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Carroll County Times
Carroll County High School Sports

Sarah Hart, Paige Coulson lead Liberty volleyball to Class 2A state title with 3-1 win over Middletown

For Liberty’s volleyball team, Thursday night was a chance to put an exclamation point on a spectacular season. In the end, the Lions left no doubt.

No. 6 Liberty controlled most of the match, rallying from a second-set loss to defeat Middletown, 25-13, 19-25, 25-15, 25-19, in the Class 2A state championship match at Harford Community College.

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The Lions, who finished off the season a perfect 20-0, were led by 22 kills from Sarah Hart and 18 from Paige Coulson. Grace Maerten set them up with 46 assists. Coulson had a double-double on the night also picking up a team-high 21 digs. Jenna Liska had 15 digs to go with eight kills.

Meanwhile, Jordan Prior led Middletown with 17 kills.

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“I am so incredibly proud of this team for everything they’ve done,” Liberty coach Sheri Hagen said. “I knew we had something special. We came so close last year, and I knew they would want it even more and we had the skills to pull this off this year.”

This was not the first time the teams met this season. On Oct. 24, Liberty traveled to Middletown and fell behind the Knights, 2-0, before rallying to win in a five-set thriller.

The Lions came out swinging in the first set Thursday, and the Knights had no answer for Hart. The senior contributed seven kills in the set, continuously finding holes in the Middletown defense. In the middle of the set, Middletown cut the lead to five, but could get no closer as Liberty rallied for a 25-13 victory.

Liberty's Sarah Hart sends a shot over Middletown blockers in the Class 2A state volleyball championship match at Harford Community College's APGFCU Arena on Thursday. Hart led Liberty with 22 kills.

Middletown did a much better job in the second set adjusting to both Hart and Coulson. The Knights’ block became more effective, forcing Liberty to use a lot of tips to try and score points. After being tied at 14, the Knights went on a 9-2 run to take a 21-16 lead, forcing Hagen to call a timeout. The teams traded points the rest of the way, with Middletown (10-8) tying the match at one set apiece with a 25-19 win.

“I told them [after the second set] that we needed to start hitting again, said Hagen. “No more tips. Let’s start hitting the ball.”

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Hart agreed.

“We just knew that if they dug us, that we had to do something different,” Hart said. “We couldn’t go back to doing the same things again.”

The strategy paid off as the Lions began to pull away in the middle of the third set. They were also helped out by four serving errors by the Knights when the set was still within reach. The Lions closed out the set, 25-15, with an Erin Gossard ace for a 2-1 lead.

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Liberty's Grace Maerten makes a play on the ball as teammate Jenna Liska looks on against Middletown in the Class 2A state volleyball championship match at Harford Community College's APGFCU Arena on Thursday. Maerten had 46 assists.

“They got a couple good serving runs on us and I think that turned the tide,” Knights coach Jaime Pryor said. “In the middle of the set, we missed like four serves in a row, so that didn’t help us.”

The Lions fell behind early in the fourth set, but tied it at 13 with a Hart kill down the line. After a Liska kill on the next ball, Liberty never trailed again. The match ended on a Coulson kill, touching off a wild celebration on the court after the 25-19 set victory.

For Liberty, the state title was the fourth in program history and the first since 2008.

“If you would have told me my freshman year that we’d be here right now, I would not have believed you,” said Coulson, a four-year starter. “We were 3-12 my freshman year, and now we are here. It’s been an incredible run.”

Liberty senior Jenna Liska poses with her 17-month-old baby sister, Josie Liska, following the Lions win over Middletown in the Class 2A state volleyball championship match at Harford Community College's APGFCU Arena on Thursday.

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