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Liberty beats King George in volleyball conference quarters, nears rare region berth

Thursday, Oct. 30 | By Jeff Malmgren
Liberty's Eye Kraiwan (4) and Hannah Michnya (11) go up for a block during Liberty's 3-0 win over King George in the Conference 22 tournament quarterfinals Thursday night at LHS. --Photo by Adam Goings
Large leads have sedated the Liberty Eagles at times this volleyball season.

That occasionally cost them a win.

So now the Eagles focus on staying stimulated as they try to earn a region tournament bid for the first time in at least nine years. They passed their initial test Thursday by beating King George, 3-0, during the Conference 22 tournament quarterfinals at home in Bealeton.

Third-seeded Liberty sped to a significant lead in all three games and never decelerated en route to winning, 25-14, 25-13, 25-15, over No. 6 King George.

"Energy's a big thing with us," Eagles senior outside hitter Sarah Guerra said. "If we we lose our energy, we lose our momentum."

With the win, Liberty ended the Foxes' season with a 9-15 record. The Eagles, meanwhile, improved to 13-6 and advanced to play No. 2 Courtland during the semifinals Tuesday in Fredericksburg.

Two teams from Conference 22 will advance to the Class 4A North Region tournament, so a victory over Courtland would give the Eagles a rare region berth.

"It would be great to finally make it," Liberty senior middle hitter Emily Fitzwater said. "Every year Fauquier and Kettle Run have beat us and we don't get to move on."

Kettle Run now plays in a different conference and region than Liberty, but the Cougars ruined one of the best volleyball season in Eagles history during the 2011 Evergreen District playoffs. Kettle Run beat Liberty in the tournament semifinals, so the Eagles failed to qualify for the Region II tournament despite a 20-6 record (four losses to Kettle Run and one to Fauquier).

This season, the Eagles split a pair of matches against Courtland. Liberty beat those Cougars, 3-0, at home Sept. 9, but then lost to them, 3-2, on the road Oct. 8.

The Eagles lost that second match despite taking a two-game lead.

"It was absolutely miserable," Liberty coach Lauren Bosso said.

The Eagles have adjusted their attitude since losing the final three games of that match, Fitzwater said.

"We should not have lost that," she said. "I think we took them way too lightly. … We'll take it a lot more seriously just like we did" against King George.

Against the Foxes on Thursday, Liberty had plenty of opportunities to lose focus. The Eagles took a 16-8 advantage in the first game, an 18-11 lead in the second game and a 17-9 advantage in the third game. They kept King George from rallying, though, by finishing strong in each game.

The injury-plagued Foxes committed 41 errors/violations over those three games, which affected the overall rhythm of the match. Liberty didn't allow that to create a lull in its play, though.

"We just have to make sure that we still celebrate every point [so] we don't get" subdued, Fitzwater said. "We have to concentrate on celebrating no matter what."

Fitzwater had led Liberty with eight kills, three aces and 1.5 blocks, while outside hitter Taryn Gilbert had seven kills and middle hitter Brittanie King had six. Guerra added five kills and two aces, while setter Morgan Lee had 24 assists and 1.5 blocks.

King George's block, and its libero, Lauren Howard, kept the Eagles from amassing even more kills.

"She got balls up that she shouldn't have," Bosso said of Howard. "She's quick. I told [the Eagles] that I don't want any balls to go anywhere near her."

Liberty's defense also played well.

"Our blocks were so much better," Fitzwater said. "That's coming along. We really struggled with that at the beginning of the season."

Behind that Liberty block, Gilbert and libero Hailey Rogers helped the Eagles finish with a 2.4 passer rating.

"She's great," Bosso said of Rogers. "She's continually impressed me throughout the season."

King George finished with only 11 kills, led by Micala Peterson's four and Andrea Wine's three.

"That has a lot to do with having to switch a lot of people around" due to injuries, Foxes coach Jill Wine said. "When you have to put some of your developing players on the court … it tends to cause a lot more errors."

The Foxes played without a middle hitter and an outside hitter. A broken leg and a dislocated shoulder have kept those girls from playing recently, Wine said.

"A season where we knew we would be competitive with teams turns around to kind of 'Hang in there,'" Wine said. But "I'm proud of the girls because they had to adapt to a lot of different things."

Similarly, Liberty has played since mid-September with out hitter Diane McDaniel, who suffered a concussion.

"She's one of the most athletic girls I've ever met," Bosso said. "It really is a shame that she's always hurt."

McDaniel also missed games last season with a concussion.

"There's just no way she's going to be cleared" during the postseason, Bosso said.

Courtland could also play down a player Tuesday when it meets Liberty in the conference semifinals. Bosso said the Cougars' setter also suffered a concussion.

"But their coach is one of the best coaches I've ever met," she said. "He's fantastic, so I know that he ... probably has tricks up his sleeve."

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