By Taylor Grafft
The Independent Sports
As the school year and athletic seasons for the Liberty Hill Panthers come to a close, The Independent is reviewing all that the Panther teams accomplished this year and some of the key performers who helped them achieve success. Many of the returning athletes will contribute to an exciting 2014-2015 and will be working with coaching staff this summer to improve conditioning and hone skills.
The Liberty Hill Panthers’ football team put together a fantastic season in 2013 which saw them go undefeated in District 8-AAA, go on a 10-game win streak, finish as Bi-district Champions, and finish with a 10-2 overall record.
The Panthers lost their 2013 season opener to Giddings 21-20, but then went on to win 10 straight games before falling to Vernon 34-7, in the Area Round of the playoffs.
Next season, with the conference realignments, the Panthers will take on some new challenges with relatively new opponents and longer travel schedules in Region IV District 14-4A.
Fredericksburg, Taylor, Boerne, Canyon Lake and Bandera all join Liberty Hill in the new football district, while longtime rival Burnet, which moved to District 13-4A, will not be on the Panthers’ schedule.
Senior tailback Will Fromme earned District Co-Offensive MVP for Liberty Hill and will certainly be missed on the Panthers’ roster next season. Coach Jerry Vance will also replace senior fullback Nick Barrios, and senior tailback Cory Ferrell from the backfield. Coach Vance had three offensive linemen make first-team honors including Jake Sanders, Tyler Smith and Colton Hall.
The Panthers also had a host of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball that earned District first-team honors. Players like John Spurgeon, Will Smith, Chris Robinson, Rivers Marks, Jason Reeves and Gary Denson. Placekicker Lucas Rizzotto will also be missed after he put together a strong senior campaign.
Perhaps the biggest hole the Panthers will have to fill next season is at the quarterback position, as senior Second-Team All-District player Tyler Vickers graduates. Vickers, a three-sport athlete at Liberty Hill, was described by Coach Vance as the ultimate competitor that can be good at any activity or sport that he puts his mind to.
The Liberty Hill volleyball team finished the season as Regional Quarterfinal Champions and District 8-3A Champions. They also had several players win district and postseason awards for their stellar play.
Coach Gretchen Peterson will be losing three fantastic players to graduation that will be hard to replace including Kallie Perrin, Mason Sharp and Madi Sharp. All three seniors put together great seasons and were key players in helping the Lady Panthers win district and the Regional Quarterfinals.
Despite the departure of Perrin and the Sharp sisters, Coach Peterson still has a lot of talent left on the roster, especially from the current junior class.
Junior Peyton Redmond won District MVP and will be a key player for Peterson in the fall. Junior Jaycie Pluenneke won Co-Offensive Player of the Year Honors in district. Junior Payton Walker won Defensive Player of the Year Honors in district.
Those three players will be joined by junior Jill Green, who made the All-District First team. Several other underclassmen are expected to step up and take starting spots or key roles off the bench next fall.
The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers Basketball Team finished the season as Co-District Champions with Burnet and with a 25-win season. They also had several key players finish with District and Postseason Awards.
Senior Tristan Heielberg will be missed by the Panthers and will be one of the hardest players on the roster to replace, according to Coach Barry Boren. Heidelberg was a captain on the team and was one of the Panthers’ top scorers.
Tyler Vickers also provided valuable minutes off the bench during district and it will be hard for Coach Boren to replace Vickers’ athletic ability and leadership.
Despite the loss of several senior players, the Panthers were one of the youngest teams in district this season and will return a lot of talent and experience. The team will also be playing in a new district following the conference realignment.
Junior point guard Callen Mikulencak received Offensive MVP in District 8-3A, while sophomore guard Conner Lowe received the Newcomer award in district. Mikulencak led the Panthers in scoring and was a key player in the Panthers’ co-district championship run and Liberty Hill’s overall success.
Those two will be joined by Aedan Welch, Carson Lowe and Zach Lord as key players to watch next season. All five players figure to compete during the offseason for starting spots.
Coach Boren also has several other talented players on the varsity and sub-varsity levels of the program that could be valuable contributors to the next team. The Freshman, Junior Varsity, and Junior High basketball teams all put together solid seasons and have a few players that could be called up to the varsity squad if they put in the necessary work ethic and effort this offseason.
The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers Basketball team put together a super season as well that ended with a Co-District Championship and Area Championship. Next season, the Lady Panthers will miss one of their strongest leaders to ever come through Liberty Hill, Blair Lord.
Lord suffered a season-ending injury in the beginning of the year and tried playing through the pain, but was forced to make an early exit in the early part of district play.
Lord was described by Coach Matt Kirschner as someone that can’t be replaced as a leader on and off the court.
“The heart and work ethic that Blair brought was fantastic and she’s someone that really helped me connect with the players,” Coach Kirschner said. “She’s a player-coach and will be missed.”
The Lady Panthers had several players earn District and Postseason Awards.
Junior Shelby Whitten earned Defensive MVP in district, while junior guard Ashlee Walker earned Offensive MVP and led the Lady Panthers in points per game.
The Lady Panthers’ season ended with a loss to Kennedale in the Regional Semifinal round of the playoffs, but the future looks very bright for Coach Kirschner as he returns his entire roster next season, except Lord.
