts with a win rather than a loss.
Kaskaskia beat Lake Land about a month ago, sweeping the Lady Lakers. Lake Land was able to turn the table on Kaskaskia and won in five sets to go into the District J tournament after a win.
"We really went out there and the girls were just having fun and had nothing to lose. We were going to districts already and the only thing that mattered was seeding. The girls were relaxed and looking to have fun," Wicker said. "That match showed the quality of competition in our region. Moving forward, it showed we can come out and play our best. It's good to come out of the region with that last keynote rather than being on the other side."
Lake Land opens the District J tournament at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Missouri State-West Plains Community College against Iowa Western. The tournament is single elimination and divided into two four-team brackets. Two teams from the district tournament advance to nationals. If Lake Land beats Iowa Western, the Lady Lakers will play in the championship match at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Lake Land goes into the tournament with a 27-13 record. Three players were recently named to the All-Region team. Freshman outside hitter Ashlyn MacDonald, a Mattoon graduate, is a first-team selection. She led the Lady Lakers with 337 kills and she hit .334 on the season. She added 40 block assists.
Sophomore setter Alexandra Beckers is a second-team All-Region selection. She led the team with 716 assists and she had 246 digs. Sophomore Jannah Mullen is a second-team All-Region selection. She led the team with 520 digs, which is also 19th in NJCAA Division I.
Kristy Burford, an Okaw Valley graduate, had 287 kills and 79 blocks this season. Arielly de Souza has 274 kills and 463 digs and Brooklynn Elsas has 218 kills. Mattoon graduate Lexi Rankin has 203 kills and 106 blocks and Katie Tarkington has 198 kills and 84 blocks.
Wicker said the team is excited to be playing in the District J tournament.
"They are super pumped. The sophomores didn't get to experience this last year," Wicker said. "It's just exciting to advance and experience this together. It's been a long week of practice and we are ready to get things going."
The Lady Lakers have a tough task in the first match against Iowa Western, which was ranked No. 5 in the last NJCAA D-I poll. Iowa Western is 33-3 on the season. On the other side of the bracket, Vincennes (27-12) faces Missouri State-West Plains (17-15).
Wicker knows it's an extremely tough first match against Iowa Western.
"We've always known that our district is hard so that's expected. That's how our district is set up with three strong region teams. That's why we are blessed to have two bids to get to nationals because we have some top teams there," Wicker said. "It will be a challenge but at the same time, we play our best whenever we play good competition. The girls are keeping a level head and they know it is do or die and they are excited to see someone different and someone as good as Iowa Western."