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Liberty volleyball season preview: Eagles hope chemistry can carry inexperienced team

Sunday, Aug. 30 | By Fred Hodge
Co-captain Taryn Gilbert is one of only two players who returned this season after helping Liberty qualify for the 2014 Class 4A North Region tournament. --Photo by Adam Goings
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared Aug. 26

Liberty High School faces a significant challenge on the volleyball court this fall.

Coach Lauren Luttrell and the Eagles fashioned a strong 2014 campaign, earning a Group 4A North regional quarterfinal berth by finishing second in the Conference 22 playoffs.

Ten seniors graduated from that group to leave a number of questions entering the Aug. 3 start of practice.
Following three weeks is Luttrell beginning to discern answers?

"I'm really excited for this year," she said, pointing to the July team camp at Liberty University as the beginning of the adjustment process. "We learned so much about ourselves. I had no idea about what I wanted to do."

Luttrell noted she's assigned no positions to players at first.

"We're still working on where I want them, which is a good thing because I have so many players that can play in so many different positions,” she said.

While the team may be in transition, the chemistry is healthy said junior co-captain Morgan Lee.

"We're a lot shorter than last year, but we have better chemistry than last year because we all are very, very close friends," Lee said. "The way that we talk and the way we pull each other up is really helpful for our team."

Lee is one of only two varsity returnees along with senior co-captain Taryn Gilbert.

"We are definitely growing a whole lot. What I really love about this group is that they are good friends," said Lutrell. "They do root for each other when they get down. When they are on the court, it's nice they know each other so well. They know what their strengths and weaknesses are."

Luttrell said work continues in all areas for the Aug. 27 opener with John Champe. "I think our hitters and passers have both improved," she stated. "We have done a ton of passing drills.”

The third year coach stressed passing as a crucial element. Poor passing means sets are more difficult. Poor or mediocre sets prevent optimal positioning for hitters.

"I think our passing, which is the standard for a volleyball team, is what you need. I think we have a really strong defensive end," Lee opined.

Libero Gracie Heflin has caught Luttrell's eye with her advancement.

"Gracie has stood out to me. She has a solid platform. She moves her feet so well," the coach praised. "She's way past where I thought she would be after seeing her play just one year on JV.”

Faith Carter and Gilbert are the lone seniors, joining the large junior contingent of Lee, Kayla Emery, Mackenzie Jones, Amanda Newville, Heather Strong and Kortney Leazer. Lizzie Waln and Kia Mathis-Morton are sophomores.
Luttrell has been using video as a teaching tool. In slow motion, she can refine footwork, arm positioning and contact points for hitters.

"It does take to time but it is important. We made great strides," she said of a recent practice. "It's a tool I'm using a lot more."

Gilbert and Lee are seeking to impart the excitement derived by last year's regional berth.

"It's definitely on everyone's mind. We want to do as well as last year," Gilbert said. "We should be ready."

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