ST. JOHN | In 10 years in the Duneland Athletic Conference, Lake Central's volleyball team has finished second (or third or fourth or fifth) to someone else.
On Thursday, the Indians beat perennial power LaPorte 25-21, 25-16, 25-20 to win the outright conference title, a feat that seemed almost foreign to Lake Central senior Megan Malatestinic when she started on the team four years ago.
"I never would have thought watching the varsity my freshman year that we would have been where we are this year," Malatestinic said. "It all started last year. ... After that we have to keep setting our goals higher and higher each year."
Last season, the Indians finished 28-10, behind both LaPorte and Valparaiso in the Duneland standings, then made their mark in the postseason. Wins over Munster in the sectional, then Valparaiso in the regional put Lake Central on the path to a semistate berth.
That team lost five seniors, and this team has two with Malatestinic and Katherine Stepanian.
The 2013 version didn't lose a game on its home floor. Its only conference loss was to Crown Point during the first round of the double-round robin.
"I am so elated that my seniors are part of history two years in a row," coach Tina Tinberg said. "You have momentum, energy and an electric feel when you win on your home court and these fans have been great all year long, this is special."
On Thursday, the Indians did it by holding off pesky LaPorte. With a team that rosters nine freshmen, the Slicers stuck around while not backing down despite a 20-9 deficit in Game 1.
"They're little ankle biters; defensively they're scrappy, but I thought offensively we were clicking," Tinberg said.
Lake Central trailed only once in the match, at 1-0 to open Game 3. Led by 10 kills each from Brooke Renner and Tori Gardenhire, and 25 assists from Stephanie Spigolon, the Indians (21-6, 12-1) held off every rally try by LaPorte.
"It's really rewarding because we worked hard all season and we love each other on and off the courts and it really shows," said Malatestinic, who had nine kills and four digs. "We set the standard high for (the next team), we've given them something to look up to and to aspire to."
LaPorte was led by five kills from Natalie Santana, who also had two blocks.