Senior class pushing program to new heights with trip to State Tournament

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By SEAN SHAPIRO

The gym at Liberty Hill High School was still reserved for volleyball on Monday afternoon.

While most high schools around the state have already turned their attention to basketball, Liberty Hill’s gym was reserved for bumps, sets and spikes instead of dribbles and jump shots.

“It’s an amazing feeling to still be practicing right now,” senior Payton Walker said. “We’ve been working toward this all year. It’s something we’ve all been building toward.”

The volleyball team reserved the practice time by booking the program’s first trip to the state tournament with a victory against Sealy last week in the Class 4A, Region IV championship match.

In a town known for football, the volleyball team has edged its way into the spotlight the past two seasons.

The Panthers reached the Class 4A, Region IV tournament last season, but couldn’t complete the journey to Garland for the UIL State Tournament. This year, they took the next step, led by a senior class that has set a new standard of excellence.

There are nine seniors on the team. Playing together since junior high, it’s created a cohesive bond that allows the group to stay loose during tense moments in the playoffs.

“You could tell this group was going to do big things when they were eighth graders,” Liberty Hill coach Gretchen Petersen said. “They’ve been working so hard, it’s really been fun to see them grow.”

Goals changed throughout the season for Liberty Hill.

At the beginning, Liberty Hill’s goal was to reach the Class 4A, Region IV championship game. As the Panthers moved through the season, expectations – both internally and externally – started to point toward the final game of the season in Garland.

“We had some ups and downs, but about midway through the season I think we realized how good we were,” senior Jill Green said. “I think we really started to build our confidence from then.”

It also has helped further lay the foundation for a program, rather than a single team. The junior high teams had successful seasons, while the sub-varsity teams have been able to practice an extra month with the varsity team – a valuable asset when attempting to sustain success in 2015.

“I think it’s a great example for the younger kids,” Petersen said. “They can look at this moment and point to it as they move forward and into our varsity team. It’s the type of thing any program looks for.”

Any program would also be looking for a state title, too. And the volleyball team is on the cusp of becoming just the second team sport to win one at Liberty Hill.

“That would be very cool to add our name to that list,” Green said. “It’s something that’s hard to think about. It’s something we’ve always wanted and we’re very excited about the opportunity.”

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