By LANCE CATCHINGS
The Liberty Hill varsity volleyball team (26-13, 8-0) downed 19-4A district rival Burnet (20-9) in a three-game sweep on Friday, Oct. 6 by scores of 25-22, 25-18 and 25-14. In a packed house with an intense student section, the Lady Panthers showed poise in their win.
The first two games were hard fought matches with multiple lead changes, while the third went a bit smoother for Liberty Hill. Senior Jenna Lyons led the team in kills with 12, and said she was proud of how her team played in a tight contest.
“We got a little flustered in the beginning, because the score was closer than we anticipated,” Lyons said. “We just have to work on limiting teams when we’re on defense. We can’t accept three- and four-point runs. It felt good to play in a tighter game. We know once we enter the playoffs there will be no mercy shown. With a few teams in our district we work on faster tempo, but it’s definitely nice to see a more competitive team like Burnet. It always feels good to beat Burnet, but this is my last time as a senior and it feels pretty great.”
Senior Brooklynn Jones tallied four aces and 30 assists in the win, and Gabi Sommerfield came away with three blocks. Senior Savannah Stanley had 11 digs on the defensive side and Ella Shipper was second on the team in kills with eight. Shipper said she was happy with the effort of her team during a tough week against a long-time rival in an opposing gym.
“Burnet is always a tough game, especially when we are playing in Burnet,” Shipper said. “Their fans pack the gym, and it’s always competitive. I am proud of how we showed up and played, even with the extra student section they had. As the games progressed, we got more comfortable in our sets and tried to stick to our game plan. In the third set, we did well with serve and receive kills and turning things into our favor. We had a tough week after Glenn with all the things that come with being a student-athlete. We had some late nights, so it was good we could push through and get this win.”
Liberty Hill Head Coach Gretchen Peterson said overall, the team performed up to her expectations. She knew it would be a tough road contest, but the girls were up to the task.
“We played pretty well tonight, overall,” Peterson said. “In games one and two, we made some unforced errors in the beginning, but we adjusted well. We had some blocking errors, but from a coaching perspective, they were the right type of errors. Our timing was there, but we still need to tweak a few things. We had some players step up, and for the most part, our passers did a good job spreading the ball around. When Burnet started to focus on Gabi in the middle, I felt our outside hitters did a good job recognizing one-on-ones and putting the ball away. Claire had some key swings, Emily had some great swings and Jenna was in a strong rhythm the entire night. Overall, we played a complete game, and it’s always good to get out of Burnet in three wins.”
Burnet hung with the Lady Panthers for much of the first two games, using a strong defensive effort and focusing on their outside hitters for points.
“It’s always tough when we play Burnet,” Peterson said. “They have a great student section and a great fan base. It has become one of those games that goes back-and-forth. Burnet played well and they did a lot of good things on defense but I was proud of how we kept our composure and did not panic. We played in a relaxed state for the most part which let us build runs when we needed to.”
The Lady Panthers were off on Tuesday, Oct. 10, and Peterson admitted it was the perfect time for a short break.
“The break we have on Tuesday will be good for us,” she said. “The girls can sit back, reflect and take some time to just be with their families for a while. When we have a break like that, the girls always come back a little more recharged. We still have Salado that we have to take care of and any of the remaining four teams, for that matter. We welcome the break, but we will practice during that time off and make sure we are ready to go Friday. The Burnet game was good for us, because it has a playoff-type atmosphere. The girls felt that heightened intensity, and it’s a great practice run for the type of intensity and focus required in a playoff game down the road.”
The Lady Panthers are back in 19-4A district action against Taylor at 6:00 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, at the Liberty Hill High School gymnasium. This will be the first of four consecutive district home games Liberty Hill will play to wrap up the regular season before the playoffs begin.