Volleyball move-ins getting comfortable in new surroundings
By Lance Catchings
With the unprecedented growth Liberty Hill is experiencing, new student-athletes are constantly moving to the area with their families and having to start anew. What makes Liberty Hill unique is how quickly these student-athletes often become ingrained in the Panther athletic programs, as if they were always there.
This season, sophomores Emilee Allred and Lili Wilkins joined the Lady Panther volleyball team and got to experience Liberty Hill hospitality first hand. Allred came to Liberty Hill from Skyview High School in Billings, Montana, where she was a setter and right-side hitter. She admits she had never heard of Liberty Hill, but feels like it has been a smooth adjustment.
“I had not heard of Liberty Hill before moving here, but once here I went to an open gym, I learned quickly,” Allred said. “When I first got here, I thought the school looked really nice. When I first got to the open gym, I was nervous, but everyone was very welcoming, which made the transition easy.”
Trying out for a new team in a new town can be nerve racking, but Allred said she was met with nothing but smiles.
“I was really nervous to go into the two-a-day tryout process for Liberty Hill,” Allred said. “I was really nervous about the mile run we had to do. We had two-a-days in Billings, but they were different. These tryouts were hard, but most of the girls were nice, which made it easier. Becoming part of the team was easy. All the girls have been extremely welcoming. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t have volleyball when I moved here. They all just opened their arms and accepted me.”
It is no secret that Head Coach Gretchen Peterson runs a highly competitive program, but Allred said she always felt welcome, despite the ultra-competitive nature of the team.
“I really like how Coach Peterson runs her practices,” Allred said. “They are a little like how we did it in Billings, but I like how we are always moving. The practices are intense, and the first time I met her, I really liked her. It is cool to be a part of this program.”
As the team has improved over the season, Allred said her relationships with her teammates have also gotten stronger, as well as her love for her new home.
“We’ve been starting to get some good connections between the setters and hitters lately,” she said. “It can be hard to build a connection with your hitters. I think a big part of it is getting to know them better off the court, as well. I think that helps with your connection on the court, and that has gotten better for us throughout the season. The town that I came from was bigger than Liberty Hill, but I like the small town feel here. I like that everyone knows everyone, and I like the high school. I love all the volleyball girls on our team and everyone in the program.”
Wilkins also moved to Liberty Hill over the summer, transitioning from McKinney in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where she attended Independence High School. Like her teammate from Montana, she hadn’t heard of Liberty Hill, either, but got her first experience at an open gym.
“My first impression of everything here was very different,” she said. “You didn’t see the six-foot girls walking around in the hallways. Coach Peterson was great, and she was very welcoming. I came into open gym and half of the girls were giving me hugs, which was not something very common in Dallas. There, you feel like you must fight and compete all the time. Here, we are competing with and against each other, but at the end of the day, we are all a family.”
After going through the tryout process, Wilkins quickly became a firm believer in Peterson’s philosophy.
“Coach Peterson is very understanding, and you can tell she really has a passion for the game and cares about her girls,” Wilkins said. “She constantly reinforces that we are a family and we are here to help build each other up.”
In the newcomers’ first season as Lady Panthers, the team has endured some ups and downs, but Wilkins is proud of what they have accomplished lately.
“I feel like this team has come together a lot,” Wilkins said. “Our bonding level has been great. We have stuck it out together this season, and we build each other up. We are all very close, and there is nothing that I would change with this team. We all love each other, and it is an amazing environment. Everyone here has been awesome and just accepts you. It is a small community, but an amazing one.”
Wilkins and Allred have both earned contributing roles on the court for the Lady Panthers this season. As Liberty Hill continues to grow, it is likely they, too, will be part of the welcoming committee for new girls moving to the area and getting acclimated with the volleyball program.