Allee Nix, Bridgett House, Chelsea Cole, Baylie Bevers and Kaylie Potts were also key contributors for the Panthers last season and will be looked upon to help lead and mentor the younger players that join varsity in the new school year.
The Liberty Hill Panthers Baseball team, coached by Mike Kristan, put together another great season that saw them finish as District Champions and Regional Quarterfinal Champions. They finished the season with a 28-6 overall record.
The Panthers were led by a host of talented seniors who made up most of Coach Kristan’s starting nine. The coaches will certainly miss the leadership and experience that each senior brought to the varsity team and program over the last few years.
The Panthers will have a tough task of replacing all three of their starting outfielders, their shortstop, their second baseman, their first baseman, and their catcher.
Although the Panthers have to replace a lot of experience, they still have a ton of depth making up their roster and have some talented players on the junior varsity level that can step in next season and contribute.
The Panthers’ season ended in the Regional Semifinals against Lubbock Cooper in a one-game, winner-take all scenario. Liberty Hill was supposed to play a best-of-three series, but was forced to reschedule because of inclement weather.
Several players on the roster came away with District and Postseason awards for the Panthers. Senior catcher Colby Schmidt earned District Co-MVP. Sophomore third baseman Slater Foust earned District Offensive MVP.
Senior Travis Gipson earned the District Newcomer award. Six Panthers earned spots on the All-District First team including: junior pitcher Marshall Brown, Schmidt, Foust, senior outfielder Jake Stalder, freshman designated-hitter Garrett Wright, and senior utility man Cody Remore.
Three more players earned their names on the All-District Second team including: senior pitcher Kannon Prior, senior first baseman Mason Baty, and senior outfielder Tristan Heidelberg. Senior Tyler Vickers and Jason Reeves earned All-District Honorable Mentions.
The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers Softball team, coached by Charice Hankins also put together a fantastic season that ended with a District Championship and Regional Quarterfinals Championship.
The Lady Panthers finished the season with a 29-7 overall record. Liberty Hill lost in the Regional Semifinals round of the playoffs to a tough Snyder team.
The Lady Panthers battled hard and forced a Game Three after losing the Game One and coming from behind to win Game Two, but fell just a little short.
The Panthers will be losing several key players to graduation this season: Delany Red who started at first base for the playoffs and most of district, Lynette Clarke who played second base and provided some solid run support as a designated player, and Alyson Sulak whose athletic ability and speed in the outfield provided the Lady Panthers with some solid defense, and Macy Kirk who provided the Lady Panthers with clutch hits and run support all season long.
Coach Hankins returns most of her starters next season and will still have quality depth and talent at all positions on the field. Junior left fielder Baylie Bevers will be returning along with Kelly McKinzey in the outfield. Infielders Lynsey Mitchell, Joely Williamson, and Kallen Floyd will also be returning. Catcher Payton Walker will be returning behind the plate, while pitchers Sam Junkin and Nicole Thiem will also return to the Lady Panthers next year.
Junior Sam Junkin earned District MVP. Freshman Joely Williamson earned Co-Newcomer of the Year honors. Junior Lynsey Mitchell earned Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Senior Alyson Sulak, junior Payton Walker, sophomore Nicole Thiem and senior Delaney Red earned First-Team All-District Honors.
Junior Kelly McKinzey and junior Kallen Floyd earned Second-Team All-District Honors. Senior Lynette Clark and junior Baylie Bevers earned Honorable Mention All-District Honors.
The Liberty Hill Panthers Track and Field team was highly successful this season as they swept District and had 25 athletes make it to Regionals in Lubbock. They also had a host of Panthers set personal bests and Panther Stadium and school records to top it all off.
The Panthers sent three athletes to the State Meet in Austin this year: senior Madi Sharp (who ran the 100 Meter Hurdles) senior Mitchell Germann (who ran the 3200 Meter Run) and freshman McKynzie King (who ran the 3200 Meter Run).
The future looks bright according to the Liberty Hill Track coaches as a lot of talent is returning next season and several stars from the eighth grade Panthers’ track team enter onto the high school scene.
The future looks bright for Liberty Hill’s Tennis team, as the Panthers will be returning a lot of experience and leadership on Varsity next year.
Liberty Hill Tennis Coach Robert Headrick had two top-three finishes at the District Meet this season. Alex Svetlik took third place in district in Girls Singles, while Graham Vaandrager placed third in district in Boys Singles.
“We are a young group and getting better,” Coach Headrick said. “The kids are excited about the future of tennis at Liberty Hill.”
Returners for Varsity next year will be juniors Graham Vaandrager, Bo Miller, Frances Prewitt, Amanda Woodbury, and Emily Young. They will be expected to lead the team and take Liberty Hill Tennis to the next level.
The Liberty Hill Panther Golf teams had a successful year under Coaches Danny Knowles and Amy Klein.
On the Boys golf team, junior Blake Elliott led the charge with a third place finish at the State Golf Tournament at the Hyatt-Regency Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop. Elliott showed consistency throughout the year and finished at the top of the leaderboards at every tournament he participated in. Elliott will try to get back to the State Tournament next season in his final year at Liberty Hill.
Coach Knowles also had solid performances throughout the year from James Rollins, Riley Huggins, Nico Edel and Jacob Ingram. The young group should continue to improve next year as they look to take their games to the next level.
The Girls golf team saw good performances from Hallie Smith, Emily Krueger, Abby Harbour, Grace West, and Matalin Sanders.