Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with Centennial, the Liberty volleyball team had just gone through 9-5A’s gauntlet of potential postseason squads and district title contenders.
The Lady Redhawks went unscathed against the likes of Lebanon Trail, Wakeland and Reedy, and they kept their undefeated district record alive against the Lady Titans with a convincing 3-1 victory (25-17, 25-15, 23-25, 25-17). Liberty improved to 12-0 in district competition with the win.
“It’s really awesome because there is not a bad team in our district,” said U’iLani Womble, Liberty head coach. “Every time we get up to play we have to be firing on all cylinders. We have been challenged every single night, which I love heading into the playoffs.”
Speaking of playoffs, the loss now sends Centennial into a four-team logjam for the fourth and final postseason spot, as the Lady Titans, Independence, Frisco and Reedy all sit at 5-7.
Meanwhile, Heritage and Memorial are not too far behind both at 4-8, making these last six district games of the season even more important.
“This is one of the toughest districts in the state, but it’s also a fun district,” said Kari Bensend, Centennial head coach. “It’s just hard to lose because these kids work so hard. But you have to win the games you are supposed to win and hope other people are beating up on other people.”
The Lady Titans were struck by the injury bug recently and squandered four straight district matches in the process. However, Centennial is now healthy and got back on track with a marquee win last week over second-place Lebanon Trail and then gave Liberty all it could handle Tuesday night.
After the Lady Redhawks soared out to a 2-0 lead going into the third set, Centennial buckled down and weathered multiple long Liberty scoring runs to escape with a 25-23 victory.
A turning point in the set came on the Lady Titans’ ninth point after a back-and-forth rally that lasted nearly 45 seconds. As each side made dazzling defensive plays left and right, Centennial senior Samantha Hastings ended it with a big-time kill to give her team a two-point lead.
Although Liberty answered back with a 5-0 run, the Lady Titans reclaimed the momentum once again as Hastings, a USC commit, recorded the final two kills to secure the triumph.
Centennial is now just the second team in all of 9-5A to have won at least two sets over the reigning district champions, and that’s the type of momentum Bensend believes her team needs to build off of moving forward.
“It’s important that, as we continue through district, we take momentum with us,” she said. “I can’t tell you how fun this group of kids is to coach. I can’t tell you how fun it is to watch them battle how they did tonight. As we go through the district, we’re hoping we find a little bit more intensity at the beginning of the game because we started kind of slow in this one.”
The beginning of this match was all Liberty despite Centennial opening up to a quick 12-11 advantage midway through the first set. That lead did not last long, though, as the Lady Redhawks turned to their go-to playmaker in senior outside hitter Jenna Wenaas.
Wenaas took over and kicked things off with a 4-0 run with a thunderous kill from her natural outside hitter position after she started the game off on the back row.
Then moments later, the Minnesota commit asserted her dominance some more by capping off a 5-0 Liberty streak with three consecutive kills of her own en route to the commanding, eight-point win.
She added six more of her game-high 25 kills in the second, but Wenaas would end up doing most of her damage in the fourth after the Lady Redhawks lost their chances of heading back home with a sweep.
The former district MVP slammed a whopping nine kills in that fourth and final set, as the Lady Titans simply had no answer for one of the top hitters in the state.
“She is clutch all the time,” Womble said. “If we need something to build confidence for us or get us going, she’ll put a ball down.”
Senior Kyla Crawford finished second in kills on the night for Liberty with 15, while Hastings paved the way for Centennial with 14 kills and 30 digs.
The Lady Redhawks look to extend their winning streak to 13 Friday when they take on Memorial, while the Lady Titans face off with Frisco.