Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times

Lakeland’s Melissa Bruckner (10) and Olivia Killian (13) block a spike attempt by Mercer’s Bailey Thompson during the T-Bird Invite on Saturday, Oct. 14.
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times

Lakeland’s Melissa Bruckner (10) and Olivia Killian (13) block a spike attempt by Mercer’s Bailey Thompson during the T-Bird Invite on Saturday, Oct. 14.
Lakeland Union High School may have struggled to end the season on a high note during the Great Northern Conference schedule, but it had an opportunity to end the regular season with some positivity by hosting the T-Bird Volleyball Invite on Saturday.

Crandon, Mellen, Chequamegon, Florence and Mercer came to participate in the tournament, the final two schools fresh off of earning No. 1 seeds in the WIAA Division 4 Playoffs.

It would be natural to think one of those schools would be favored to win, but it was Lakeland that came away with the tournament championship after going 8-2 in five, two-set matches. Mercer also went 8-2, but split its two games with the Thunderbirds, 21-25, 25-22, and the point differential determined the champion.

"It definitely stemmed from communication and them working together and my bench stepping up and talking as well," LUHS head coach Carley Siegel said. "Communication and the fundamentals finally came. The girls were being aggressive and trying to pick up the tempo all day and that definitely helped us."

Lakeland topped Crandon to start the day, 25-10, 25-5, before moving on to beat Florence, 25-12, 25-23, and then avenged a loss earlier this season to Mellen, 25-14, 25-16.

Then came a match against Mercer, who had just two losses all season entering the tournament and the T-Birds managed to win the first set by four points.

"What we did well in that one is be aggressive with our kills. We were hitting them where they weren't," Siegel said. "Listening to their back row telling them where to hit, finding the open spots a lot of the time and just playing smart."

The second set went to Mercer, but it was ironically the set that won Lakeland the tournament.

At one point, the Lady Tigers led 16-10, and rather than abjure l, the T-Birds continued to fight and lost by three, which was the difference in winning the tournament.

In recent weeks, the score may have ballooned to become a lopsided score, but not on this day.

"That one is the leaders stepping up on the court and taking control," Siegel said. "The team morral and the positivity was something they used to their advantage and it got them excited. Our serves today - I know off the top of my head Abby Parris had well over 10 aces and the same for Caitlin Hartigan. With our servers being aggressive and (Mercer) being out system definitely helped."

Lakeland continued to battle in similar fashion in the final match of the day. A sweep of Chequamegon would have won the tournament outright, but the T-Birds dropped the first set in a tight 25-23 match.

The T-Birds again maintained composure to win the final set of the day, 25-16.

"We should have took both, but Chequamegon was being smart too," Siegel said. "They were noticing that we weren't getting to our lines. We had to adjust from there and we came back and fought. They had the determination that they knew they were going to win that match."

This gives Lakeland a tremendous amount of momentum heading into the WIAA Division 2 Playoffs.

The T-Birds have been desperate for a win for much of the past month and it finally came.

"It boosted my moral and the reaction of the girls," Siegel said. "I think this will bring back the team chemistry, the momentum that we need our side."

Seventh-seeded Lakeland travels to Antigo tonight for the first round of the playoffs, starting at 7 p.m.