For the first time since 2017, the Liberty Patriots volleyball team is headed to the state tournament after a three-set win Nov. 9 over Bishop Blanchet.
“We played really consistently,” said Head Coach Shea O’Brien. “We’ve been working on a few things the last couple of weeks and executed them at a very high-level tonight. I think we just played really well.”
The Patriots volleyball program has been to state just three times in school history, with the first appearance back in 2014, when O’Brien was playing.
“(Going to state) was a goal for us all year and to realize we actually made it was awesome,” O’Brien said.
“I was just really excited. As a team all of our hard work had paid off… It felt really good because we knew we deserved it,” junior Layne Ford said.
O’Brien is in her first year at the helm and has brought Liberty to the 3A State Tournament for the first time. In the prior three state tournament appearances, Liberty was at the 2A level.
“It means a lot. Every player, even seniors haven’t made state even when they were freshmen, and I don’t think that’s fair,” O’Brien said with a laugh.
“She saw a lot of potential with us from the start… She’s really been working with us. She saw it (our potential) and has been using it the right way. I think that’s made a big difference,” Ford said of her head coach.
In the opening round of the District 2 3A Volleyball Tournament, Liberty took on Roosevelt and won decisively 3-1 after a slight hiccup in the third set. That meant the Patriots faced fourth seeded Bishop Blanchet in a winner-to-state matchup.
The Patriots were ready to go from the jump, and they had to be in the opening set against the Bears. Neither side enjoyed much of a lead early on, with both sides having one- or two-point advantages. The big difference in the match and the set was the Patriots’ serves. It helped Liberty go on a late run, scoring eight points in a row to take down the Bears, 25-16.
“We serve a lot every day. It’s one of our strongest points. It puts a lot of pressure on the other team when you serve well. We’re focused on that and not just making our serves, but being really accurate with them,” O’Brien said.
In the second set, Liberty trailed early by five points, 8-3. Then the Patriots found a way tie the game at 11-11 before falling behind again, 16-12. After Blanchet got its 16th point, Coach O’Brien called a timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Liberty was on fire. The Patriots scored the next five points to take a 17-16 lead. The Patriots went on to win the set 25-20, and the timeout was the difference. But there wasn’t some master plan to steal momentum.
“Honestly, they just looked tired. So I told them to take a deep breath, we don’t have to do anything special… They executed under pressure,” O’Brien said.
In what would be the final set, Liberty separated again right in the middle of the contest. The Patriots took an 18-15 lead and never looked back. The match sealing point was a Blanchet shot that went long, and once it touched down, the celebration began, and the Yakima dream was now a reality.
“I’m really excited. No one on our team has been to state. I think it’s a really good opportunity. I think we can do really well when we play our brand of volleyball. It’s a matter of our attitude and effort,” Ford said.
Sure, it was a three-set win, but there was plenty of adversity to strike the Patriots. Officials making calls that didn’t go their way, point deficits, or self-inflicted wounds all couldn’t take down Liberty.
“That’s how we have tried to be all year… It’s really easy to get caught up in the emotions of the game. I think they did a good job at letting it (adversity) go,” O’Brien said.
“We did a really good job at coming together as a team. We had a body language flip and it showed. I think it changed the game,” Ford said.
With the win, Liberty will face Seattle Prep, the number one seed. The Patriots have their work cut out, but with the opportunity to play Lake Washington for a district title, the Patriots eye revenge.
“I think we’re more excited for the potential championship. (Revenge) would feel pretty good,” O’Brien said.
The Pats play Prep at 9 a.m. and play either at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. depending on the result: “We’re ready. If we get a little caffeine in us in the morning, I think we’re going to be good. We’re going to continue to be confident and stand together as a team,” Ford said.