The Liberty Patriots girls volleyball team is taking home a trophy from the state tournament for the first time since 2017, and just the third time in school history.
The Patriots found a way to snap a three-game losing streak and place in the school’s fourth ever appearance at state Nov. 17.
In Head Coach Shea O’Brien’s first season at the helm, she has improved on something that she did as a player back in 2014.
In the first match of the tournament, the Patriots took on the Mt. Spokane Wildcats. The seventh-seeded Liberty was the “technical” favorite, but Mt. Spokane played them tough and defeated the Pats in straight sets.
“I think a part of it is, we weren’t mentally ready to play at the first point. That made a big difference in our game,” junior Layne Ford said.
There wasn’t much going the way of the blue and green to start. Inside the first 20 points of all three sets, the Patriots were down one, tied or leading over the Wildcats. But the Patriots fell behind and lost all three sets to Mt. Spokane.
“We can’t take two or three sets off to start a comeback,” Ford said.
It came down to just overall mistakes from the Patriots, but it was the sort of mistakes that are fixable.
“I think the difference was serving. When we served tough, we played with them really well. In the first set we had some serve and hitting errors, but I thought we passed pretty well,” Ford said.
The Patriots were back in action again in the consolation bracket against Central Kitsap, and Ford wanted them to be ready early.
“We have to have a ready mentality and once we step on the court, be ready to win… I think we need to be ready from the first point of the first game,” Ford said.
To her credit, the Patriots were ready and took it to a tough Central Kitsap team, which had just gone to five sets against second-seeded Lynnwood. For the first time all year, the Pats had lost three games in a row, and Central Kitsap was not going to make it easy.
Liberty was able to slow down the hot-handed Cougars and beat them in four sets. It was not an easy task for the Patriots with two of their set victories needing more than 25 points.
“We didn’t want to go 0-6 (sets). It was really important to us that we at least win one set,” Maiya Lester said.
To open the first set, Liberty was out to some substantial leads to the likes of 14-9 and even 24-21. But the Cougars closed the gaps and pushed Liberty to the brink in the first set.
Central Kitsap was able to win the second set, while Liberty was able to get the third. With the 2-1 set lead, the Patriots looked to advance and avoid the upset.
“We lost a little focus (in the second set). We were able to come back in the third and the fourth. I don’t even know what to say,” Lester said.
It took a momentous effort in the fourth set to take down the Cougs. Liberty had its back against the wall, trailing 23-16 and even 24-18. The Patriots won the next six points to stay alive in the fourth set, thanks in part to Ford, who was on serve for the comeback.
“Layne is such a strong server. I had full faith (in her). If anyone was going to pull us out of that ditch it was going to be her. She pulled through for us,” said Maiya Lester.
The next series of points was the most intense volleyball of the day for either side. It took the Patriots nine points to seal the victory with one of the most dramatic finishes over Central Kitsap.
“This is not how we’re going out. If we’re down in the dumps, this is not what I want to remember,” Lester said. “I want to remember the nine-point comeback, where they were at game point. It was the best feeling ever.”
Liberty got after it early Saturday morning with an 8 a.m. game against Peninsula. Liberty took care of the Seahawks and then got revenge on Seattle Prep, who eliminated the Patriots from the district tournament. A seventh-place finish is more than worth it for a program that is on the cusp of competing for a state championship.
“We really are a team. You could see that in the play that we are a team and it really showed,” Lester said.