WARREN DILLAWAY / Star Beacpm CHRISTIANA BLAKESLEE of Lakeside serves Thursday night during a home match against Edgewood.

The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Back when the two teams first met Sept. 13, North volleyball coach Erik Poje said Lakeside was a welcome addition to the Premier Athletic Conference. That was even after the Dragons had handed his Rangers a 25-22. 25-18, 16-25, 25-19 loss, the first for North in PAC play.

If a repeat performance happened today, however, when the two teams meet again at approximately 6 p.m. at North High School, the spirit of generosity might not be as strong. Today’s match has much more important implications, since Lakeside and North each enter it with one PAC loss. To the winner will go the guarantee of at least a share of the PAC title.

Lakeside has obviously handed North its only loss in the conference. The Dragons’ only loss was administered by Riverside early in the season, even before they tangled with the Rangers. North has its final PAC match remaining at cross-district rival South on Thursday, while Lakeside plays its final conference match Oct. 9 at Chardon.

“Unfortunately, the loser of this match leaves their fate in someone else’s hands,” Poje said.

Lakeside coach Lisa Newsome leaves little doubt the Dragons (15-3, 7-1) are eager to come up with a victory because it would mean at least a share of the school’s first volleyball championship. Either Jefferson, Edgewood or Geneva, if not all three, always stood in Lakeside’s way during its time in the Northeastern Conference.

“(Today) is going to be the biggest match in the history of Lakeside volleyball,” she said. “I think the girls will really be hungry for this match.”

Newsome has been pleased with the way the Dragons have been playing entering today’s match.

“If we play like we have been the last two or three weeks, I think we should do well,” she said. “We had our down period, but I think we’ve picked the perfect time to peak.”

The Dragons received a boost last Saturday when they captured the championship of their own tournament. Leading the way were senior outside hitter Miranda Newsome, the top vote receiver on the all-tournament team, and junior middle hitter Brittany Morrison.

“I think that will give us a lot of momentum going into this match,” she said.

North (15-4, 7-1) feels much the same way.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Poje said. “We had a big three-game win over Riverside last week. That was a huge emotional lift for us.”

Both coaches know their teams must be playing at their peak for this match.

“We have to play clean and we have to play sharp,” Newsome said. “We have to play good defense and pass the ball well. We have to do that to be able to run our offense. I feel good about how we’re doing that right now.”

That makes the performance of junior libero Mallory Zappitelli, junior defensive specialist Erica Villa and junior setter Tayler Pugliese vital for the Dragons, along with continued strong play from Morrison and Newsome. They will also need to continue to get production from senior outside hitters Courtney Harley and Jessica Kaydo and sophomore outside hitter Christiana Blakeslee.

Poje believes the Rangers need to execute well, too.

“We’re playing good defense right now,” Poje said. “We have to do that, especially against a team like Lakeside with the kind of size they have with Newsome and Morrison.

“Offensively, we also have to have someone make plays for us. We have to have the girls playing under control with our hits. We have a phrase ‘Smarter, not necessarily harder.’”

Following that philosophy will be the job of senior middle hitter Kelly Sauto, senior outside hitters Halle Dugger and Becky Fortuna, junior outside hitters Ellen Snyder and Jessica Stitts and sophomore middle hitter Angela Gagliano. Initiating the offense and defense for the Rangers will be senior libero Kalin Linke, junior setter Bri Robinson and junior defensive specialist Carly Zollos.

The gymnasium at North should be rocking. Remembering the experience at Lakeside late in the match, Poje expects quite a show of support from the North student body and athletic community.

“Our boys are going to be pumped up,” he said. “We’ve had a real good core of student support from the soccer, football and cross country teams. The kids and the teachers have really been talking up this match.”

Newsome fully expects that, but the Dragons also figure to bring their own fan base to the match. The Lakeside players and fans are fully aware of the stakes.

“I think they’re going to have a lot of people there,” she said. “Nobody likes to lose on their home court. We’ve taken a lot of pride in being undefeated at home this year.

“I believe our football team is making plans to be there, along with other fans. They all know how important this match is.”

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