Freshman Ella Shipper makes the jump to varsity level for Liberty Hill volleyball team

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Freshman Ella Shipper steps up to varsity for the Lady Panthers. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Freshman Ella Shipper steps up to varsity for the Lady Panthers. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By LAUREN JETTE

The Lady Panther volleyball team started the season off fairly young, with three sophomores and a couple of juniors on the roster. The team got even younger with the recent addition of a freshman.

Coach Gretchen Peterson is looking for Ella Shipper to strengthen a weak spot on the outside for the Lady Panthers.

“We were having trouble with consistency on the outside and (Shipper) has a very good volleyball knowledge, even for being a young player. She just sees the court really well,” Peterson said.

“What we liked about her was that she read things that we were struggling with, like we were having a hard time covering tips off the offside block, and she reads those really well.”

Shipper found out about her move to the varsity team the night before the start of the Lady Panthers’ final tournament at Leander on Aug. 27, after giving her cell phone number to her coach.

“I was expecting a call from her, but I thought I was just going to go to the tournament and sit there and watch or take stats or whatever,” Shipper said. “(Coach Peterson) called me Thursday night and asked me if I wanted to be on the team…after about 10 minutes, I called her back and said yes.”

During those 10 minutes, Shipper talked to her parents about the opportunity.

“I just wanted to be sure it was something I really wanted to do,” Shipper explained. “I was sure I really wanted to do it, but I wanted to make sure that my parents were okay with it, too. They are really excited about it. I just wanted to talk to them for sure before it was a done deal.”

With about eight years of recreational volleyball and four years of club volleyball experience, the transition from the freshman team to varsity wasn’t too much of a shock for Shipper.

“I was just trying to get in there and figure out what I needed to do,” Shipper said of her first varsity match.

“(Going) from (the) freshman (team) where it’s slower to varsity, where it’s fast, fast, fast, it was crazy. But I’m used to it in club, it’s not something I didn’t think I could do, I just need to get back into it. I think it’s just a challenge for me to keep up my skills.”

Her new teammates also helped make that transition easier by welcoming the freshman.

“The girls really took me in that morning,” Shipper said. “They were like, ‘we’re really excited you’re coming with us’ and that made me feel really comfortable playing with them because they actually talked to me. They just took me under their wings. I was really happy.”

With a tournament and a few regular matches behind her now, Shipper seems to be handling the challenge well, Peterson said.

“I think if she can just contribute to us by being a consistent outside hitter, which will allow for things to open up in the middle and the right side, where we have little more experienced hitters, so that (the opposing) defense has to be aware of her, that frees things up for us,” Peterson said.

“She’s not going to be our side-out player, but get in one, two, three kills a game and step up with one or two aces a game, that’s all we need her to do,” she said.

And that expectation is something Shipper is prepared to focus on in her first season on varsity.

“You just gotta keep doing what you do, you don’t worry about what the other side of the court is doing,” Shipper said. “You don’t worry about what somebody in the stands is doing, you just worry about what you and your team are working at.”

Relying so heavily on younger players might be considered a problem to other coaches, but Peterson sees it as a benefit to the volleyball program.

“The fact is, this year, no matter what the outcome is, (the underclassmen) will be better for it in the long run,” Peterson said.

“They’re going to be better, they’re going to have more confidence, experience and that group will have now played together for a whole season at the varsity level, so that bond is already built when we come back next August. “It’s a great problem to have,” she continued. “The fact that we have youth can have its challenges, but in the long run, it really pays off to be a positive thing.”

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