By Taylor Grafft
The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers volleyball team has displayed confidence and total team effort throughout the 2013 season.
The Lady Panthers are sitting with a 20-9 record and are currently ranked 10th in Class 3A in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Poll.
Much of the team’s success this season can be credited to a foundation of trust that the players have built with each other and with their head coach, Gretchen Peterson.
“Coach Peterson is great,” said junior libero Payton Walker. “She knows how to handle each one of us. She knows our personalities and how to coach us and how to push us to be better.”
Four players who have shown their leadership on and off the court this season are Walker, Jaycie Pluenneke, Peyton Redmond and Kallie Perrin. Each one credits Coach Peterson as being a big influence in their volleyball careers.
“She’s really just like one of us,” said senior Kallie Perrin. “I can’t tell you how much of an impact she’s had for my career. She’s one of the reasons I’m still playing.”
Trust between the Panther players has been a key focal point this season and has allowed the girls to develop chemistry on the court.
“These are people and friends that I’ll have for a long time,” said junior Peyton Redmond. “We’ll always have our little group messages and keep in touch with each other. We’re just really close with each other.”
Redmond went on to talk about how this season feels different because of that bond and chemistry they have formed. She feels like the newer players have stepped into their new roles and embraced the spotlight and performed well.
“One of the things that makes this team good is how versatile all our players are,” Redmond said. “Pretty much any one on the team is comfortable playing in the front row or back. If we need Jaycie (Pluenneke) to help us from the back she can. I think that’s what makes us really good this season.”
Walker and Perrin have also formed a great chemistry from playing softball together and playing volleyball since they were younger. That familiarity has allowed them to know exactly where each other are on the court and trust each other to come through in pressure situations.
With district play already in full swing, the players feel like they must put extra attention and practice time into each day.
“District play will be tough, but our goal is still to get to regionals then state,” Walker said. “We have to cut down on the mental mistakes and remain focused.”
The pressure that these girls feel when trying to balance playing sports, studying for tests and applying to college can take a toll, but each one feels like they have found a good strategy that has helped them remain focused in and out of the gym.
With the brand new high school opened in the fall, the girls said that it was a huge difference from the old high school. With better facilities to train and play in, the girls feel like the new environment has elevated their game.
“The fact that it’s a new gym and a new place, you always feel like you have to start it off the right way,” Walker said.
“The atmosphere from playing in this new gym is incredible,” Perrin added. “It really gets us pumped seeing all the fans and students cheering us on.”
Jaycie Pluenneke, whose play has really solidified the Lady Panthers front line and helped spark the defense, said, “I started playing at a young age and have really enjoyed my role and time playing with these girls. Really all the girls on our team have stepped up this season and been solid for us.”
There’s always one influence in life that is there to support and encourage every step of the way, whether it be in sports or in life lessons.
For Perrin, it was her mom who got her interested in volleyball. She experienced Lady Panther volleyball up close and personal at a young age while on the sideline and in practices helping her mother coach.
For Walker, it was her dad supporting her every moment. “He may not always know the rules, but he’s at every game and tells me good job, or supports me even if I had a bad game,” she said.
Redmond said her former coach has been a huge impact in her life and volleyball career and that they exchange text messages before games sharing support and encouraging words.
For Pluenneke, it was her mother and family supporting her every step and encouraging her to continue to play the sport she loved.
For each home game the girls said that they have a pregame ritual that they do to get hyped and ready to play. They gather around in a circle in the locker room and start banging on lockers and dancing around. They say it helps them have some fun before they go out and try to get the Panther fans in the stands in on the fun, too.
The girls also have a song or playlist on their phones that helps them relax and focus.
“It doesn’t always have to be a pump-up song that you listen to,” Perrin said. “Sometimes it’s just a song that gets you focused and in the right mindset for the game.”
With two district games already played against Lampasas and Brownwood, the girls are fully focused and understand that there is a tall task at hand to not only win district again, but make a deep run in the playoffs.
With the players’ chemistry and attitude so far this season they are already well on their way to proving they can achieve great things.