LAKELAND -- George Jenkins traditionally has been one of the elite volleyball teams in the county, but the Eagles were two games under .500 combined the past two seasons. This year, they're determined to move back to the top and took a big step on Tuesday night against rival Lakeland.
Leading by a point late in the third set, the Eagles were six points from sweeping the Dreadnaughts for the second time this season only to see Lakeland rally to steal the third set and dominate the fourth set.
Jenkins, however, wasn't done as it regrouped and pulled out the five-set thriller, 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 13-25, 15-11, at the Jenkins gymnasium.
"It was big because this was the first time we've beaten them at home in four years," senior middle blocker Jaycen Batiste said. "We talked about not getting down on ourselves and maintaining our energy.'
George Jenkins coach Lisa Bickerton wasn't surprised that her team regrouped to pull out the match, although she didn't take Lakeland lightly.
"We've been really good about pulling them out," she said. "This team has a lot of heart. They find it inside of themselves and pull the game out. But getting to that point, we make some silly errors and I don't know what they're thinking."
Sophomore Lilly Beardsley has been key to the fast start for the Eagles, who are 6-2 after going 14-14 last year. Beardsley led the Eagles with 17 kills and has emerged as one of the top middle hitters in the county.
"I just try to get as many (kills as I can)," Beardsley said.
Batiste, who had six kills, has seen her younger teammate grow in the past year.
"She was quiet at first, but she's come out of her shell and she's talking a lot," Batiste said. "It helps when we talk on the court."
Beardsley led Jenkins with 76 kills in seven matches heading into the game.
"Lilly is just amazing," Bickerton said. "She's only a sophomore. She and Jaycen, they have so many touches that slows the ball down and lets out defense get to the ball. They've been huge."
It nearly wasn't enough.
Lakeland senior Heather Thomas led the Dreadnaughts' comeback and dominated the fourth set. She had a pair of kills and a stuff block to give Lakeland a 4-3 lead when she went to the bench after rotating to the back row. Jenkins managed to take just an 11-10 lead when Thomas came back in, but got a kill by Batiste and capitalized on Lakeland miscues to prevent Thomas from taking over the set.
Lakeland coach Dayna Sechrest is rebuilding the Dreadnaughts, who are better than their 1-6 record suggests, as her team took a heavy hit because of graduations.
"We're still figuring out who are new leaders are," she said. "We have a whole new group coming in."
Other players of note for Jenkins from Tuesday match were Kymber Brown with 16 digs and Carolyn Carey with nine digs. Ashlyn Bauman and Stephane Seltz each had 15 assists. Sarah Veach added five kills.
For Lakeland, Grace Garcia had 11 kills and 23 assists, and Abby Davis had 10 kills.