Liberty enters the main draw of the 6A volleyball playoffs ready to face off with an (sort of) East Valley powerhouse.
Perhaps the best proof came on Halloween night, when the #12 Lions played like an East Valley squad in dismissing #21 Shadow Ridge.
The Lions mowed down the Stallions 25-6, 25-18, 25-9 in the brisk play-in match in Peoria.
"Starting off strong and knowing we could do it made it a lot easier for the rest of the games. And we've played them before. We knew what was open and how to play them," senior right side Brooklyn Casey said.
Casey paced an otherwise balanced Lions attack with nine kills.
In recent weeks coach Ashley Leparulo's team has managed to get its deep lineup on the same page, with its attack beco ing less predictable for opponents and less unpredictable for coaches.
"Two weeks ago we really started to kick it into gear. Before that we didn't kow how connect to each other well," senior outside hitter Justine Fernandez said. "We came to a discussion and said whoever was on is on. If you're on you're going to get more of the balls. If not you just have to be selfless and get other girls shine."
A couple weeks before the play-in, the Lions were 17-14 and hovering around .500 in regular season play.
"We didn't have the second half we wanted to have. So I think that everything that didn't go our way, we tried to use it as a piece and remember what it feels like. We decided that if the second half didn't go like we wanted, we're just going to make the best playoff run we can," Leparulo said.
The run started in earnest a week before the playoff game, when Liberty upset then No. 7 ranked Phoenix Pinnacle in the Pioneers home gym. Then the Lions did the same in a Oct. 29 road trip to Scottsdale Chaparral.
"Once we beat Pinnacle and Chap we felt like we can beat anybody. I think it'll be good next week. I'm excited for whoever we match up with," Leparulo said.
That confidence carried the Lions through the second set, as Shadow Ridge was now up for a fight. The Stallions closed to within three before the Lions put it away 25-18.
"We found a way to click with each other and realized that it's not going to come easy. We knew we had to start out stronger than we're used to," Fernandez said. "Our condfidence is huge now that we know we can beat these big teams."
Liberty now faces, in some respects, the biggest team of all. The #12 Lions play at #5 Xavier Prep tonight.
Xavier is the defending 6A champions. West Valley Preps will cover this match
"We have so many good club players and we've all played with each other once and twice. We have the same goaal and are pushing to get there." Casey said.