By TAYLOR GRAFFT
SNYDER — The Liberty Hill Varsity Volleyball team came up short last week against a talented Abilene Wylie team that had won State the year before.
On Nov. 15, the Lady Panthers lost 3-0 (25-10, 25-13, 25-23) to the Bulldogs to conclude their spectacular season in the Regional Semifinals in Snyder.
“We knew Wylie was going to be good,” said Head Coach Gretchen Peterson. “We knew that they had a lot of talent and knew they had a lot of experience coming off of a State Championship the year before. But I still feel like we had more talent and more depth than they did. We practiced well leading up to the game and in warm-ups. Not to take anything from Wylie because I think they played phenomenal and better than any film or scouting report we had seen on them. We just couldn’t get any momentum going and our confidence got shook early.”
The Lady Panthers showed some fight in a close third set and grabbed some momentum, but couldn’t find the spark they needed to overcome the Bulldogs.
“The team that played on Friday wasn’t the team that we’ve been all season,” Coach Peterson said. “Game three we really got it together and came out playing well. I think that’s how all of the sets should have been. Wylie played really well and we just made too many unforced errors. When you make that many errors, whether you’re playing good defense or not, you’re not going to win games.”
The hardest part about the loss to Wylie was the realization for the three seniors, Kallie Perrin, Mason Sharp and Madi Sharp, that they played their final game for Liberty Hill.
“This group is such a close-knit group,” Coach Peterson said. “They really enjoy being around each other. It was hard for all of them. I feel like they all mourned the loss the same way because they were all in it together. They always supported each other and were so positive with each other. I know the juniors felt bad for the seniors because they were done. All season long they wanted to get them to that next level because they care so much about each other. It is obviously going to be different for those seniors not being around their friends anymore. It was somber in the locker room afterwards, but they’ll always have those memories with their friends and playing. They’ll remember that season, not just the game, for a long time.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Panthers still finished the season with a District 8-3A Title and several individual players that received awards and first-team honors.
Junior outside hitter Peyton Redmond won District MVP honors after putting together a fantastic season.
Junior teammate Jaycie Pluenneke won co-Offensive Player of the Year for her dominant presence in the middle.
Junior libero Payton Walker took home Defensive Player of the Year in district for her stellar play and leadership in the back.
Senior Kallie Perrin won Setter of the Year after helping run and set the tempo and offense for the Lady Panthers all season and in the playoff run.
Junior Jill Green, and senior sisters Madi and Mason Sharp were all named to the 1st team in District 8-3A for their spectacular talents and season on the court.
“Almost all of those girls will land on the All-Academic Team as well, so they’re all really smart,” Coach Peterson said.
“Overall it was a great season,” she said. “I’m really proud of them. At the beginning of the season they came out and said they wanted to be in the Regional Finals and one game away from the State Tournament. We fell one game short and that’s hard to take, but to stay focused all season long and to get to the Regional Tournament and fall one game short, takes a lot of dedication and hard work. These girls all improved a lot over the course of the season. And not just the seven girls that played a lot. Even the girls that didn’t get to play a whole lot came in and worked with positive attitudes and improved so much.”
The toughest task for the Lady Panthers will be replacing the experience, leadership, and talent that Perrin and the Sharp sisters brought on and off the court.
“We have big shoes to fill,” Coach Peterson said. “We’re sad to lose those seniors and we’re going to miss them a lot. But we know we’re going to be okay. The girls that are coming back are going to be more driven and have been in that playoff situation and will handle it differently next year.”
The future looks bright for the Panthers next year, which will return the District MVP, the co-Offensive POY, the Defensive POY as well as 1st teamer Jill Green.
“The Juniors’ freshman year we lost in the second round of the playoffs,” Coach Peterson said. “Their sophomore year we lost in the Regional Quarterfinals, and this year we lost in the Regional Semifinals. So if that progression continues we should be in the Regional Finals next year at least,” Peterson joked.
“Payton (Walker), Jaycie (Pluenneke), and (Peyton) Redmond have all been with me since their freshman year so they’ve grown into such confident and smart players,” Peterson added. “I think they’re going to come back really driven and will have matured so much from this experience.”