Liberty volleyball looks sharp in a four-set victory over the reigning NWOC champions

Liberty got exactly what it wanted.

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Liberty junior libero Amanda Ganete (center) celebrates with her teammates after Tuesday's four-set NWOC victory over Sherwood.

The Falcons volleyball squad has been somewhat mercurial thus far, so Tuesday night’s match against Sherwood gave Liberty a chance to defend its home turf, which it had failed to do two weeks ago in a close loss to Wilsonville, another conference contender.

Plus, it’s always nice to turn back your conference rival and the reigning league champion.

After dropping a tight first game to the Bowmen, the Falcons got their mojo going and rolled to a 21-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-20 victory. The win bolstered Liberty to a 5-4 overall record and to 3-2 and a tie for third place in the Northwest Oregon Conference heading into a showdown against league-leading St. Helens on Thursday.

Sherwood, which did not lose an NWOC game in 2012, dropped to 3-4 overall and 2-3 in league play.

“They wanted it really bad tonight, and just that first game I think was a bit of a wake-up call that Sherwood wanted it just as bad as well, so the second game they really turned it around and got ahead early,” Liberty coach Tara Dolan said. “We just kind of let them creep back in a few times, and then we just shut them down.”

Neither team led by more than four points until the later stages of the second game, when the momentum started swinging the Falcons’ way. Kelly Meeuwsen went cross-court for a kill to stake the home side to a 15-13 lead, and then Simone Wilson hit up the Sherwood defense for three straight aces on serve.

Sarah Penner ended that run and cut the Bowmen’s deficit with a back-row kill to trim the margin to 18-14, but Liberty ended the game and evened up the match by going on a 7-2 run. Falcons highlights during that stretch included two kills by Meeuwsen and one from Marisa Nichols. Maryana Kuznetsova came up big with a block to make the score 23-15 and then closed out the game by hitting cross-court for a point.

“We had a really big talk in between games, and we were like, ‘Well, we know what we want. We worked for it. We need to be there for each other, and we need to work hard for it, and everybody needs to hit the floor for every ball,’” Meeuwsen said about the discussion after the first-game loss.

And that is exactly what the shorthanded Falcons — who rotated all eight available players throughout the contest — did in each of their game victories.

In the third set, they continued to press full-throttle, winning four consecutive points on Wilson’s serve to take an 11-2 advantage early on. By the time Nichols notched a kill from the right side, the lead was 18-7, and the Falcons continued to maintain a lead at or near double digits until the Bowmen won four in a row to make it 23-17.

But Sherwood’s Mallory Shields sent her service into the net on the next point, and then Meeuwsen smacked a ball just inside the left corner to put Liberty up two games to one.

Kuznetsova provided some needed offense in the fourth game, winning three points during a 4-0 Liberty run that staked the Falcons to a 14-10 advantage. Wilson, who played bigger at the net than her 5-foot, 4½-inch frame might suggest, made it 21-15 when she got the ball to drop on the Sherwood side of the floor and put the contest on match point when she sent the ball off the Sherwood block and out of bounds.

The much taller Kuznetsova put an exclamation point on the match with a block that left the Falcons celebrating.

“Really, Natalie (Lubischer), our setter, was just giving me good sets today, and it was just hitting around the block and knowing where to place the ball,” Wilson said.

Next Tuesday, the Falcons round out the first half of conference play by hosting Parkrose, and they start the second go-round against Milwaukie next Thursday.

As for the victory against the Bowmen, it was a big one, a tone-setter and, perhaps, a sign of more to come.

“I think this was our turnaround game, because we started this season a little shaky, and the jamboree was not very pretty, and this has always been a school that we always wanted to beat,” Meeuwsen said. “I think this is going to help us a lot in the future.”

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Liberty senior Maryana Kuznetsova goes up for a block during Tuesday's NWOC match against Sherwood.

Hillsboro falls to Forest Grove

It may not seem like much to those who do not follow Pacific Conference volleyball, but Hillsboro recently achieved a huge milestone.

Yes, the Spartans (0-9 overall, 0-7 Pacific) were still looking for their first victory of the season heading into Thursday’s clash with Century. But the program took a significant step toward winning a match on Sept. 17 by winning its first game in nearly two years in a 3-1 loss to Tigard.

In fact, after dropping the first set 25-15, the Spartans rallied with a 25-22 win against the Tigers — the 2012 conference runners-up — in the second game. That halted a streak of no game wins that dated back to Oct. 20, 2011.

“We’re a strong team,” said Rachel Woodall, a fourth-year varsity player. “It just takes us, I feel like, a while to warm up, but once we get going, I feel like we can beat a lot of teams.”

More game victories could be in the offing for coach Christy May and the Spartans, who count just three seniors on this year’s roster. Hilhi pushed Tigard to 25-21 in the fourth game of their recent match, and the team has also been within a few points of winning games on several other occasions. And against Forest Grove last Thursday, the Spartans held leads in both the second and third games before falling in straight sets.

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