Liberty proved it was up to the task in an early-season test against Manchester Valley Thursday evening.
The Lions survived a number of furious rallies by the Mavs, earning a 3-1 victory in the first game of the regular season for both teams.
Liberty (1-0) outlasted Man Valley (0-1) in a lengthy first set, 31-29, and then used that momentum to roll in the second set by a score of 25-17. The Mavs countered with a 25-23 victory in the third frame before Liberty closed it out, 25-11, in the fourth set behind a dominant performance from its front line.
First-year head coach Sheri Hogan was proud of the resilience her team showed, but knows it will take better execution to compete for a county crown.
“We have a lot of work to do in the back row,” she said. “Ultimately, when it came down to it they fought on everything that mattered and rallied [to victory].”
The first set of the game was a wild one, featuring massive momentum swings and seven ties before Liberty finally came out on top. The Lions took the early lead behind a strong service game from junior Sarah Hart, rolling out to a 5-1 lead.
Liberty built an eight-point cushion in that opening game but could not put the feisty Mavs away. Man Valley continued to chip away, eventually tying the score at 21 and then taking a 24-23 lead. The Mavs had a chance to win it but a wayward serve knotted the score.
The teams traded advantages for the rest of the set before a strong kill attempt by Lions junior Sarah Zentner led to a mishit by the Mavs that ended the set at 31-29.
“I think there was a lot of hesitation on defense,” Hogan said of her team during the Mavs’ rally. “We have been working a lot on the back row, which is where our foundation is a little weak. It took them a little time to gel and settle in.”
Hart (7 kills, 5 digs, block, ace) continued to come up big for Liberty in the big moments in the sets that followed. During a crucial stretch with the second set tied, Hart picked up kills on three straight points to help Liberty regain control.
In the fourth set, Hart ended a Man Valley rally with a kill, then headed to the service line. She picked up three points at the service line and gave the Lions a lead they would not relinquish.
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“She is a great all-around player,” Hogan said of the junior. “She is a force to be reckoned with. When she gets in a groove, she is not stoppable.”
Other big efforts for Liberty came from Paige Coulson (8 kills, 6 aces, 7 digs), Grace Maertin (21 assists) and Sarah Zentner (5 blocks).
For Manchester Valley coach Victoria Howell, she saw a lot of promise from her young, hungry team with their ability to fight for every point.
“I think all the girls really want to show that we have grown as a program and as a team,” Howell said. “There is a lot of passion and I think that was really evident [tonight].”
Manchester Valley’s statistical leaders were Sydney Cushen (5 kills, 4 blocks), Libby Burkhouse (22 assists), Sarah Brisson (7 kills) and Aubrey Chopper (14 digs).
Meanwhile, for Liberty, it was a good start for a team that hopes to compete with the likes of Westminster and Century for a county crown this year.
“I’m just really excited about the season,”Liberty’s Coulson said. “I’m excited to see how we compare against the other top teams.”