It has been a long wait for the Lake City volleyball team. The Tigers made it to the Section 1AA final last season and lost in four sets to the No. 1 seed Kasson-Mantorville.
The Tigers gave the KoMets everything they had. The KoMets 27-25 loss in the second set of the match was its 13th set loss of the season. The Tigers would not go quietly Later in the match, the Tigers were tied 22-22 in the fourth set before eventually falling 26-24 and 3-1 in the match.
The Tigers are back in a position to face the top teams Class AA has to offer in the Section 1AA tournament; fourth-ranked Kasson-Mantorville and top-ranked Stewartville.
Senior libero Morgan West said the team has had the goal of beating Stewartville all season. If Lake City tames the Tigers from Stewartville, it's likely they would face the KoMets in a rematch in the section final.
For Lake City to accomplish its goal of beating Stewartville and Kasson-Mantorville to reach the state tournament for the first time in school history, the Tigers will have to contend with the No. 7 seed Rochester Lourdes in the first round. With a win over Lourdes, the Tigers would then face the winner of No. 3 Lewiston-Altura or No. 4 Dover-Eyota.
A second win over L-A or D-E would put the Tigers in a section semifinal. If No. 1 Stewartville beats La Crescent-Hokah in the first round and Plainview-Elgin-Millville or St. Charles in the second round, Lake City gets the opportunity they want.
Accomplishing a season-long goal that has been brewing over the offseason and into the fall would feel "insane."
"We've been waiting for playoffs to come back since we lost to Kasson last year in the section finals," West said. "It would mean everything to beat Stewartville, at least get to that game. We're not guaranteed a spot there yet. But to get to that game it'd be amazing. Then to beat (Stewartville) would be the cherry on top."
West, a four-year starter and three-year captain, has led the Tigers to a 21-7 record in the regular season. No matter how Lake City plays in the section playoffs, it's just the second winning season in the last 10 years.
Lake City head coach Kirk Thornton said West has been a vocal leader and competitor since joining the team as a freshman.
"That's what she thrives on is competition," Thornton said. "Practice is sometimes hard for her because that competition piece isn't there, but when the game is on she flips a switch. She's probably our biggest competitor if not one of the top three (on the team).
"If we make decisions on or off the court, she's the one that's going to speak up."
Thornton moved West to libero midway through her freshman year because she was good at serve receive.
"It was hard to take (West) off the court," Thornton said.
Four years later, the position switch benefited the team and West as she reached a career milestone just under a month into the season no other Tiger has ever reached; 1,000 digs.
West was honored in between sets during a game on Sept. 17 for surpassing the 1,000 digs with a commemorative ball. Her parents joined her for a brief moment on the court. West said the acknowledgement from her coaches and teammates made her realize how proud everyone was of her.
"I was kind of surprised no one else had reached it, but when I reached it I think it's a setting stone for younger girls and I hope they try to break (my records)," West said. "I hope they look up to me and think 'she worked hard, so I can work hard in trying to break (the records).'
"I felt really honored that they care that much about me and when my parents came out, I got a little emotional because they put a lot of work in for me."
West also became the owner of two more school records. She continues to add to her school record for aces with over 140 and games played with over 300.
"In 9th grade, the seniors kidded around saying 'you won't be able to reach my (stats)," West said. "I kind of always wanted to beat it, just to say 'hey, I beat your (stats).' Last year, I looked at the stats and thought I could reach these. But I didn't really think about it this year, I'd rather win a game than reach the stats."
West said it felt great to attain such records, but the goal of her senior year has been to help the Tigers fulfill the expectations coming off last season.
Even when the team isn't winning or West misses a dig or serve receive, Thornton said her motivation to get every ball allows her not to focus on the negatives.
"She walks like she's 6 foot 4, but she's 5 foot 6 inches," Thornton said. "She thinks 'the next one I'm going to get.' She thinks that on every one. When she doesn't she kind of laughs it off. I think it comes off sometimes as arrogant, but she's not. She's confident in getting the next one."
The confidence West brings every night has rubbed off on her teammates Thornton said. He's seen a team waiting all summer for the section tournament, eager to face the top teams.
"You got to stop talking the talk and (get ready to) walk the walk," Thornton said he told the players. "Stewartville and Kasson have been around and are established. We haven't been established. We just started coming on in the last three, four years."
The Tigers host its first round matchup against the Eagles on Thursday at 7 p.m. A potential second round match would take place at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday.