PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Hayden Schilli making the most of her senior year

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Hayden Schilli (#14) returns a ball during the Volleypalooza Tournament. According to Head Coach Gretchen Peterson, Schilli’s biggest impact is made defensively on the back row. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By LANCE CATCHINGS

Senior Hayden Schilli’s passion for volleyball began as a sixth grader in New Baden, Illinois. When she made the move to Liberty Hill Junior High shortly thereafter, she brought her passion for the sport of volleyball with her. After arriving in Liberty Hill, new friends and solid competition helped it grow.

“New Baden was a small school in a small town,” Schilli said. “When I moved to Liberty Hill, there was a lot more people and different types of friends. I met Brooklynn Jones and Savannah Stanley out at recess in sixth grade, and we’ve been friends and teammates ever since.”

Schilli explained that, although she excelled at the junior high level, high school volleyball has been a completely different animal.

“Middle school volleyball was fun,” she said. “It was competitive because it was a cool sport and everyone wanted to play. I was on the A-team and we were really good both years. I played club volleyball throughout my younger years, as well. Once you get into high school, you find out if you will be good at volleyball or not. In middle school, you just have to be athletic, but in high school, you need skill. There was a lot of competition, because at Liberty Hill, people wanted to play and be good. I was a little nervous, but it was fun.”

It was at the junior high level that she was first introduced to her current coach, Gretchen Peterson.

“I went to some of Coach Peterson’s volleyball camps when I was in middle school,” she said. “I remember them being really fun and she was really passionate about the game.”

As a freshman and sophomore representing Liberty Hill, Schilli found unparalleled excitement in wearing the purple and gold.

“It was exciting becoming a Lady Panther,” she said. “I looked up to the upperclassmen and how well they had succeeded. I wanted to be just like them and make it as far as they did in playoffs.”

Her first varsity action came somewhat unexpectedly, as Peterson called her up from the junior varsity squad in the middle of her junior year at Liberty Hill.

“Halfway through my junior year, Coach Peterson called me into her office,” she said. “She called me up to varsity and said my playing time could be limited, but she thought I would be a good part of the team. It was nerve racking at first, but it was all familiar faces to me, and I knew everyone on the team. My teammates were really excited for me. Playoffs last year was exciting to be there and encourage your teammates on the floor. Even if I wasn’t on the court as much, it was awesome to be there and support my friends and teammates.”

This season, the senior has played a much larger role on the court in helping the Lady Panthers capture a District Championship and, more recently, a Bi-District Championship over Navasota in the first round of the playoffs.

“My senior year has been a great experience, so far,” Schilli said. “I have been in both positions, as a bench player last year and as a starter at times this year. It’s been exciting to play and to start, and it does feel a little different. I am sad that it’s my last season with all my friends. In pre-season, everyone was not connecting as well, but as we got later in the season, we connected and it’s been really fun. We have made it this far, and we are all prepared and practicing really hard. We are ready to make it even farther to State.”

According to Liberty Hill Head Coach Gretchen Peterson, Schilli’s biggest impact for the Lady Panthers during the Bi-District Championship against Navasota was on the defensive end from the back row.

“Navasota tried to hit over the block to tip, and in that respect, Hayden read those things and saw them really well,” Peterson said. “She came in to play back row for us, and she has really come into her own as a good spark for us out on the court.”

Schilli said the reality of how fast her final season is moving started to sink in on Senior Night. Her gratefulness for her coaches, friends and teammates has strengthened throughout her journey, and whether or not they win State won’t change any of that.

“Senior night was a little emotional,” she said. “Now knowing that district has ended and playoffs are here. Everything is flying by so fast and we’ll be going off to college soon. If we win State or not, I am so grateful for my time here, for all the friends I have made here and being with people that love the same sport as I do.”

Schilli’s senior season isn’t quite over, as the Panthers’ Bi-District victory will send them to Cameron Yoe High School where they’ll face China Spring in the Area Championship on Thursday, Nov. 2.

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