Lady Panthers defeat previously-unbeaten district leaders

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor
Kaileigh Truslow might only be a sophomore in her first season of varsity volleyball, but the Liberty Hill outside hitter showed the poise of a veteran late in the Lady Panthers’ 3-2 (25-16, 25-21, 21-25, 18-25, 15-11) road victory over Cedar Park on Nov. 4.

The Lady Timberwolves’ 12-match winning streak? History. Their previously-perfect district record? Gone.

All at the hands of a resilient Liberty Hill squad that refused to fold after letting Cedar Park force a fifth set after winning the first two of the match.

However, it was Truslow who put the Lady Panthers over the top, collecting 14 kills – six of them in the decisive fifth set.

Truslow attributed the victory to the aggressive approach she and her teammates took entering the proceedings.

“We knew we had nothing to lose,” she said. “This was a great opportunity for us.”

At the outset, it looked as if the visitors would run away with the match in a first set which saw the Lady Panthers quickly jump out to leads of 4-1 and 11-3, with the help of a pair of Truslow kills.

Senior Lilli Wilkins contributed two kills, while Emma Becker and Ailie Hair also got in on the act in helping Liberty Hill close out the set in relatively easy fashion, 25-16.

But, from that point forward, the two sides were never more than two points apart all the way through the second and third sets.

After only getting a single kill in the first set, Becker came alive in the second stanza, hammering home four kills, but the Lady Panthers’ enthusiasm was somewhat muted when Wilkins went down with an injury with the score 5-5 after having just blocked a shot on the previous point and was forced to the sidelines for the rest of the match.

In came junior middle blocker Bailey Becker, who more-than-capably filled in for Wilkins on the front line the rest of the way, although Liberty Hill head coach Gretchen Peterson acknowledged the wind may have come out of her team’s sails after they held on the win the set, 25-21.

“I think after Lilli got hurt, our adrenaline kicked in,” she said. “But, after that, we kind of came back down again.”

Suddenly, all the momentum and composure the Lady Panthers had shown in winning the first two sets was gone and in its place was a re-energized Cedar Park squad who wasn’t about to go quietly into the night on its home court.

Emma Becker began the third with a string of four kills, along with a Bailey Becker ace for a quick 4-1 advantage, but the Lady Timberwolves fought right back in not allowing Liberty Hill to get any further than one point ahead.

Right after Emma Becker bombed her 10th kill of the evening, Maddi Rowley served an ace for a 12-11 lead, but Cedar Park once again rebounded until building a 16-14 lead of their own.

After the score was tied one final time at 19-19, the hosts finally gained the lead for good and went on to win, 25-21.

The fourth set saw the same kind of dogged determination by both sides which had fueled the entire match up to that point, until Cedar Park built as much as 14-8 advantage before going on to win, 25-18 and force the decisive fifth set.

Hair stepped up in the fifth with four kills and a block, but it seemed as if the once-safe lead and the match itself was slowly slipping away, as the Lady Timberwolves led 9-6 when Peterson called a timeout.

On the first point after the break, Hair claimed a kill and that’s when Truslow kicked her game into high gear, winning five of the Lady Panthers’ last seven points as she and her teammates went on a 9-2 run to end it and secure victory after it seemed as if all had been lost.

According to Peterson, the difference between this match and the straight-sets home loss to Cedar Park her squad suffered on Oct. 16 was the mentality her team brought into the match.

“We stayed aggressive and weren’t afraid to win,” said Peterson. “We felt like we had everything to gain tonight and nothing to lose.”

Peterson added it was that precise approach which allowed her players to play loose and easy, as opposed to the first meeting with the Lady Timberwolves.

“We were a totally different team the first time we played them,” she said. “We we psyched out by them and weren’t mentally tough. Tonight, we came in with a different mindset.”

Truslow added a pair of aces and 23 digs to her 14 kills, while Emma Becker collected 10 kills and 25 assists on the match.

Emma Parsons picked up 25 assists, while Hair had five blocks, Haley Kuhlmann 16 digs and Bailey Becker two aces.

Liberty Hill (15-4, 9-3) will next host winless Marble Falls on Nov. 6, then will wrap up the regular season with a home date against Rouse on Nov. 13.

As it currently stands, the third-place Lady Panthers will match up with District 26 second-place Alamo Heights in the opening round of the playoffs, unless Liberty Hill were to chase down Rouse for second in District 25.

Either way, Peterson was glad to have the opportunity to see how her team would react in a pressure-packed atmosphere – something they didn’t have last season before entering the postseason.

“Tonight was a great learning moment for us,” she said. “We treated this like a trial at a playoff match and Cedar Park is a really good team.”

For Truslow, the high-intensity environment is exactly what she thrives in.

“I love the competition – it’s awesome,” she said. “We were looking for payback tonight.”

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