By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
GLEN DANIEL —
Having a very young team is a challenge, but one easily met by Liberty volleyball coach Julie Firebaugh.
Injuries, however, have been a problem for the Raiders, who will host the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 tournament tonight and Friday in Glen Daniel.
“We started off strong. Then we had six players to get hurt, and only three came back,” Firebaugh said. “We’ve been inconsistent because we had to put people in different positions.”
Liberty (22-18) will play Independence (38-14-2) in one of two first-round games at 4:30 p.m. The tournament continues through Friday.
The Raiders entered the season with just three seniors on their roster. One of them, setter Audrey Dickens, hurt an ankle early and was lost for the season.
As injuries mounted, Firebaugh not only had to make more use of freshmen, but she also had to move players left and right.
Liberty won five consecutive matches, against PikeView, Princeton, Bluefield, Wyoming East and Greenbrier East, just before midseason.
Since then, it’s been a struggle.
“I’ve even had my libero playing middle blocker,” she said. “They’ve adjusted well, but right now we’re inconsistent.”
Senior Katana Bryant is a mainstay in the middle, along with Morgan Drennen, a junior and all-around player.
Outside hitters Haley Pioch and Samantha Pauley have stepped up, not only in performance, but in leadership as well.
“Haley is a junior and is a strong hitter,” Firebaugh said. “Samantha hits strong and moves well to the set. She keeps the defense on their toes.”
Freshman Brianna Murdock and sophomore Caila Hill also see action on the outside.
Katelyn Hannah, another freshman, was thrown into the fire at setter when Dickens went out. She was the setter last season at Trap Hill Middle School and has adjusted well to high school’s more intense style of play.
The back row is libero Rachel Lively, a junior, sophomore Makayla Ferrell and freshmen Shelby Jarrell and Allison Gwinn.
“They all follow the ball real well,” Firebaugh said. “Our passing has improved a lot since last year. It’s allowed more hits and kills.”
She hopes her team can make some noise in the sectionals.
“I’m proud of how everybody has stepped up,” Firebaugh said. “If we can pull everything together and play as a team, we have a very good shot at surprising people.”
The regional championship is at 10 a.m. Saturday at Summers County High School.