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If the Seminole District gave an award for most improved volleyball team, it would surely go to Liberty.
The latest sign of how much better things have gotten for the Minettes was how the team played last Tuesday night.
Liberty stretched Seminole powerhouse Jefferson Forest to the limit before the Lady Cavs prevailed.
The match went the full five sets, with only the tie-breaking game lacking the white-knuckle excitement of the rest of the evening: 25-21, 22-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-8.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Liberty came into the match with a district mark of 2-9. Jefferson Forest entered play with a record of 8-3.
The Minettes, however, seemed unintimidated by such volleyball royalty. "(Liberty Head Coach) Amanda (McCoy) has done a heck of a job," said Steve Mills, her Jeff Forest counterpart. "Her team has improved tremendously. They're scrappy. I love seeing that in any team."
Mills could also point with pride at some of his ladies. Shelby Frost had a big night. She walloped 16 kills and added five digs.
Megan Enneking smacked 11 kills, while Abbie Simpson had a big all-around night: four aces, five kills and 13 assists.
Speaking of assists, Kayla Goumas dished 'em up in a big way. She set 28 for the evening.
On the Liberty side of the ledger, things were similarly rich.
Katie Martin was strong at the net, blocking six shots and striking 14 kills. Kasey Carr and Kim Sharrett combined for another 15 kills, with Carr also adding a pair of aces and her softball buddy getting a duo of digs.
Setting up those kills? Why that was Audrey McCombs, who set 31 assists. MaHalea Scicchitano may not have the easiest name in the world to spell, but her coming up with 17 digs makes it a name you can't ignore.
"This is nice," said McCoy. "We hadn't won a set from JF in years."
Still, the coach wasn't completely satisfied. "We didn't carry the momentum from the second to the third set," she noted. "[Still] we have a program-changing atmosphere."
This was one of those win-win endings. Liberty earned a great moral victory, which should be a great boost as it heads into the Conference 30 playoffs. There, the team will contend with Seminole champ Brookville, as well as Tunstall and fellow Seminole teams Heritage and Rustburg, a pair of teams the Minettes have beaten this season.
Jefferson Forest, meanwhile, locked down second place in the Seminole and, more importantly, earned the top spot in Conference 24.
In that tourney, the Lady Cavs will deal with old nemesis E.C. Glass, as well as unknowns such as Salem, Pulaski and Carroll County.
Mills seemed excited by what the post-season may hold. His strategy? "Keep up five E's: Excitement, Energy, Enthusiasm. Execution, and Excellence," he said. "If we do these and still get beat, then I can handle that. Losing without these things cannot be accepted; and has hurt us some this season."
River in tough spot
Staunton River had a decent shot to improve its playoff chances. That shot, alas, was squandered.
The Golden Eagles were swept by Rockbridge in an affair at the Eagles' Nest, 25-23, 25-18, 25-20.
"We had to win this one," rued River Head Coach Rich Northrup.
"They're a nice bunch of girls," he said of his team. "But they lack the killer instinct...Now we have to beat Lord Botetourt."
Indeed, to make hay in the brutal Blue Ridge, the killer instinct is a prerequisite.
There were a few bright spots for the Lady Eagles. Whitney Cawley nailed seven kills, added three blocks and nine digs. The co-captain was also perfect from the service stripe, going 20-for-20.
Brittney Cawley added six kills, while Katelyn Dellis set up 13 assists. Taylor Jones had four kills, to go with three blocks and five digs.
With the loss, the Riverwomen fell to 2-8 in district play. The team has two matches remaining, and needs to win both to move up a notch in the standings.
Absent those wins, it appears the Eagles will be seeded last in their conference tournament, even though they finished above William Fleming in the district.
That's because Fleming moves to Conference 24 for the post-season. Tunstall will join the rest of the Blue Ridge in Conference 31.
When conference play begins next week, River will be traveling to Lord Botetourt for the opener.
Currently, the Bots stand 8-2, with their only losses coming to 11-0 Northside.
River faced Lord Botetourt on Tuesday (after press time) and closes out the regular season on Thursday, when it hosts Alleghany.