Liberty was in the same shoes Shadow Ridge finds itself in this year.
The Lions were the new kids in 4A-II in 2008, playing their first varsity games and relying on more grit than experience.
That’s where the Stallions find themselves this year. The Surprise school is fielding its first varsity girls volleyball squad and while they haven’t experienced the success Liberty found in its first year, coach Jamee Henry has seen consistent growth among her team.
“Mostly, this year has been about experience,” Henry said. “We have a lot of young players who are getting their first varsity experience. The rate of play, the speed and the power is something they never seen at junior varsity.
The Stallions (4-13, 1-7 in Skyline region play) received a crash course on varsity girls volleyball Tuesday when Liberty (17-1, 9-0), ranked No. 5 in the recent Arizona Interscholastic Association power rankings, downed the hosts 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-17).
While Shadow Ridge was blanked, Henry saw enough to know her team is beginning to turn the corner.
“That best we’ve looked all year,” Henry said. “I’m happy we didn’t give up. We played smarter and were more aggressive with the ball.”
In all three games, the Lions took control early as it worked the ball to its bigger outside hitters – Noel Pauga and Karleigh McClure. Liberty opened Game 1 with a 13-4 run, used a 7-3 run midway through Game 2 to slow Shadow Ridge and jumped out to a 17-4 lead in Game 3.
And in each game, the Stallions clawed back.
Game 2 saw Shadow Ridge cut an 8-point Liberty lead to three, at 19-16, with a 5-0 run that saw Olivia Wilson score on three-consecutive kills and was capped by sophomore Cecelia Garcia’s block.
The Stallion run forced Lions coach Courtney Johnson to call time out. After the break, Shadow Ridge lost the serve and Liberty quickly restored order as senior Angelle Tarango served a pair back-to-back aces to spark a 5-2 run to close out the game.
While Liberty was never in trouble in Game 3, the Stallions rallied again to make the finish more respectable. Garcia found empty court in the Lions defense and directed past the block to start a 5-0 run, capped by a kill from Kylie Strand off a set from Nikki Lonza.
Liberty fought back, going on a 6-0 run as the Stallions had trouble with net violations and keeping the ball in play. Down 22-10, Shadow Ridge battled back again, getting kills from Cassie Wood and Lonza to ignite a 6-1 run. Once again, Johnson called timeout, and the Stallions answered with an unforced service error before dropping the next two points to end the match.