By TAYLOR GRAFFT
The Liberty Hill Varsity Volleyball team came into their home match against Gatesville red hot and left District 8-3A Champions.
The Lady Panthers have only lost one set in district this season and are still an unbeaten 8-0 after a 3-0 sweep of Gatesville on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Ironically, the last set the Lady Panthers dropped was against Gatesville back on Oct. 5. Since then the Lady Panthers have been playing top-notch volleyball and sweeping their opponents left and right.
Despite that dominating success, Head Coach Gretchen Peterson and the team knew this would be a tough match coming in because both teams had already clinched a playoff spot. Liberty Hill clinched its playoff spot after a 3-0-road victory over Brownwood on Oct. 18.
“Both teams played really well,” said Coach Peterson. “I felt like this was the closest to a playoff-type atmosphere than we’ve had in some time, which is great for both teams. Gatesville played really good defense and their middle blockers were really good. Neither team played perfect, but we found ways to make things happen. I was really proud of the way the girls played and how we handled adversity.”
The Lady Panthers did not have their strongest match against Gatesville, but the sign of a good team is the ability to play through adversity and find ways to win when some things aren’t working on a particular night.
One of the players who has been a vocal leader in getting her teammates focused on the court and through that adversity is Payton Walker.
“Payton has been a great leader for us all year,” said Peterson. “She is really playing in a good rhythm right now. She is getting more and more confident, and has continued to step up her level of play. She is a very vocal person, and really plays with emotion, and I think her teammates really feed off of that. She has been on varsity since her Freshman year, and has learned so much and has so much experience. She does a great job of talking to her team, letting them know what the defense needs to be doing, and they respond really well to her.”
Liberty Hill clinched the District title after beating the Hornets and going up two games and having the head-to-head advantage. Gatesville is in second place with a 6-2 record in District 8-3A.
“We’re still working on things,” Peterson said. “We hope to be playing in November. So these games are another opportunity for more court time and chances to work on things, and continuing to push for a championship.”
Peyton Redmond and Mason Sharp led the Panthers with eight kills each. Setter Kallie Perrin recorded 32 assists, while Madi Sharp led the Panthers with 14 digs.
Jill Green recorded two blocks and Redmond finished the match with three aces.
Liberty Hill is now sitting with a 28-9 overall record and 8-0 in District 8-3A with two more matches to go in the regular season.
In the first set against Gatesville, the Lady Panthers found themselves down 4-2 against the Hornets.
A kill by Redmond that was set by Perrin allowed Liberty Hill to cut the Hornets lead to one.
Liberty Hill went on a 4-3 rally to tie the game at 7-7, before an ace by Redmond gave them their first lead of the match.
Redmond would pick up two more aces and Jill Green would block a Hornets’ attack to help build upon their lead to 11-7.
Gatesville was able to go on a 6-2 run to tie the game at 13-13 after an ace. They then took the lead from the Panthers after a kill to make it 15-13.
The Lady Panthers tied the game 15-15 two points later on a kill by Mason Sharp from the left.
Middle blocker Jaycie Pluenneke won a joust at the top of the net to give the Panthers a 16-15 lead.
The Panthers built upon that lead and went ahead 21-18 after a double hit by the Lady Hornets.
The Hornets cut the deficit to one after picking up two points on two long rallies. Redmond put the Panthers up by two after a kill that was assisted by Perrin.
Liberty Hill took the first set 25-23 after a double hit and missed serve by Gatesville.
In the second set, the Lady Panthers took an early 4-3 lead after a double hit by the Hornets. Jill Green increased the LHHS lead to four after getting a kill that was assisted by Perrin.
Redmond and Green combined to block a Gatesville attack to make it 11-4. Then Green got a kill to increase that lead to 13-4.
“Redmond played really well,” Coach Peterson said. “She’s her own toughest critic, so she’ll always say she could have done something better. She did a good job keeping us in the match. She never comes off the court, none of these girls do and each one filled the roles we needed them to fill at different times.”
Gatesville middle blockers were doing a good job timing the block against Liberty Hill’s middle attacks. The Lady Panthers were able to find an advantage, however, with their depth and ability to open things up on the outside with Jill Green and Mason Sharp.
“I think we had a little bit stronger outsides than they did,” Peterson said. “So when they camped out on our middles that opened things up for Jill (Green), (Peyton) Redmond, and Madi (Sharp) and Mason (Sharp) and they got some good, quality swings. In the long run we definitely had a little more depth than they did, so that also played to our advantage. But that was a very good group of girls that we played and they’re also pretty young so they’ll be good for the next couple years.”
Liberty Hill went on a 4-2 run after a shot by Mason Sharp put them up 17-6.
Gatesville rallied back on a 5-4 rally, but Liberty Hill took a 21-10 lead after a double hit by the Hornets.
A dump shot by Perrin made it 23-10, before a missed serve by Gatesville increased the Lady Panthers’ lead to 24-12.
Gatesville ended the second set with a 3-0 run, but Liberty Hill finished them off on a kill by Redmond that was assisted by Perrin.
In the third and final set, Liberty Hill took a 5-4 lead after Redmond picked up a kill that was set by Perrin. Mason Sharp’s shot increased the Panther lead to 7-4.
Gatesville cut the deficit to one after rallying back on a kill. Liberty Hill then went on a 5-0 run with two aces by libero Payton Walker.
Gatesville kept it close throughout and rallied back to a two-point game, 19-17. A kill by Jill Green, assisted by Perrin helped the Lady Panthers increase that lead to 20-17.
Madi Sharp picked up two kills in a 3-2 rally to go up 22-20. Gatesville finally took a lead over the Lady Panthers, 23-22 after a long rally ended in a ball out of play by Liberty Hill.
Peyton Redmond got a clutch kill that was assisted by Perrin to tie the game at 24-24.
The Lady Panthers then won the next two points to win the match and set 26-24 after an ace by Jaycie Pluenneke.