Lakeview volleyball had the Central Conference Tournament championship at its fingertips when a different group of Vikings ripped it away in the final moments of the match on Saturday in Grand Island.
Grand Island Northwest, the hosts for this year's tournament, took the first set over Lakeview 25-14 but then trailed for the entirety of the second when the Lady Vikes scored the first four points.
Lakeview led 23-19 and 24-21, lost four straight points, had to save match points of its own and eventually ran out of luck 29-27, forcing the Lady Vikes to settle for runner-up.
Lakeview opened tournament play on Thursday, defeating Crete in straight sets before falling to Hastings Adams Central in three. But when Adams Central lost to Aurora on Saturday, tiebreakers put Lakeview in the tournament title match.
The Lady Vikes found their way to the gold medal round with a win over Holdrege 25-14, 25-16 and a victory against Aurora 25-16, 19-25, 25-17.
Coach K.C. Belitz was pleased with his team's early reaction following the loss to Adams Central barely 36 hours earlier. He felt his team wasn't completely focused in that one then tightened up late and let it slip away.
None of those emotions were present when the day started, but after a slow start facing 18-12 Northwest, there was nothing but regret as Lakeview headed back to Columbus after a long day in Grand Island.
"We had some errors, hit long and were in the net," Belitz said about the close of the title match. "Those things happen, but boy, they can't happen if you want to win those kind of games."
Saturday opened against an overmatched 3-22 Holdrege team that committed enough mistakes for Lakeview to cruise. The Lady Vikes only needed 25 kills for the win, spread out between six players who all had at least two.
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Mallori Kucera led with eight and was second on the team over the weekend with 23 total. Maddi Vogt was one better with 24.
She piled up 13 in the next match while hitting .367. In all, Kucera hit .388 in the three matches while Vogt was at .262. Reese Janssen piled up 54 assists and Becca Valdez was tops in digs with 51 total.
Defense was the difference against Aurora. Four different Lady Vikes had double digit digs led by Valdez with 24. Janssen contributed 16, Lily Rowe had 14 and Vogt 11.
Against Northwest, Lakeview hit just .115 and had three players negative.
"We didn't back down at all. We were being as aggressive as we had been throughout the set. That was certainly good to see," Belitz said of the second set loss to Northwest. "But clearly, with four game points, we've got to figure out a way to execute one of those."
Lakeview closes the regular season this week at Wahoo on Tuesday against Wahoo Neumann and Omaha Concordia and then plays at North Bend on Thursday.
Winning is, of course, important. But sitting 12th in the latest wildcard standings, and likely needing to win the sub-district in order to make the district round, the Lady Vikes are focusing more on how they win rather than winning alone in the last three matches of the regular season.
"That's what we want to see, that we are focused on performing, performing well and bringing enough energy to be successful," Belitz said. "We take care of that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves, and more importantly, we'll be prepared to go into postseason next week."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.