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No excuses: Nicked-up Lake Orion rides Briggs to four-set OAA Red win over inconsistent Clarkston

By: Matthew B. Mowery, September 28, 2018, 1:08 am

CLARKSTON — Excuses can sometimes be a convenient crutch.

Other times, they’re just an annoyance, even to the people who could benefit most by using them.

Neither team in Thursday’s showdown between rival volleyball powers in the Oakland Activities Association wants anything to do with anyone making excuses for them at this point in the season.

The Lake Orion Dragons, who had their 2017 season derailed in large part because of injuries, certainly aren’t using the absence of their nicked-up right-side hitter Sydney Smith as an excuse why they can’t remain one of the state’s best.

At 41-3, the Dragons are ranked No. 3 in the most recent Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

And the Clarkston Wolves, a Division 1 honorable mention in that same poll, are tired of hearing the excuse that they’re young, after graduating a ton from last year’s regional finalist — even when their inconsistency rears its head, like it did Thursday.

Lake Orion ran off wins in the first two sets, 25-18 and 25-9, then fell behind the suddenly resurgent Wolves in a 25-21 loss in the third set, before closing out the match with a 25-17 win in the fourth.

“Well, the second (set), not a lot happened. We just self-destructed, which has kind of been our M.O. all season long. We’re just trying to work through some of those things. I keep telling them, I gotta stop making excuses for them that they’re young,” said Clarkston coach Kelly Pinner, whose Wolves fell to 2-2 in the OAA Red with the loss. “Now, in August, that was a good excuse to make — you only had three seniors and you have two or three sophomores out on the floor. I told them after the Stoney (Creek) loss, ‘Guys, we gotta stop making excuses that you’re young. You’re halfway through the season. You’ve seen varsity competition now.’ I just think we have a lot to keep working on. But that’s what makes it fun, right? It’s a journey, and hopefully by the end of the season, we’re a lot better than we are right now.”

Despite their gaudy record, the Dragons could be a lot better than they are right now, too, especially when Smith gets back to give them some offensive balance. Right now, they’re overdependent on Miss Volleyball finalist Paige Briggs, who finished Thursday’s match with 28 kills.

“Yeah, she’s probably still another week out, so we’re going to have to deal with Stoney, most likely without her on Tuesday,” Lake Orion coach Tony Scavarda said of Smith, who has missed a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, noting that the offense hasn’t been in synch without her.

“It hasn’t (worked), really. It’s called, we set Paige even more now. Before, we had balance. Our other hitters have been up and down, trying to pick up the slack. You saw it in that match: We just couldn’t find consistent offense at other positions today, and it really hurts us at times. Today, Paige did it out of the back row a little bit, and had to help us there pick up the slack a little bit. As long as we can do that, fine, but I’d rather just set our front-row hitters. That’s the easy way to go. We have the talent, they’re just — for whatever reason — they’re not as confident right now. I’ve talked to them about trying to gain their confidence right here.”

The Dragons had to play their final 20 matches without Briggs last year — going 32-3 with her, and 14-6 without — so they know all about dealing with injuries.

“It was stressful, but I’m healed and good, and super excited about the season,” said Briggs, who is headed to play for Western Kentucky next season. ‘It was sad, but I’m happy to be back.”

Middle hitter Reagan Goeke was second on the Dragons with 10 kills Thursday, as they tried to find other sources of offense, aside from setting Briggs all the way around. Wren Macaulay had 43 assists and four blocks, while Ciara Livingway had 37 digs.

Despite the lack of balance, the Dragons still were solidly in charge in the first two sets, dominating the second. It could’ve easily been a quick sweep, if not for a Clarkston rally in the third set.

“ll tell you right now, I wasn’t sure. Sitting down, I wasn’t sure what that third set was going to look like over there. So I was definitely proud of what they did, I was impressed with what they did,” said Pinner, who noted that they’d played the Dragons tough in the tournament finals over the weekend. “Being down 0-2 against Lake Orion, I felt like they might go out there and just crumble, and they didn’t, so that shows us something, too. Shows us that they’ve got it.”

Scavarda was just as perplexed about where his team’s passing went for the span of one set.

“Good question. To me, my mindset is, you just won 25-9, in their building, your swagger should be at 100. The next set should just kind of be cruise control. We talked about not getting complacent, step on their necks while they’re down. For whatever reason, the ball control just kind of left us for a set, and they took advantage of it,” he said. “That’s all they (the Wolves) needed was just a little bit of confidence, and this could’ve easily went five sets. That was disappointing that we didn’t take care of business in that third set, but hopefully it’ll make us stronger that we had to battle through that.”