For the first time in school history, the Liberty Patriots volleyball team is the regular season KingCo Champions after a dramatic five-set win over Bellevue. “I can’t even believe what we’ve done this year. As a group of individuals we really came together to play the sport that we love. It really showed tonight,” said junior Maiya Lester.
The Pats are co-champions with Lake Washington, whom they went 1-1 against throughout the course of the regular season. “It feels really good. That’s what we’ve been working for all year. The ‘Co’ hurts a little bit, but we get a banner so that’s exciting,” said Head Coach Shea O’Brien.
For the league season, Liberty finished with an 11-1 record, and overall went 16-1 on the year. A drastic improvement from last years 9-8 overall season and a fourth place finish. “I don’t think anyone expected much of us. We have one freshman on the team and one new girl, so it’s pretty much the exact same team as last year. Continuously shocking people has been fun,” said O’Brien.
Shea O’Brien was an assistant on that 9-8 team from a year ago. This year in her first year at the helm, she has put the Patriots volleyball program at the top of the league standings. “I knew I had the group to do it,” she said. “When I got hired no one thought we were going to be that good. They just didn’t know how good the girls are,” she added.
O’Brien has made a difference with the players and has given the players a challenge all year. “I love Shea. I can’t even begin to express (what it means). She pushed us harder in practice than last year and expected more from us. I think that allowed us to expect more of ourselves and that really changed how we play,” Lester said.
On Oct. 25, the Wolverines of Bellevue made the Patriots work for the league title. In their first meeting the two sides went to five sets. This time around the same thing happened. “They’re a really smart team (Bellevue). They see the game really well, they see a weakness, they pick at that weakness. We didn’t adapt quick enough,” O’Brien said.
In set one Liberty tried to separate itself from Bellevue but struggled to until the end of the set. Liberty was ahead 17-13 and never looked back winning set one 25-20.
Set two was more of the same for the Patriots. Bellevue could only hang on through the first 10 points at 5-5, Liberty went on to score seven of the next eight points and leading by as much as 11 late in the set. After two sets and a 25-18 win in that second set, it seemed like Liberty would cruise to its 11th straight set win of the season.
The Wolverines had other plans, winning set three 25-21. The two sides were neck-and-neck the entire way with no team having a larger lead than three points the entire set. At 21-21 the Wolverines went on a four-point run to steal the set away from Liberty and keep the match alive.
Set four was one the Patriots will want to forget as they move into the post season. Nothing went Liberty’s way the entire set. After being up 9-5 early, Bellevue out the Patriots. The Wolverines scored six points in a row and eventually 10 out of 11 to win the fourth set 25-15.
A week prior against Lake Washington the Patriots were down 21-10 and won the set against the Kangs. The fight and resilience is there, “We’ve been in really bad situations before… I have the most faith in these girls. I think we can beat any given team any day. So, it’s about them having confidence,” O’Brien said.
After a brutal fourth set it would take a hard reset to refocus on the task at hand. This Liberty team had a unique way of breaking the tension. “It’s rough to lose that much momentum. We ate a cookie. It died our teeth blue a little bit, so we were all laughing about it. I think it really showed how much we care about each other and wanted to win for our seniors… It reminded us that we’re just playing a game,” Lester said.
In the 15-point fifth set, Liberty came out of the gates a little slower than expected given how big the moment had become, trailing 4-1. But Liberty was able to tie the set at 5-5, and never looked back winning six points in a row. The final score of the fifth set was 15-7 a relief for the Patriots securing a tie for first with Lake Washington. “We lost to Lake Washington in the fifth set and that was a heart wrenching one, we said we’re not going to let this happen again,” Lester said.
Because of a pull of the straws for tiebreakers, the Patriots will be the number one seed in the KingCo Tournament. Success in the postseason for O’Brien’s squad comes down to one thing “focusing on our side and preparing every game. We tend to pick and choose when we want to show up…The challenge for us is to play a complete game and not give other teams hope,” she said.
Liberty’s quest for a state appearance, their first since 2017 begins Nov. 2 in the KingCo Tournament.