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Lady Panthers fall in district opener, 3-2

September 24, 2018

It was a battle, but not unexpected. Bodies were flying all over the court as both teams realized the gravity of each set and the impact of a win in a district.

After battling to a 2-2 stalemate, the Livingston Lady Lions squeaked out a 15-11 win in the third set for their first district win.

“I think our district is hard. Any game is going to be a battle for us to get into the playoffs,” said third year Livingston head volleyball coach Christina Jaques.

The Lady Panthers jumped on the Lady Lions early in the first set and never looked back. Each volley was critical but Liberty surprised Livingston with a quick 25-18 win.

“Despite our pre-season success, we come into this district as an underdog,” said second-year head volleyball coach Glenn Kennedy.

“We knew that they would come into this thinking that we would be a walk in the park for them,” he said.

This is the first year for Livingston back in the 4A division after dropping down from 5A.

After the Lady Panthers drew blood on the first set, Livingston got back into the contest with a 27-25 nail-biter for the second set.

The Lady Lions, angry for revenge, led most of the second set and at one point had as much as a seven-point lead, 19-12, over Liberty until the Lady Panthers clawed their way back to a 24-22 lead. Only one point away from winning the second set and putting the Lady Lions on the ropes, they lost 27-25.

“We battled and battled and fought back to stay in this,” Kennedy said.

“I told our girls if we could have only fought through to get that last point, the outcome could have been different,” the coach told them.

For Livingston, Jaques said they finally showed up to play.

“It took us a while to get settled in,” she said.

And once they did, the Lady Lions’ front row, led by Montana Piper, demonstrated some power behind their hitters.

In the third set, both teams battled to a 10-10 tie until the Lady Lions dominated outscoring the Lady Panthers, 15-2 the remainder of the game.

Down 2-1 and facing elimination, Kennedy rallied his team.

“I told them our backs were to the wall and they would either rally or allow them to take it.”

The Lady Panthers led the entire fourth set and rallied to a 25-20 win to send the match to a fifth and deciding set.

Both teams battled in the final set, but Livingston took the lead and never relinquished it, taking the final set, 15-11.

For the Lady Lions, keeping the serve was an issue all night.

“I’ve never seen us miss so many serves,” the coach said.

“We worked so hard to get the serve back, only to give it back again.”

In between the third set, she stressed to her girls that they had to keep their serve.

“And let us stay in a rotation for awhile and let our hitters work.”

When it worked, it was difficult for the Lady Panthers to return, particularly from the slides.

Fans enjoyed watching the volleys that at times got up to as many as 20-25. Girls were sacrificing their bodies for digs and saves.

“We hustled all over the gym to get the ball back over,” Jaques said.

The Lady Panthers still struggle with the kill instinct, passing several times on opportunities to put the Lady Lions away.

“We’ve struggled with consistency all year long,” he said.

“We have to learn how to buckle down and finish,” Kennedy said. The coach said it was frustrating because on Tuesday, they played a state-ranked team in Bay City and it wasn’t even close.

“Then we get here and had silly errors that cost us,” he said.

Kennedy said they were looking forward to the rematch and hoped for a different outcome in Livingston.

“We knew that this district was going to be tough,” Jacques said. “A win is a win and we’ll take it,” she said.

Robin Lemelle led the Lady Lions with 12 kills followed by 8 for both Kara Cannon and Emily Connelly.

District doesn’t get any easier.

The Lady Panthers will take on No. 1 state-ranked Huffman Hargrave on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at home.

With Splendora and Livingston both dropping down from 5A to 4A, they have two of the largest 4A schools in the state.

Then the Lady Panthers also have to take on the storied program in Tarkington.

Finding a place in the playoffs will prove difficult, but there is fight in the Lady Panthers.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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