Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Sarah Shevenell rises up for a kill attempt during Thursday’s five-set loss to Minarets in the first round of the Div. IV Central Section playoffs.
Little was expected out of the 12th seeded Liberty Hawks girls volleyball team heading into its first-round match-up with the fourth-seeded Minarets Mustangs.
However, the Hawks overcame an embarrassing 25-5 loss in the second set to win the next two sets and force a deciding fifth set before losing 15-6 in the Div. IV Central Section playoffs.
“It says a lot about their mental toughness,” head coach Grant Clark said. “We have had sets like that this season. We referenced that between sets. We had a good first set and used the good to move forward.”
“We were kind of bummed out,” senior Sarah Shevenell said. “We came back together. For some of us, this is it. We decided to play together as a team one more time. “
Lucia Solmilleda led the Hawks with nine kills while Audrina Vasquez had seven. Shevenell added five kills.
“I’m so proud of my girls,” Shevenell said. “They are amazing athletes and I adore them. We definitely played with these guys.”
Although the seedings may have sided with the Mustangs, Clark thought his team had a good chance at an upset.
“We match up well against Minarets,” Clark said. “We got this draw and thought this was a team we could compete with. Their big hitter crushed us. She pushed them over the edge. My seniors played probably their best match. I was sitting on the sideline and was really proud of my seniors. That was the best they have played all year. “
The Hawks matched up well with the Mustangs early in the first set using the service line as their main weapon. In their first 12 points, Liberty had three aces and only managed four kills — two from Vasquez, one from Solmilleda and one from Allyx Feretta — but led 12-11.
The Mustangs went on a five-point run for a 16-13 lead. The Hawks came back after a Solmilleda back row kill and an ace from Jackie Lopez to cut the lead down to two. Another Solmilleda back row kill kept the lead at two and Stephanie Madrigal served up a point for a one-point Minarets lead.
The Mustangs scored three straight points for a 23-19 lead before a Feretta kill. Minarets then put down a kill for the side out and set point. Liberty hit out of bounds to give the Mustangs a 25-20 victory.
Everything went wrong in a hurry for the Hawks in the second set.
Minarets scored 19 straight points before the Stallions got on the scoreboard. In the run, Liberty hit out of bounds six times while the Mustangs put down eight kills and Clark used both time outs.
Lauren Parks put down a kill to finally give the Hawks a side out. Solmilleda served up an ace, but the Mustangs got the side out back.
The Hawks matched the Mustangs over the final 10 points of the set, but the damage had been done for a 25-5 Minarets’ victory.
“I told them to forget about that set,” Clark said. “I had girls crying thinking that their season was over. We have had sets where we have lost big before. They were able to reset.”
Minarets kept the momentum with a 4-1 lead in the third set. However, the Hawks got the side out and Vasquez and Mariah Medina put down kills and Solmilleda served up an ace for a 5-4 lead.
Two aces by Lopez and a Feretta solo block opened a 9-5 lead for the Hawks. Vasquez put down a side out kill and Feretta recorded another solo block to keep the four-point lead.
Shevenell put down a side out kill and Solmilleda put down back-to-back kills for a 17-11 lead.
Minarets scored four straight points to cut the lead to one. After a Minarets missed serve, Medina recorded a solo block to get the lead to three. Minarets put odwn a kill, but Solmilleda put down a side out kill for a 20-18 lead.
The Mustangs came back with two points to tie the set at 20. After a Minarets hit out of bounds, Lopez served up two straight points and Feretta put down a kill for set point.
After a missed serve, Minarets scored a point, but they missed a serve for a 25-22 Liberty victory.
In the fourth set, Liberty started to find its momentum. Lopez got a kill off the net and Solmilleda served up five straight points, including an ace. Medina recorded a solo block and combined with Vasquez for another and the Hawks led 7-4.
Minarets battled back to tie the set at seven before Lopez served up three straight points, including a dual block from Vasquez and Shevenell for an 11-7 lead.
Shevenell put down a side out kill and Madrigal served up an ace to open a 13-8 lead.
However, Minarets scored eight straight points to take a 17-13 lead. After a Mustangs’ error, Ferettta served up four straight points, including a pair of ace for an 18-16 lead.
A Solmilleda side out kill and a Jaclyn Smith ace opened the lead to 21-18. Minarets battled back with a three-point run for a 23-22 lead.
Minarets hit out of bounds for a side out and Lopez served up an ace for set point. However, she missed her next serve for the side out. Shevenell got the side out and another set point with a kill, but Minarets got a kill for the side out back.
The Mustangs added a kill for match point. However, Shevenell put down a kill to tie the set at 26. The Hawks got a little bit of luck when two Minarets players ran into each other chasing down a ball to get to set point, 27-26.
Minarets got a tip kill for the side out, but Solmilleda got the side out back with a kill. On Liberty’s fourth set point, Minarets hit a ball into the net for a 29-27 Liberty victory.
In the fifth set, despite a Vasquez side out kill, Minarets scored six of the first seven points before another Vasquez side out kill.
The Hawks couldn’t mount another comeback from there. After five straight side outs, Minarets added an ace for a 10-4 lead.
Solmilleda got the side out with a kill and Camille Vestal served up a point to cut the lead to six.
However, after a missed serve, the Mustangs closed out the match with five straight points, including an ace on match point for a 15-6 victory and end the Hawks’ season.