By Rick Lewis
With the loss of five seniors from last year’s squad, the Liberty Bell High School girls’ volleyball program might be looking to rebuild itself, one would think.
That is not necessarily the case, however, as there are again five seniors on this year’s team who look to build on the foundation set by second-year coach Christine Scott.
Scott sets as a team goal “to continue to improve their skills and competitiveness” as they transition from 2016 into the 2017 season. While last year’s record did not advance Liberty Bell to district play, Scott said that several coaches commented on the feistiness of the Lady Lions and their competitive nature, which makes the matches fun.
A priority for the Mountain Lions this year is to work on physical endurance and mental toughness. On several occasions, Scott noted that “we just seemed to lose energy” as the match wore on. As a result, there are some opportunities in practice to enhance stamina through increased conditioning and drawing out the competitive nature in the girls. With the help of junior high coach Stephanie Mitchell, a regimen of constant skills drilling, running and competitions within practice are the routine.
It is difficult to coach height, and it’s the lack size in the front row that may provide a challenge for this year’s Liberty Bell team. Scott hopes to overcome that with competitiveness, spirit and hustle.
Key returning players include seniors Katie Labanauskas, Devin Surface and Emily Paul. Liliana Hart-Beck looks to step up and join her classmates at the varsity level this year. Also looking to join the varsity as full-timers are Hannah Bakke, Isabella Dinsmore and Hailey Dammann. Junior libero Ruthann Matteson has already taken on the leadership role left open by the departure of the graduated Erin Schuh.
Some newcomers to watch include Spencer Hoffner, who moves over from soccer, and freshman Arabella Chrastina, a new arrival in the community from Texas. Both are showing some early talent and could be fun to watch as they learn and blend in with this team.
Maddie Surface moves up from the junior high squad this year. Senior Devin Surface is ready for the chance to play alongside her freshman sister. It is their “first chance to play a sport together,” said Devin. “I’m excited.”
Defensively, the Lady Lions look skilled and quick with Matteson and Hoffner in the back row. Both move laterally very well and show quickness with the hands in diving and digging. Surface and Paul are capable setters, with Labanauskas and Chrastina providing height in the front row for the offense.
For consistency in the program, the varsity and junior high programs are practicing together in the two-week period before school opens. It makes for a rather impressive fall camp, and senior Liliana Hart-Beck likes the format. “It’s so exciting to see so many young players,” she said. The future is bright as there are several eighth-graders who appear ready to challenge the upper classes.
Mitchell will serve as full-time assistant once the junior high season is complete. Schuh is helping with the team until she heads to Corvallis for college at Oregon State University. Meghan Dammann, another 2017 graduate, is also volunteering her time this early fall.
Early matches include the County Jamboree at Okanogan High School on Thursday (Aug. 31). Liberty Bell is on the road to open the season on Sept. 5 at Manson, then on Sept. 12 at Oroville. The first home match they will host will be on Sept. 19 versus the Omak Pioneers. Other September home dates include Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. (Brewster); Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. (Bridgeport); and Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. (Waterville).