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GMC-leading Thunderhawks top Mason with tweaked lineup

After earning nine of its first 10 wins by sweep, the Lakota East High School boys volleyball team didn’t like dropping a game to a young Mason squad.

The defending Greater Miami Conference champion Thunderhawks took the first two games, then lost a close third set and bounced back with a dominant performance in the fourth to seal a 25-10, 25-23, 24-26, 25-13 win Thursday at Mason Middle School.

“They all had their heads down like we had lost the match,” East coach Brittney Biliter said. “They take it hard on themselves, and we’ve been working on that. We were a little disappointed to lose a game, but ultimately we’ve been focusing on overcoming adversity to get the win, and we did that tonight.”

The adversity Thursday came as East (11-1, 4-0 GMC) was trying out a new lineup after losing standout hitter Evan Kuhlman, who is headed to Evansville for basketball, to a broken foot in practice Wednesday. Jacob Wiberg, normally a reserve outside hitter, started at middle blocker in Kuhlman’s place.

Prior to Thursday, the Hawks had only gone more than the minimum games needed when La Salle took them to five games on March 29, but Billiter said the team at times looked a little out of sync without Kuhlman.

“We always look to Evan when we are in a rut, so not having him, it was like, ‘Who is going to step up and take us out the rut?’ ” Biliter said. “I think we were a little lost when things got a little tight there, but we figured it out.”

The lineup change didn’t seem to have an impact early on, though. Coming off its first loss, a sweep by Elder on Tuesday that halted a 10-game win streak to open the season, East looked like a team anxious to get back in the win column.

The Hawks scored seven of the first eight points and never trailed until the second game. Reece Kuhlman had an ace and four points on that opening run.

“We just came in confident knowing we would get the ‘W,’ but we were a little out of it (in the middle two games) being without our best hitter,” Reece Kuhlman said. “We weren’t used to playing without Evan, but after losing that (third) game, we got our confidence back.”

Mason (2-5, 1-3) responded from a 5-2 deficit in the second game to take its first lead and battled the rest of the way before East closed it out for a narrow win.

The teams traded leads in the third game, but at 24-24, the Comets went ahead on a long serve by East and drove home the final point to take the set. East jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the fourth game and never looked back.

Nate Knight led Mason with 13 kills, and Max Brase had 27 assists. Outside hitters Josh Dubovec and Nathan Burbano each had 11 kills to pace East’s attack, while Trenton Kuhlman tallied 36 assists.

“We only returned one starter from last year, so the guys are just starting to play better as a group and we’re cutting down on our errors, which have been killing us, and we’ve talked about fighting in games,” Mason coach Paul Melnick said. “When you have a little success, it helps you fight through, and that carried us to a little success in those two games. They have a very good program, so I can’t fault these guys too much for losing this one.”

On Saturday, the Thunderhawks will be at home against Loveland, while the Comets host Monroe and Milford.

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