Panthers pink out, defeat Salado

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Ella Shipper (#5) hustles for a dig during Tuesday night’s win over Salado as Liberty Hill Junior High volleyball players look on from the bleachers. The Lady Panthers celebrated Junior High Night and Pink Out Night, honoring LHJH volleyball teams and breast cancer victims. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Ella Shipper (#5) hustles for a dig during Tuesday night’s win over Salado as Liberty Hill Junior High volleyball players look on from the bleachers. The Lady Panthers celebrated Junior High Night and Pink Out Night, honoring LHJH volleyball teams and breast cancer victims. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

The Lady Panthers’ winning streak continued against the Salado Eagles on Tuesday night, as the varsity volleyball team won yet another district match in straight sets. Not only are the Lady Panthers undefeated in district play, but they have not lost a single set in those matches.

Prior to Tuesday night’s matchup with the Eagles, the Lady Panthers honored breast cancer victims and those who continue to fight. The arena was decorated wall-to-wall with pink ribbons and hand-painted signs that read “Fight Cancer,” “Volley for a Cure,” “Fight Like a Girl,” “This is Why We Fight,” and “Spike Out Cancer.”

Tuesday was also Junior High Night. Liberty Hill Junior High volleyball players, all dressed in pink, were brought to the court and introduced to the home crowd, each of them greeted with cheers from the fans.

The Lady Panthers won the first two sets with relative ease, taking the first by a score of 25-11, and the second 25-10. The third set, however, featured some seldom-seen adversity for Liberty Hill.

Salado jumped out to a 5-1 start in the third set, and held the lead for the majority of the set. Their largest lead was at 15-10, which led to a timeout by Liberty Hill Head Coach Gretchen Peterson. The timeout was seemingly a difference maker for the Panthers, as they fought back to tie the set at 18-18.

From there on out, it was all Liberty Hill. They allowed only one more point from Salado, finishing on a 7-1 run to win the third set 25-19 and remain undefeated in district play.

Coach Peterson credited the difficult third set to Salado’s impressive defensive play that led to some frustration by the Lady Panthers.

“We kind of had to figure out how to stay out of our own way,” Peterson said. “I mean, Salado started playing better. They made some great defensive plays that I think kind of took us off guard and frustrated us a little bit, but we kind of had to figure out a way to get out of our way.”

Peterson was impressed with her team’s perseverance against Salado, particularly in that third set, crediting sophomore Ella Shipper’s service performance as one of the major reasons they were able to fight back.

“We bounced back, and we never gave up,” Peterson said. “I think we were down five points at one point, and finished off strong. It helped that Ella (Shipper) was going back behind the line towards the end, because she’s one of our more consistent servers, but all the girls stepped up, made some good hustle plays, made some big swings, and just really played as efficient as they could.”

Jenna Lyons and Kingsley Erps led the team in kills against Salado, finishing with 9 and 7, respectively. Lyons, Shipper, and Brooklynn Jones finished with 3 aces apiece, Gabi Sommerfield finished with 2 blocks, Jones finished with 27 assists, and Lyons finished with 8 digs, as well.

Last Friday, the Lady Panthers beat the Taylor Ducks in straight sets, winning by scores of 25-16, 25-14, and 25-15. Lyons and Hailey Barrows led with 9 kills each. Barrows also led the team with 5 aces. Lyons, Jones, and Sommerfield each had a block, and Jones led in assists and digs with 27 and 8.

On Friday, Liberty Hill will take on Llano, and on Oct. 25, the Lady Panthers will celebrate Senior Night during their match against Lampasas in their last home game of the season. Coach Peterson expects it to be an emotional night, not only for the seniors, but for her, as well.

“I think for a lot of them, this whole year is going to be a season of, ‘This is our last blank, this is our last pep rally, this is our last home game, this is our last bus ride,’ so it’s emotional; happy, but it’s emotional. I’m sure that their parents feel like, ‘How did this happen? Where did this go?’ I know I do that. I mean, all of these girls have been with us since they were freshmen, and some of them even in seventh and eighth grade. I think it’s just a great time for us to sit back and really appreciate what they’ve done, and for them to appreciate all the moments and memories they’ve created, which is really, really important. We’re happy that we get to honor them in a way, with their parents, out there on the floor, and they get to have that moment together.”

The JV girls also won their matches on Tuesday, and last Friday, in straight sets. On Tuesday, against Salado, they won by scores of 25-11 and 25-10. Bailey Grant led with 4 kills and 2 aces, Allison Van Klaveren led with 2 blocks, Caitlin Workman led with 13 assists, and Amanda Petterson led with 5 digs.

On Friday, the JV girls beat the Taylor Ducks by scores of 25-17 and 25-14. Claire Kubesh led the Lady Panthers with 5 kills, Mia Hernandez led with 2 aces, Van Klaveren led with 2 blocks, Workman led with 23 assists, and Petterson led with 7 digs.

The freshman girls also won both their matches in straight sets.

The varsity girls will play at Llano High School on Friday at 6 p.m., and the freshman and JV girls will play simultaneously at Llano High School at 5 p.m.

On Oct. 25, the varsity girls will celebrate Senior Night at home against Lampasas in their last home game of the season at 6 p.m. The freshman and JV girls will also play Lampasas at home at 5 p.m.

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