When MaKayla McPhail spiked the ball off the floor of Hutchinson gym Saturday, the Lady Redskins accomplished something no other Liberal High School volleyball team had ever done — this team was headed to State.
By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
Liberal knocked off Hutchinson and Newton at the four-team tournament to earn the school’s first ever Sub-State championship.
The win was another step in an improving program that played in the Sub-State championship game the previous two years but could not get the key win.
“Last year was the big choke,” Liberal coach Hugo Cano said. “We did not want to go there again. Our girls were pumped up. They knew they had to play their best.”
And they did.
The Lady Redskins were ranked No. 1 at the Sub-State event and faced the host and eight-seeded Hutchinson Salt Hawks. Liberal won the match, but not as impressively as a No.1 vs. No. 8 match might be projected, 25-20, 25-21.
“Hutchinson was better than their record and 6-27,” Cano said. “They played us tough, but we were able to finish them off as we should have.”
The Lady Redskins were able to rest up and watch Newton battle with McPherson.
“That match could have gone either way,” Cano said. It took the third set for Newton to claim the win and advance to the championship match with Liberal.
“ Newton was ranked all year long, and they came off an emotional win,” Cano said. “We knew what we had to do.”
Hutch ran quick sets to change the pace of the game on the Lady Redskins, but Liberal adjusted with strong defensive play.
“Once we do that, we can execute offensively,” Cano said.
Liberal won the first set 25-20, and the second set wasn’t even close. The Lady Redskins dominated Newton 25-13 to move on to the state tournament.
“We wanted it more,” Cano said.
The youth of the Lady Redskin program is no longer. The Sophomore Four are playing like juniors with a season of varsity experience now under their belts.
“The sophomores are peaking at the right time,” Cano said. “They are playing more effectively, playing smart ball. They are swinging hard, and when the block is there, they’ve learned you can’t hit through the block. The girls are reading the block and hitting around it. Hit it deep and make the other team start all over.”
Sophomores Katie Burnett, Caitlyn Bauer, Ashlyn Westerman and Kinsi Delzeit had big shoes to fill after the loss of four seniors a year ago to graduation.
“They have filled some big shoes left from last season,” Cano said.
“That coupled with the leadership with MaKayla, Brittany Odle and Emily Jackson, everything is clicking like it should.”
The win extends Liberal’s season, which is another step to the volleyball elite in Kansas.
Under four-year head coach Cano, the Lady Redskins have won three Western Athletic Conference titles and now a Sub-State title.
“Thirty-two schools went to play Saturday, and 24 had their season end,”Cano said. “To be in the top 8 in Kansas Class 5A is a huge goal for us. The girls are pumped. They feel so proud, it’s still overwhelming.”
The Lady Redskins will play in a four-team pool Friday.
Liberal (29-9) will enter the Elite Eight as the No. 6 seed and will face Topeka Seaman (34-6), Shawnee Mission Miege (33-5) and Salina South (26-12) “We have seen Miege, and they are good,” Cano said. “It’s the playoffs, anything can happen.”