Panthers off to fast start in volleyball district play


By Joseph Garcia

Samantha Rimann (#12) dives to get a dig in Tuesday’s 3-0 sweep of Llano. The Lady Panthers worked together to set up the ball that Emily Philpott (#1) sent over the net. From left are Jaycie Pluenneke (#15), Madi Sharp (#8), Kallie Perrin (#10), Philpott (#1) and Rimann (#12). (Photo by Kathy Canady)

The level of volleyball played in Liberty Hill’s district (8-3A) this season might be the highest the Lady Panthers and Coach Gretchen Peterson have faced in some time – but they are right near the top.

Their district opener on the road against the No. 6 ranked team in the Texas Girls Coaches Association against Gatesville would be a challenge, but one the Lady Panthers knew they could overcome.

Despite at the time no ranking and below .500, Coach Peterson knew all the tough tournament games against top-notch opponents was about to pay off. But after going into hostile territory against the No. 6 team in the state and leaving with a four-set victory (27-25, 21-25, 25-12, 25-18), Liberty Hill volleyball is on the state map with a No. 21 ranking. Gatesville, meanwhile, plummeted down 18 spots to No. 24.

“We knew they were probably the best team in the district,” said Coach Peterson. “We thought we and Gatesville were the top two. We knew it was going to be a great match that we were going to have to step up and play. They are a good team. We beat them once, but we know we are going to have to do it again. They are a defensively strong team and they will be ready for us next time no doubt.”

Then Tuesday night at home, the Lady Panthers charmed the home crowd with a 3-0 win over a gritty Llano team.  But it certainly was not an easy sweep. Coach Peterson said her players have adapted to each other’s talents and are harnessing them whenever necessary.

“We’ve learned that we kind of have to depend of everybody,” she said. “There is not just one player

that is going to pull us through. They all have stepped up and done things that we needed them to do at different times.”

Liberty Hill (2-0, 17-17) started every set down 0-1 and in the first set after four ties; the Lady Panthers used a 6-0 run with Peyton Redmond serving that made the difference in a 25-10 win.

The second set was the easiest highlighted by kills from Madi Sharp, Jaycie Pluenneke and Redmond as the Lady Panther cruised to a 25-15 win. But in the third set, Liberty Hill had to dig deep to complete the sweep.

Down 10-13, Liberty Hill chipped its way back to pull to 17-18. Then a power kill from Emily Philpott tied the set up at 18-18. Nurtured by the service game of Kallie Perrin, the Lady Panthers never looked back and grinded one out against the Lady Yellowjackets 25-19.

“Every time we’ve seen (Llano) play they play like they have nothing to lose,” Peterson said. “They go all out. They are a very good team…the second time around is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. I thought offensively we kind of got on a run (with) Peyton (Redmond) on the outside and Sam (Rimann) from the outside and that momentum swing really helped us and we were able to do that because we passed well out of serve receive.”

After the emotional win over Gatesville and a grind-out victory at home against Llano, Liberty Hill must now face district Rival Burnet on the road Friday, Sept. 28.

But, for now, it is good to be 2-0, said Peterson.

“You are always glad when you win two district games, but those were two big wins that we knew we had to get over the hump and then we have Burnet on Friday, which is always a huge rivalry game,” Peterson said. “This week has been a tough week for us and a tough start to district. But they’re doing really well, I think they handled it really well and this is a fun group for us so we were very excited about it.”