A raucous crowd at LHS gym watched the Lions outlast Free State in the first varsity meeting between the two high schools.
Free State High was running on empty and Lawrence High had a full tank of gas, ready for a cross-country joy ride.
The Lions cruised to a 15-0, 15-4 volleyball victory over the Firebirds on Thursday night before an estimated 800 boisterous fans in the LHS gym. It was the first varsity clash between the two city high schools.
"I think we were ready to prove to ourselves that the separation is not going to deteriorate the program and prove to all the schools that Lawrence High is still going to be the powerhouse they've always been," said LHS senior hitter Candice Lahm, whose team went 3-0 in the quadrangular to improve to 12-2 overall.
The Lions, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A, defeated Olathe East, 15-7, 15-5, and Overland Park Aquinas, 15-5, 15-12, earlier in the quad and waited an hour to play the Firebirds.
Meanwhile on the adjacent court, No. 4-ranked Free State was involved in a three-game, 95-minute match with Olathe East. O-East outlasted Free State in a 17-19, 15-12, 15-9 thriller. In the first match, Aquinas also needed three games to knock off the Firebirds, 15-9, 12-15, 15-11.
"We always give our best at everything so we're out of energy a lot of times at the end," said Free State junior Jamie Morningstar, who played a couple of matches with the LHS varsity squad last year. "We go three games all the times. We just give it our all the whole time. We need more energy."
Free State never challenged Lawrence in the first game. The Firebirds served just three times and succumbed to the attack of Lahm and senior Laura Rhodes. Behind the serving of Ginnie Heck, the Lions rattled off nine points before Free State gained service.
"I think we were a little intimidated," said Free State coach Nancy Hopkins, who called time twice in the first game. "This place is tough to play in."
With Lawrence leading 9-0, Lahm served out for the final six points.
"I didn't expect to win 15-0," Lahm said. "I thought we would dominate right off because it's in our gym. I've never seen so many fans. I think the fans helped us 100 percent and gave us confidence. The atmosphere was incredible."
In the second game, Free State scored first. The Lions responded with an ace from Rhodes, a cross-court kill by Lahm and a stuff by Lahm to ignite a 6-0 run.
"It was an intense match," LHS coach Joan Wells said. "Our kids were really focused and played well. You could tell by the way we blocked. Blocking and intensity go together."
Free State, which slipped to 6-8, started two juniors and four sophomores. Lawrence countered with five seniors and a junior.
"Of course they're always going to be intimidation when you're playing an older team," Morningstar said. "They're a fundamentally sound team and they're one of the best in the state. They have such a great crowd. We're a new school and young. It's a little intimidating. I've never seen this place that loud. It was amazing."
The crowd was believed to be the biggest to watch volleyball in the Lions' gym since Lawrence played host to the state tournament in 1990.
"We've played a lot of state championships on this court when we have one team on one side and one on the other," Wells said. "It was very much like that. I think a lot of people came out that hadn't seen volleyball before. We had an excellent quad."
Lawrence's next match is next Thursday at Shawnee Mission South. Free State will play Saturday at the Topeka Seaman tournament.