PANTHER PROFILE: From private to public school, Shipper finds her place

Ella Shipper (#5) lays out for a pancake save against Gatesville last week. The Panthers will continue their playoff run at Bryan High School at 6 p.m. Friday. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Ella Shipper (#5) lays out for a pancake save against Gatesville last week. The Panthers will continue their playoff run at Bryan High School at 6 p.m. Friday. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Paul Livengood

Ella Shipper, sophomore right side hitter/middle blocker did not grow up with the kids in the Liberty Hill public school system.

From kindergarten to fifth grade, Shipper attended private school. In sixth grade, her family moved to Liberty Hill.

Shipper misses her old friends from private school, but is grateful for the move in terms of her sports career.

“It was a good change for me,” Shipper said. “It was good that (we moved) when we did. It is better to have public school because of the sports and having that. At private school, where you just do TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) and UIL is definitely a lot bigger.”

In the new environment, Shipper initially looked to club volleyball as her comfort zone and outlet to accustom herself to the move. The sixth grade girl joined the Texas Eclipse club volleyball team and played with the team “for a few years”.
Liberty Hill hosts volleyball camps for middle school kids and ninth graders as well, which Shipper attended annually.

Volleyball Head Coach Gretchen Peterson got her first impressions of Shipper at those camps.

“I do remember her coming when she was young,” Peterson said. “Volleyball is her only sport. She plays in a really good club program. She does a lot in the offseason for her to improve, but I do remember her coming to our Liberty Hill camps as well.”
But that wasn’t the only impression made back then.

Shipper recalls seeing Kingsley Erps, senior outside hitter, at the Liberty Hill volleyball camp Shipper went to in eighth grade. Erps was a sophomore at the time.

Sophomores don’t attend the volleyball camps, but Erps showed up with Peterson to check out the talent at hand. Shipper was inspired in seeing Erps.

“I specifically remember her and being like ‘wow, I’ll look up to her later’ and I still do to this day,” Shipper said.

It wouldn’t take long for Shipper to share the same court with the girl she idolized a year prior.

Prior to the 2015 season, Liberty Hill graduated six seniors, which is near half of a team when one considers there are 12-14 spots on a volleyball roster. Hence, Liberty Hill was in a rebuilding year with young players, and Peterson decided to go all in with the rebuilding process by granting a freshman who was playing well on the freshman team, with the opportunity to play on varsity. That freshman was the same middle school camper that made an impression on Peterson years prior.

After the first few tournaments of the 2015 season concluded, Peterson decided to call up Shipper from the freshman team to the varsity team, pun intended.

“One day at practice, my coach, Coach Junkin, she was like ‘I think Peterson wants your number, she wants to talk to you about going to the tournament tomorrow,’” Shipper said. “And so I was like okay and I gave her my number. (Peterson) called me that night and was like ‘would you like to be on varsity?’ I thought she was going to ask me to do stats or come watch, but she said ‘do you want to come play on varsity?’”

Peterson advised Shipper to discuss it with her parents, and within 10 minutes the ecstatic freshman called Peterson back accepting the offer.

Shipper was thrust into a starting role out of the gate and has never looked back.

Entering her second season on varsity, Shipper is growing more confident in her skills and finding her stride.

“It’s been a lot easier, just knowing how everything goes,” Shipper said. “Being a returner, I know how everything is going to go, especially with the playoffs. Knowing these girls, and being friends with them. Everything is really fun.”

Peterson sees the improvements the sophomore has made in the program.

“She’s a really smart player,” Peterson said. “She really sees the court well. She has a great court sense and on top of that has really great skills and just doesn’t get rattled. Things don’t really upset her. She is very confident in herself and in her abilities.”

With last season being a “rebuilding year”, Peterson figured why not start the process with this talented, confident, young player from the jump. And the decision has paid off in spades.

Shipper has two more seasons after the end of this playoff run to grow and improve under Peterson, and has emerged as young woman Peterson knows she can count on for the years to come.