Lady Panthers hit their stride with sweeps of China Spring, Robinson


By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill varsity volleyball team is roughly a week out from opening district play but they should be feeling good about themselves. The team is on a three-game winning streak and posted back to back sweeps of quality opponents China Spring and Waco Robinson in their past two games.

The Lady Panthers played China Spring for the third time this season and got a little revenge by sweeping them in three games 25-23, 25-22 and 25-13. The win moves the team’s season record to 19-14 overall with one pre-district game left to play.

Ashley Nelson led the team with nine kills and Emily Huppee was second on the team with seven. Emma Parsons tallied 23 assists on the night and Nelson led the team defensively with 15 digs. Mia Hernandez added 11 digs in a solid defensive effort by the Lady Panthers.

Head Coach Gretchen Peterson said her team came out with great intensity and excitement to play China Spring.

“China Spring is a team we have already played twice, and both times was in tournament play,” Peterson said. “We stretched both of those matches to three games and they were really close games. I think the girls were excited about playing them again because they feel like they are finally becoming the team they want to be.”

Peterson saw her team grow up by falling behind an established team and having the composure to fight back.

“In both of the first two sets we were down by five and came back to win,” Peterson said. “We started off a little sloppy with some missed serves and in the net errors, but soon found our stride and settled in. We started playing more relaxed and confident which led to playing better defense. We made some hustle plays and once we had the momentum they fought hard to keep it from set to set. The girls played with poise and composure and it’s good to see these sorts of strides being made.”

The Lady Panthers dispatched Waco Robinson in a three-game sweep last Friday night 25-9, 25-14 and 25-22. Peterson believes her team is gelling at the right time.

“Game three was a little bit closer because Robinson settled in and started pushing tempo,” she said. “We got a little bit too relaxed on defense, but overall it was a good match for us. We were down in game three and had to come back so it was good that they had to fight and keep their composure to get the win. We played well, and Robinson is a little bit down this year from what they have been in the past. With that said they are still a playoff contention team.”

Offensively, the team is starting to click and that comes from playing error free volleyball. Defensively, the team is communicating on the court and relying on each other rather than trying to do too much individually.

“I thought we ran well offensively, and I thought we served well because we did not make a ton of errors,” she said.

“It was a complete game for us in every aspect. The first two sets we played well on defense,” she said. “We read things well and we picked up arm swings and played aggressively. Towards the end of game two and game three, Robinson started tipping a bit more, which is something we naturally struggle with. We must be prepared because any team that scouts us will try to capitalize on that. We also need to do a better job of reading that and adjusting earlier. Eventually we took care of it, but that did allow them to take a lead in game three, so we have to recognize those things sooner.”

Senior Ella Shipper continues to work back into the lineup from her early season injury. It is no doubt that her on court presence has helped turn the tide for the Lady Panthers.

“Ella is a calming force and many of the girls have played with her for a long time,” she said. “She is a four-year letterman, so she brings that different dynamic to the court because she knows what it takes. Our team is youthful, and they really respond well to senior leadership, especially from a player who has been there. When she is on the court there is a team confidence and they play a little bit differently.”

Juniors Ashley Nelson and Emily Huppee continue to be impactful on and off the court. With district play approaching Peterson knows they will step up to the challenge.

“Ashley and Emily are almost expected to be senior leaders as juniors, and they are just learning,” she said. “It is a skill you develop just like all the other skills and they are doing good with that challenge. I also think we are getting quality practice along with some rest and that is showing. We look stronger because we have the luxury of time. This is always a good time of the season because we are getting ready to go into district play.”

The Lady Panthers close out their non-district schedule Friday night on the road against Cedar Park.

“Cedar Park we know will be a challenge because they are a dynamic team and that is something the girls understand is a good thing,” she said.

“This week is about stepping up and rising to the occasion and trying to mentally prepare for a playoff atmosphere as much as we can. We want to go into district confident and healthy.”

Liberty Hill opens district play Sept. 21 against rival Burnet. It will also be homecoming night for Liberty Hill so there is sure to be a packed house. Peterson said she has new players but nothing about how they will attack district play changes.

“It is still the same game and our philosophy does not change,” she said.
“There is just a little different level of intensity we have to bring. All the games prior to district were great learning experiences but now we must put those things into action. We have confidence in our players and believe they are prepared.”