By LANCE CATCHINGS
The Liberty Hill (17-12) varsity volleyball team took on Copperas Cove (23-8) Tuesday at home. In a back-and-forth contest that twice went to extra points, the Lady Panthers eventually fell 3-2 (25-23, 26-28, 15-25, 28-26, 11-15). Although the loss is not the outcome senior Gabi Sommerfield hoped for, she was proud of how her team never gave up.
“Tonight, we played a lot better than we did last weekend, and I am really proud of us for that,” Sommerfield said. “We started out really well, but set two and three we were down. We picked up momentum in game four really well. Winning the fourth set was tough, and I’m proud of how we fought.”
Senior Jenna Lyons led the team in kills with 18. Brooklynn Jones had 53 assists and Libero Savannah Stanley had 25 digs. Head coach Gretchen Peterson said she was proud of the fight her team showed in the match.
“We have a long history with Copperas Cove,” Peterson said. “We play them in a lot of tournaments multiple times each year. They are very well coached, and we always battle it out back and forth. I thought, overall, tonight we played well. We handled serve/receive well, we adjusted well and Brooklynn (Jones) did a good job of defense on the right side.”
After a close game one win it looked as if the Lady Panthers would go up 2-0. Leading 23-22 with the serve, a rotation violation cost Liberty Hill the serve and tied the game at 23-23. From that point, Copperas Cove capitalized on the error.
“Momentum is crazy, especially when it’s something like that,” Peterson said. “Those are the type of mental errors we can’t make. I’m glad they called it, because we were out of rotation. I’d rather we learn those lessons now than in district play or playoffs. That hurt us, but we’ll learn from it and won’t make that mistake again.”
In game four, Liberty Hill played behind for the majority of the set, but rallied to a late victory. They jumped out early in game 5, but were unable to capitalize late as Copperas Cove rallied for the win.
“Our composure was huge in game four,” Peterson said. “Our blockers started getting more touches on the ball and our middle really started pulling their middle, which opened some things on the outside. We had a lot more one on one opportunities to Jenna (Lyons) and Emily (Huppee) and they took advantage of them. We got out early in game five, but 15 points goes by fast. Overall, I thought it was good volleyball. For the most part tonight we played cohesive, controlled and with composure.”
Over the weekend, the Liberty Hill varsity volleyball team competed at the Volleypalooza tournament in Leander. Volleypalooza is a large volleyball tournament that has grown in popularity over the years, attracting some of the better teams in the state. Peterson said her team can grow by competing against tough programs.
“Volleypalooza is a really tough tournament,” she said. “We get a lot of teams from the Houston and San Antonio metroplex that travel to this tournament, so the competition is always really tough. We struggled a bit at times and other times we played really well. Teams were affected a lot by the weather, especially the Houston area teams. Many of them went home after the first day so they could get back for the weather circumstances.”
The Lady Panthers posted a 2-5 record at the tournament. They picked up wins against Poth and Stephenville while dropping matches to Leander, Cedar Park, Georgetown Eastview, Pflugerville and Byron-Nelson.
“Overall, we played a lot of matches in three days against some really good teams,” Peterson said. “At times we looked good, but we still struggle with some inconsistency and errors. We need to figure out how to make less of them. It is better to struggle with those things now than to struggle with those things later. It’s good we get to work on those things right now.”
Peterson believes that wins and losses can always teach a team something, but right now the team is focused on improving as a unit. It is still early in the season, and she wants the girls to learn from their mistakes now against tough opponents.
“We faced talented competition, but I don’t think we were pleased with the way we played against some of those teams,” she said. “I think we could have played a few of those teams better and competed a little better. We still struggle with errors on serve/receive and some offensive things. It’s better to struggle against teams that will challenge us, rather than struggle against teams that aren’t pushing us. It was a little frustrating leaving thinking we could have done better, but we played some good teams. We try to play a tough schedule so we are better prepared for district and postseason play. In the long run, it will pay off, but it’s not always easy to take in the moment.”
Peterson said she felt Volleypalooza was a great learning experience for some of her younger players and was pleased with their effort and intensity.
“We had some young players come off the bench and they did a really good job playing with confidence,” she said. “Our bench has responded well when we needed them to. I think our Libero, Savannah, is doing a really good job of getting better on defense and getting more touches on the ball. There are definitely moments where we look really confident and come out strong in game one. Where we struggle is consistency and the mental aspect of our game. We have to make better adjustments.”
Now that the tournaments are done for the season, the team will have a chance to regroup and refocus.
“Our tournaments are done and now we can get on a normal routine,” Peterson said. “We will play on Tuesday and Friday and get three quality days of practice every week. The losses bothered our team because they know their potential is better than that. We have to figure out how to work through it and remain positive. That is what we have to take from this. We have some kids trying to be leaders, but we all have to pull together. I have no doubt we’ll be able to turn it around.”
The Lady Panthers open district play in three weeks and are ready to get to work and iron out the kinks.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we have to go back and work on our fundamentals,” Peterson said. “We now have the luxury of time with three weeks until district starts. We can get these bumps in the road smoothed out and that’s a good thing. It’s still very early in the year and we have the opportunity to start new.”
The Lady Panthers’ next game will take place this Friday, Sept. 1 against Lorena at home at 6 p.m. Next Tuesday, Sept. 5, they’ll play Fredericksburg High School at 6 p.m. in Fredericksburg.