Lady Panthers top Crawford in lead up to district play

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor
Liberty Hill head volleyball coach Gretchen Peterson wanted a tough schedule to prepare her club for what was to come during the second half of the season, playing in tournaments against bigger schools in order to test her team’s mettle and the results have been excellent, as the Lady Panthers entered Tuesday’s home match against Class 2A Crawford on an eight-match winning streak.
However, despite the visiting Lady Pirates representing a much smaller school, they are defending state champions and proved stubborn opponents in a 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-16) Liberty Hill victory.
Kindsee Escamilla had 11 kills to lead the Lady Panthers, while Ashley Nelson and Emily Huppee each added eight in a match which was tougher than the scoreline would indicate.
Escamilla got things started with a kill for the opening point of the match and added another three in the first set as she and her teammates rolled out to as much as a 15-6 lead on the strength of an Emma Parsons ace and a pair of kills from Nelson.
However, Crawford fought back with a 10-4 run late in the stanza and were still within a point of the Lady Panthers at 22-21 before Nelson closed out the set with an ace.
The second set began much as the first had, only it was a different set of Purple-and-Gold players who sparked the home side in Emma Becker and Emily Huppee, as the former contributed a powerful trio of kills to the cause, while the latter pounded three of her own on the Crawford defense.
But, like in the first, the Lady Pirates battled back and got to withing a single point at 16-15 before Becker tumbled head-over-heels out of bounds to keep a ball alive for a winner, followed shortly thereafter by a double-team block by Nelson and Ailie Hair before senior Lauren LaDuque finished the set with an ace.
Escamilla then began the third set as she had the first, hammering a thunderous kill – her first of three in the first 10 points of the set – which was followed by an ace from Lilli Wilkins, who added a pair of kills of her own.
According to Peterson, the fact she got contributions from across the board was critical in keeping the Crawford defense off balance.
“We were able to spread out balls to different hitters at different times,” said Peterson. “We also had players come off the bench who contributed – we were very balanced.”
The theme continued right up until the end of the third set, when Maddi Rowley took her turn at supplying the firepower with a pair of aces down the stretch before Hair put a punctuation mark on the proceedings with match point to extend Liberty Hill’s winning streak to nine.
Becker had 19 assists and Parsons 15 in their usual two-headed attack, while Haley Kuhlmann added eight digs and Nelson six on the evening. Hair had six blocks in the middle, with Huppee and Becker each getting three. Parsons served a pair of aces as Nelson, Wilkins and Rowley each had one.
Escamilla said the Lady Pirates did well early on in providing themselves with plenty of chances.
“They really did a good job of getting a lot of balls up,” she said. “It rattled us a bit in the beginning.”
She also said the rugged run of matches in the run-up to district play was simply due to a desire to prepare themselves for when the going gets much tougher at season’s end.
“All these wins will help build our confidence as we head into the playoffs,” said Escamilla. “District isn’t as much of a challenge as we want.”
However, Peterson certainly wasn’t overlooking any of her club’s upcoming opponents.
“We can’t go in there and take anybody lightly,” she said.
As for her team’s ambitions beyond what lies directly ahead, she knows the margin for error will continue to get smaller.
“We’ve gotten to the part of the season now where there needs to be an urgency and an intense focus,” said Peterson. “None of these wins will matter if we don’t win when it really counts.”
Liberty Hill (27-13) will open district play at Burnet Friday at 6 p.m.

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