Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Hannah Chase gets a kill past Dos Palos blockers Teya Vincent (3) and Brittney Bonds during Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Broncos.
After two straight losses to Minarets in the Div. IV semifinals, the Liberty Hawks girls volleyball team is vying for another playoff run and, hopefully, their first visit to the Valley Championship match.
The Hawks started off their season Tuesday with a tough 3-0 victory over Dos Palos. Last season, the Hawks were the top seed and lost in four sets to Minarets in the semifinals. Dos Palos also was a Div. IV semifinalist last season.
“I’ve been wanting to play Dos Palos for four years,” said Liberty head coach Brandon St. Lucia. “They are no slouch. It was a battle the whole match. There was never a time where we were cruising. We were fighting from behind or neck-and-neck. The win is going to keep the confidence going for everyone.”
The Hawks pulled out a 25-19, 27-25, 25-17 victory over the Broncos. Leading the way were outside hitter Hannah Chase and setter Madison Devine. Chase led the team with 11 kills and Devine chipped in with six. Karsyn Woods also had seven kills and Zoey Richey had four.
“It’s definitely a confidence builder, just for the younger girls,” St. Lucia said. “Jackie Lopez was struggling and those last couple of rallies, she stepped up and dug a few balls. It’s definitely a confidence booster to the new, younger varsity players.”
With the success of the past two seasons, St. Lucia knows this is the year for the Hawks to head to the promised land, especially with a core of Devine, Chase, Richey and Paige Peterson entering their senior years after playing with each other since they were freshmen.
“It’s now or never and they know that,” St. Lucia said. “They are stepping up to the plate to put that on the table for us. They’ve been leading well. They’re leading the drills at practice, they are taking responsibility for the team and younger girls and coaching them up as well. They are building confidence within the program, but it’s huge for us.”
However, even with the high expectations for the team, St. Lucia is trying to get his new players to play in sync with the veterans in time for league play.
“From past experience, I’m trying not to put pressure on them,” he said. “We have five new girls to the varsity and they don’t even know our past experiences at the tournament this weekend. We’ve won it twice and they may not even know of what we’ve done in the past. I’m trying not to go there and compare them to previous teams. But, I expect them to do it, as well.”
Dos Palos jumped out to the early lead, but the Hawks used a dual block from Sadie Vasquez and Chase and a Devine kill to take a 7-5 lead. However, Dos Palos bounced back behind two aces to score four straight points and take the lead back.
Kills from Devine and Chase gave the hawks an 11-10 lead. After Dos Palos hit out of bounds to tie the set at 14, Richey served up four straight points. Chase put down a kill to start the rally and Dos Palos helped out with an over-the-net violation, a rotation error and a hit out of bounds.
A dual block from Sadie and Audrina Vasquez opened a five-point lead, but Dos Palos’ fifth ace of the set cut the lead to three.
Liberty got side out kills from Chase and Devine for a 22-18 lead. Devine recorded a solo block, Sadie Vasquez put down a kill and Chase served up an ace for a 25-19 victory.
Kills from Richey, Devine and Audrina Vasquez opened a 3-1 lead. However, Dos Palos scored six straight points to turn a 7-4 deficit into a 10-7 lead.
Three Dos Palos errors helped Liberty tie the set at 11. Dos Palos served up another ace, its seventh of the match, to open a 15-12 lead.
Despite side out kills from Woods and Devine, Dos Palos took a 21-15 lead before a Chase side out and a St. Lucia time out.
“I told them to be effective,” he said. “They were trying to be cute. They were rolling the ball and Dos Palos was digging everything. I said to be effective. Place the ball somewhere or hit the ball and just mix it up because the roll shots weren’t working.”
Devine put down a kill to cut the lead to four, but Dos Palos kept the lead at five before Devine put down a tip kill for a 23-19 Broncos lead.
Peterson, who stepped up and came up strong on defense in the second set, served up two points with Dos Palos hitting out of bounds and into the net to cut the lead to two.
However, Liberty hit into the net to give Dos Palos set point at 24-21. From there, the Hawks outscored the Broncos 6-1 to close the set.
The Hawks got the side out. Devine went back to serve three straight points. Richey put down a push kill and Dos Palos hit out of bounds to tie the set at 24. Woods put down a kill to give Liberty a 25-24 lead and set point.
Dos Palos got the side out to tie the set at 25. Richey put down another push kill for a 26-25 lead. The Broncos hit into the net on the next point to give the Hawks a 27-25 second set victory.
“Madie had to serve three in a row and Zoey started to place the ball with the set instead of tipping and rolling,” St. Lucia said. “They were effective and placed the ball.”
Liberty came out strong in the third set. Behind kills from Sadie Vasquez and Chase, Liberty opened a 6-2 lead. Dos Palos cut the lead to one, but the Hawks maintained a three-point lead, 11-8.
Woods added a side out kill and Richey served up two straight points for a 15-11. Chase recorded a solo block for an 18-14 lead. Side out kills from Chase and Lucia Sollmieda helped Liberty maintain its four-point lead.
Devine closed the match by serving four in a row. Dos Palos hit two out of bounds, one into the net and Devine recorded an ace for a 25-17 victory.
The Hawks will try to win their third straight Caruthers Raisin Harvest tournament today.