After historic year, Lady Panther basketball set to return to action

By Joseph Garcia

It is a new season with a whole different crop of players on the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers’ roster in 2013. But the Lady Panthers’ 2012 basketball season will not be forgotten as they reached the apex after playing their final game at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, in the state tournament.

Last season Liberty Hill lost just five games and finished with a 35-5 record en route to the state tournament. The Lady Panthers also ran the table in District 25-3A, finishing with a 10-0 record and district champs.

Finally, Liberty Hill lost to the eventual state champs Abilene Wylie 65-52 in the state semifinal.

Now in his fourth year as the Liberty Hill girls’ head basketball coach, Matt Kirschner will have the task of molding a brand new team with an original identity into what he hopes is a contender.

Practice for the new-look Lady Panthers began on Oct. 17. But Coach Kirschner is still waiting for a few players from the volleyball and cross country teams to complete his roster.

“It’s a slow progress,” said Kirschner. “I won’t have everybody return from cross country and volleyball for two or three more weeks.”

Only two players from last year’s varsity team return in 2013. Seniors Cera Dixon and Maddie Metzgar were on varsity the entire season, but now-senior Shelby Hart, junior Blair Lord and sophomore Shelby Whitten joined the varsity squad for its storied playoff run in 2012.

In addition to Dixon, Metzgar and Hart, other seniors include Danielle Wolesensky and Erin Fitzgerald, who was ineligible for varsity last season because she transferred from Georgetown.

Kirschner said he is refreshing the players on the system, including the press and what he expects from them in that set.

“We are having to reteach a lot because I don’t have the experience on varsity,” he said. “There are kids that don’t know the system as well so I’m trying to get them up to speed.”

Liberty Hill played its first scrimmage on Oct. 27 against Dripping Springs and Kirschner liked what he saw initially. The scrimmage consisted of offense for six minutes and defense for six minutes in two segments, before a brief exhibition. The Lady Panthers unofficially won 32-12.

“We showed some good signs of some things and they finally just reacted and did what they were told to do, whereas in the first couple of weeks they had a lot of questions,” Kirschner said. “It actually went really good. We didn’t shoot the ball real well, our defense played pretty good, especially in the half court.”

Coach K said the style of play this year will likely be a bit different from last year, with an emphasis on controlling the game’s tempo.

“We are not going to press people as much; we are just going to try to control the tempo this year,” he said. “Since we are not going to turn people over in the full court we’re going to have to really rely on our back end and our half-court defense. We are going to have to be able to shut people down and contain them, where as last year in the press very few people could get comfortable in their half-court offense.”

The season begins on Tuesday, Nov. 6, against Cedar Park in Cedar Park. The freshmen tip off at 5:15 p.m., with JV at 5:30 p.m. and varsity beginning at 7 p.m.

To say Liberty Hill’s pre-district schedule will be difficult is an understatement. With teams like Cedar Park, Fredericksburg and multiple tournaments against 4A and 5A schools to open up the season, the Lady Panthers will be challenged.

Then just before district begins, Liberty Hill will face Hendrickson, Georgetown and Giddings consecutively, before 8-3A play starts on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, against Llano in Llano.

“It will change once we get to district,” Kirschner said of the difficult schedule. “I think my pre-district schedule is a whole lot harder than district is going to be because I’m having them play against 4A and 5A opponents. I am doing that just to get them experience before district begins. We are going to be tested early and often, which is what I wanted. It’s going to help on all levels to the freshmen and JV and it will make them better for the future.”

Shifting from District 25-3A to 8-3A added Brownwood and Gatesville to the mix, with Salado and Taylor moving on, respectfully. However, Burnet, a team that met Liberty Hill three times and lost three times last season, including in the regional finals, will be the favorites in 2013, according to Kirschner’s calculations.

“I am going to say Burnet,” he said. “They have the newcomer of the year and an all-district player coming back. They are the ones with the most talent coming back. Everybody else is in the same boat as I am, having graduated (a lot of players).”

Beyond district, Liberty Hill is in Region I along with some of the top-rated teams in the state. Not only does Kirschner have to contend with the loss of players like Kourtney Bevers, Jessica Green and Lorrie Potts, but the move to Region I will make the challenge of repeating last season’s success a tall order to say the least.

“We graduated a lot (of players) but we also moved into the toughest region,” Kirschner explained. “We do have, in my opinion, the best school in the state in our region in Kinndeale (High School) who I think are No. 1. It’s tough to get out of regionals and now it’s going to be even tougher. Right now I am going to go game-by-game. I have some kids that I suspect will have to grow up real fast.”

Despite the loss of players to graduation and a new roster of players, Liberty Hill basketball will now always have expectations with Kirschner drawing up the plays and running his system.

The 2013 version of the Lady Panthers will look different, but there is reason to be excited and even have playoff aspirations. Coach Kirschner sure does.

“(I am) planning on getting in the playoffs and trying to make a run,” he said. “I don’t think I can surprise anybody anymore, they know who we are. Success breeds success. The kids want to be good, but they know the reality of it. We are just going to take it one game at a time. This team is going to have to find their own identity; they can’t live off anything from last year. We are going to have to find our own rhythm and see what we do best and go from there.”

Liberty Hill’s first home game is Tuesday, Nov. 13, against Vista Ridge with tipoffs at 5:15 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.