Coming off its first regional appearance since 1984, the Lakewood High School girls volleyball team might be better or at least more versatile than ever.

Coming off its first regional appearance since 1984, the Lakewood High School girls volleyball team might be better or at least more versatile than ever.

"I definitely think we still have a lot of experience even with the people we lost," said coach April Keys, whose five graduates last year included middle hitters Chelsea Riley and Megan Anthony, libero Chelsea Archer and outside hitter Lindsay Barrett, who was named ThisWeek's Player of the Year as the Lancers finished 19-8 overall and defeated second-seeded MBC-champion Centerburg 25-23, 25-19, 25-17 in a Division III district final. "Some of the girls we have back have different roles and are becoming more developed in our offense."

The Lancers, who earned the fourth seed, return 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter Alissa Birkhimer and junior setter Sarah Wogan from a lineup which helped them start and finish strongly a year ago. Birkhimer then went on to help the softball team win a state championship last spring, and last fall's success in volleyball helped attract 32 players for tryouts.

"Some people said everyone was riding high from volleyball going into softball. Alissa's fortunate in having a chance to play both, and it's the same with some of the girls we graduated," said Keys, whose team opened last Saturday at Lancaster against the Gales and Watkins Memorial. "Our success, I think it did help our numbers. We had to make cuts, but now we're struggling a little with injuries and don't have the others anymore."

Senior Brooke Gault's knee injury is the most severe. Results of last Thursday's MRI test should be known this week, Keys said. Sophomore Morgan Kelley might be her replacement on the right side if she's unable to start the season.

The other senior is Erika Downs, a defensive specialist. Junior Hanna Dixon is moving to the outside, leaving space in the middle for 5-11 junior Liz Barnhart and 5-9 freshman Courtney Birkhimer. Sophomore Ashley Kincaid is the new libero.

"I think we have more offensive threats, really," said Keys, whose team plays host to West Jefferson on Tuesday before opening the MSL-Ohio Division schedule Thursday at Newark Catholic, one of four teams from the league a year ago to win district titles. "We won't rely as much on one or two people."

The Lancers started 7-0 last season, winning their home invitational in the process. Wogan's knee injury derailed hopes of a league title, and the Lancers finished fourth at 8-6 behind Heath (13-1), Bexley (13-1) and Newark Catholic (9-5).

It healed in time for her to rejoin the team for the postseason and the Lancers won four times before losing to eventual state-champion Lima Central Catholic 25-10, 25-13, 22-25, 25-20 in a regional semifinal.

The Bulldogs won the other Division III district title, and Bexley joined eventual state finalist Hartley in winning the Division II championships. The Green Wave advanced to a state semifinal in Division IV.

Long term, the Lancers would like to make another deep tournament run. In the short term, the goal is their first league title since 2001.

"You have to come to play every night in our league," Keys said. "There are no guarantees."