PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Senior Libero Savannah Stanley embracing playoff challenges
By LANCE CATCHINGS
Savannah Stanley stands at only five feet and three inches tall, but her impact on the volleyball court is immeasurable. She developed a strong passion for volleyball at a young age, and has immersed herself in the game for almost 10 years.
Stanley, now a senior and the Lady Panthers’ starting Libero, credits her teammates and friendships for keeping her invested for so many years.
“From seventh grade through now, the volleyball program has made my teammates and I all such great friends,” Stanley said. “I don’t feel like we would all be friends if it wasn’t for volleyball. We all come from different groups and backgrounds.”
Head Coach Gretchen Peterson said it is her positive attitude that has made her such a joy to coach over the past three years.
“Savannah is an amazing teammate,” Peterson said. “She makes everyone around her smile. She has become more confident each year that she steps on the court. Her attitude and enthusiasm is contagious. You couldn’t ask for more from a player that never comes off the floor. I am so proud of the young woman she has become and the player she developed into.”
Stanley is a three-year starter and has racked up many accolades over her career, but still remembers exactly how she felt the moment she was placed on varsity. Looking back on it, she believes her maturity is what has changed the most between then and now.
“I became the starting Libero my sophomore year,” she said. “Coach Peterson pulled me into her office during preseason and told me where she was going to put me. I sat there so calm, but was going crazy inside. I called my mom freaking out afterwards, because I was so excited. I have always been the goofy one on the team. We have all gotten better as a team, and Peterson always says we are like a family on varsity. It is a different maturity level as you grow up, and our team maturity level has gone up. We still like to have fun and be goofy, but I feel like I am the same person from then to now. I haven’t grown any taller, just older.”
As the Libero, Stanley never leaves the court, and the team’s defensive efforts often start with her.
“A libero is the leader of the back row,” she said. “I communicate to the blockers and the other players what the blockers are doing. I relay what I expect them to do, as well as what they expect me to do. I think I do pretty good at that. I feel my confidence level has gone up because of my teammates, and I hope they feel the same. My teammates always make me feel more confident. I think it helps us all grow as players to depend on your teammates as much as they depend on you.”
Stanley is often the one staring down the serve from much taller opponents. It is a challenge she does not back down from. In fact, she thrives from it.
“I love playing teams that challenge us,” she said. “There is nothing like playing a team that matches up to you well. It is how you grow as a player and get outside of your comfort zone. I love playing against strong players like Jenna (Lyons) and Gabi (Sommerfield). When opponents are hitting the ball at me so hard and serving top spins, I love it. I love having teammates, and I love being competitive. In the offseason, we always challenge ourselves, and you make such great friends that way. All the friendships I’ve made, from eight years old to now, have been amazing.”
Stanley has patiently awaited the playoffs since the end of last season. Now that playoff time is here, she could not be enjoying it more.
“I think the playoffs are the best time of the season,” she said. “It is my absolute favorite, because it brings out everyone’s true character. You enter each game knowing it could possibly be your last. We get one set in and we all say this is not going to be our last game. Playoffs is the funnest, most competitive part of the year. You make the most memories during playoffs, on the buses, at hotels, and at restaurants. The perfect way to end my senior season is with a State Championship ring on my finger, end of story.”
Stanley said she’s thankful for all of the community support the city of Liberty Hill has given her and her teammates over the past few years, and is grateful to have come through Peterson’s volleyball program as a Lady Panther.
“Throughout the last few years, I feel we have made everyone really proud,” Stanley said. “Last year, we had people tell us we weren’t going to State. We showed how serious we were and proved those people wrong. The whole town supported us in our send off, and businesses put up signs for us. It is so great to have people in the community come up to you and ask how your season is going. It has always been a great feeling to be a part of this program. Coach Peterson has done such a great job with this program that people look at us as great volleyball players and great young women.”
As a senior, Stanley feels it is important to let younger girls know that whatever your dream is, you can achieve it.
“I actually had an elementary school teacher tell me I would never play volleyball, because I was short and wouldn’t grow very much,” she said. “My sophomore year, I became a starter on a varsity team and will pursue my dream of playing in college that I have had since I was a little girl. To a young girl with a dream, I would say don’t ever give up, even though someone says you will never make it there. I have had plenty of people tell me how short I am along the way, and that never stopped me. I would tell her if you want to play, then go play. Anything you want to do, you can do. Just go get it. People will tell you all your life that you can’t do stuff, but that’s just motivation to show them that they’re wrong.”
In the Lady Panthers’ Regional Quarterfinal victory over La Grange in straight sets on Nov. 7, Stanley finished with a team-high 22 digs, keeping her senior season alive for at least one more round against Huffman Hargrave at Bryan High School on Friday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m.