Liberty Hill volleyball falls to Argyle in Class 4A semifinals

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GARLAND — Ending the season with a loss is never easy, especially when it’s in the UIL State Tournament.

It’s even more heartbreaking when it’s the first time in program history a volleyball team has made it to that stage.

Liberty Hill’s historic season came to a close on Friday evening at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland when the Argyle Lady Eagles won the match in three sets (17-25, 25-27, 20-25).
The Lady Panthers couldn’t overcome an emotional second set that saw a couple controversial calls completely alter the mood and momentum of the match.

Liberty Hill (33-13) held a 24-23 advantage in the second set over Argyle (39-7) and looked to have tied the match 1-1, following a ball that looked to be out by the Lady Eagles, but was overruled as a tip a few seconds later. Argyle went on to win the second set thanks to a 4-1 run following the overruling.

It was the final match for the nine seniors on the Liberty Hill roster whose play this season helped spark the historic playoff run and first state appearance.

Senior Peyton Redmond led the team with 12 kills and was accredited with a double-double when she added 13 digs. Senior Jaycie Pluenneke finished with 10 kills and added two blocks assists.

Senior Kelly McKinzey finished with a match-high 29 assists and led the team in digs as well with 16. Senior Jill Green led the team at the service line with three service aces. Senior Payton Walker finished with 14 digs; senior Kaley Nelson added 12 digs.

Immediately following the match, Liberty Hill Coach Gretchen Peterson was trying to stay upbeat, but struggled to hold back her emotions with the realization that this was it for the seniors.

“They were pretty upset,” Peterson said when asked about the absence of the Liberty Hill players at the press conference. “I have nine seniors so it’s a pretty tough loss for them. I respect that decision. They’re having a hard time, but we’ll be OK.”

When Peterson was asked about the controversial ending of the second set, the coach admitted that she thought it was Liberty Hill’s point, but pointed out that you can’t put blame on the officials because of other opportunities that her players didn’t capitalize on.

Peterson also admitted that the momentum change at the end of the second set, might have caused her team’s morale to deflate a bit, leading to the Lady Panthers trailing 16-4 to start the third set.

Argyle Coach Clark Oberle credited the win to being aggressive and a strong start.

“That first set we were able to keep their strong offense out of system a little with aggressive hitting and serving,” said Oberle. “In the second set (Liberty Hill) was serving tough and got us out of serve-receive a little bit. We were able to get our focus back and come from behind and win that. We got off to a strong start in the third set as well. Luckily we had a big enough lead when (Liberty Hill) started their run to hold them off and finish.”

Liberty Hill could have had history on their side had they beat Argyle on Friday. The last four years, the team that has knocked the Lady Eagles out of the playoffs has gone on to win the state championship each year.

Instead Argyle will get their shot at revenge against Decatur, the team that knocked Argyle out in the Regional Quarterfinals last year and went on to win the Class 3A State Championship, their first in school history.

In the first set, the Lady Eagles got off to a fast start behind junior Eighmy Dobbins and senior Katy Keenan. Keenan recently signed her national letter of intent to play Division I volleyball next fall at Texas Tech University. The two players also had previous state tournament experience when they helped lead the Lady Eagles to the tournament in 2012.

The Lady Eagles led for the entire first set, with their largest lead being eight points. The Lady Panthers tied the set early at 12-all, but couldn’t overcome Argyle’s strong defensive rotations.

In the second set, the Lady Panthers gained their first lead of the match following a kill by Peyton Redmond, assisted by Kelly McKinzey. From that point on Liberty Hill held the lead, but fell apart late due to an 8-2 run by Argyle. Following the controversial call, the Lady Eagles went on a 4-1 run to take a two-set advantage.

In the third set, Liberty Hill found themselves down 16-4 due to several uncharacteristic unforced errors. Liberty Hill slowly battled their way back mid-set, bringing the deficit to three points at one point, but couldn’t complete the comeback and avoid the sweep.

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