LIBERTY TWP. — The Lakota East High School boys volleyball team bought into the system throughout the regular season.
The Thunderhawks are anxious to prove it in the postseason.
“Bottom line, we weren’t the same team a while back compared to what we are now,” Fourth-year Lakota East coach Bryant Kuhlman said. “I know my guys are ready and chomping at the bit.”
The Thunderhawks (19-3) won 16 out of their last 17 games and earned the fifth seed in the Division I tournament. Lakota East opens up postseason play at home against No. 8 Loveland at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
“A lot of our success has to do with the continuity that we have,” Kuhlman said. “We have a large majority of our guys back from last year. We have guys that are flexible at playing different positions and willing to do what’s best for the team. We’ve continued to grow as the season has gone on.”
Senior Jake Reisner and juniors Carson Hill and Ryan Leisten are the team captain. That combo, mixed in with sophomore Will Huelskamp, junior Lucas Blackburn and junior Drew Honigford, helped the Thunderhawks capture second place in the Greater Miami Conference behind Sycamore.
“They’ve been wanting Sycamore,” Kuhlman said, noting that his Thunderhawks could potentially face the Aviators later in the postseason. “But we’ve got to work hard for this one coming up. When we get there, we will cross that bridge.”
Lakota East defeated Fairmont and Lakota West before losing to Centerville in last year’s tournament.
Fenwick received a No. 1 seed in Division II and will host the winner of Thurgood Marshall and Badin on Saturday, May 13, 6 p.m.
“Our success is going to depend on our mindset,” Falcons coach Tina Gustely said. “I always talk to the boys about earning it. Nothing is given. We have to earn it. This is a week of preparation for us, which is why we took the bye.”
Fenwick (14-7) clinched the 2023 Greater Catholic League Coed title, surrendering its only conference loss to Badin.
“I feel like our boys worked really hard in those conference matches,” Gustely said. “We have had our ups and downs. We play a vigorous schedule.”
Falcons junior Derek Morris sits in the GCL Coed’s top five in kills, aces and pass points, while junior Todd Snyder led the conference in blocks with 64.
Gustely said the hopeful return of junior outside hitter Jack Wagner will be key.
“All their work in the offseason, off the court and in the classroom — when you bring that all together — it will define what we can do in the tournament,” Gustely said. “We’re looking to refocus. The new season starts now. It depends on their focus. We have the tools to do it.
“On paper, our guys are great. But as a team, you have to work together on the floor to earn it. We have positioned ourselves in a really good spot. They have earned it all the way through. It has not been easy.”
Area boys volleyball first round matchups:
No. 12 West Clermont at No. 10 Fairfield, Monday, May 8, 6 p.m.
No. 8 Loveland at No. 5 Lakota East, Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m.
No. 16 Lebanon at No. 1 St. Xavier, Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m.
No. 17 Hamilton at No. 2 Moeller, Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m.
No. 11 Milford at No. 9 Lakota West, Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m.
No. 13 Thurgood Marshall at No. 5 Badin, Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m.
No. 1 Fenwick hosts the winner of Thurgood Marshall and Badin, Saturday, May 13, 6 p.m.
No. 10 Middletown Christian at No. 8 Alter, Wednesday, May 10, 6 p.m.