An undermanned Mountain Ridge girls volleyball team grabbed momentum and a 9-4 lead in the second set of its away match Oct. 6.
But a young Liberty squad quickly dashed the Mountain Lions' hopes. The Lions stormed back to take the set 25-21 en route to a sweep in this 6A Desert Valley Region match.
Despite only having three seniors on the roster, Liberty (4-2) is finding its groove after a short offseason. The Lions have won four straight and are now 3-2 in Desert Valley play - including a big five-set win against Scottsdale Chaparral.
"They're big moments that prove to the girls they can do it. Confidence is a big piece, especially with what they didn't get like club nationals and some of those club tournaments," second-year Liberty coach Ashley Leparulo said.
With such a small senior class, Leparulo is relying on junior outside hitters Kylie Davey and Kaytlin Neal to fill the void, particularly on court. The third-year varsity players have delivered.
Davey led Liberty with 58 kills entering Tuesday's match while Neal was second with 40. Neal paced the second set comeback , hitting four kills , and Davey added two.
"With having such a small senior class, it's pretty much everbody's important and everyone has a role in order to get the job done. They all have stepped up big time ," Leparulo said.
First-year Mountain Ridge coach Christina Jensen noticed her team's deflation after the second set. Liberty jumped out to a 14-5 lead in the third set and cruised to a 25-14 victory.
The Mountain Lions were playing without Grand Canyon-university bound middle blocker Alissa Uhlenhop. Jensen said the senior should return from injury soon.
"I think we have a hard time as a program pushing to win. We're doing better but we do have some struggles when it comes to finishing our sets. We're getting better. We just haven't achieved it yet," Jensen said.
Though Mountain Ridge is 1-5, the program already achieved one of its goals. That win came against Desert Valley rival Boulder Creek in four sets on Sept. 24.
Last season the Mountain Lions were 0-10 in league matches.
"I would love to have these girls believe they are winners and come out and execute that way. We've been told for a long time that we're not winners and that we won't win our games. These are wondeful young ladies that have a lot of talent. The minute they start believing in themselves, they're going to be so successful," Jensen said.
Liberty made the first round of the 6A playoffs last season, then lost six seniors to graduation.
Three freshmen have filled the gap, seeing court time Tuesday night. Morgan Ambosy, middle hitter Aniston Smith and outside hitter Ellie Trimble are already making their mark.
"It's been so exciting to watch them grow and learn and to watch our older players enjoy teaching them. Their willingness to compete and step up has been awesome," Leparulo said.