LIBERTY — It was one of the hottest tickets of the week in high school sports. Liberty hosted Liberty North in the Class 5 District 8 Championship game on Monday, Oct. 24. An estimated 1,500 people packed into Liberty’s gym to see these two volleyball giants compete against each other.
“This should have been the state championship game,” Liberty North’s Abby Christian said.
With an electric atmosphere filling the gym, Liberty North came out on top by sweeping the Blue Jays 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-18). The Eagles jumped all over Liberty to begin set one, and all of the sets afterward for that matter. Liberty North was the first team to reach five points in each set. It was a point of emphasis for the Eagles to start off strong.
“Every single time, we came out, we were ready to play,” Cisneros explained. “I don’t think for one second that we didn’t have this game.”
In set one, Liberty bounced back after the slow start as setter Ashley Mullen started to find her flow. She was able to pick perfect passes to Aisha Aiono or her sister, Abigail Mullen. The Blue Jays led 20-18, but Liberty North finished the set 7-2 to close out set one.
The Eagles started hot again in set two as they earned a 9-4 lead. The Blue Jays went on a 5-1 run to tie the set at nine points apiece. Liberty North closed the set on a 9-4 run to go 2-0 up on the Blue Jays. The big highlight came midway through the set. Liberty’s Ashley found Abigail, who went for the big kill, but Christian was there for the dig that set up a Carlie Cisneros kill for the Eagles. It was a momentum changer for Liberty North.
“When we start strong and keep the energy up, the rest of it comes easy,” Christian said.
In set three, Liberty North started strong as they gained a 7-3 lead. Just like the first two sets, Liberty came from behind to tie the game at 9-9. Liberty North’s Ella Morgan and Cisneros were crucial during this set in front of the net. They were everywhere on offense and defense for the Eagles as they went back and forth with Liberty.
Liberty North found the momentum they needed on a huge play in the third set. Liberty went for a massive kill, but a diving Nela Misipeka earned an incredible dig. Christian launched a high pass across the court to Cisneros, who finished the play off with a kill. The Eagles led 15-14 and finished on a 10-4 run to win the district championship.
Misipeka came in clutch for Liberty North. Head coach Katie Dowden explained that this was Misipeka’s first time playing the front row this season. Rather than looking uncomfortable in the moment, she rose to the occasion and played some phenomenal volleyball.
“She is such a smart hitter that having her on the court gives us an opportunity to be able to spread things around,” Dowden said. “What a great night for her.”
For Liberty, their season ends in heartbreak as the Blue Jays had aspirations of going to the state championship. The Blue Jays finished with a record of 35-3. The loss to Liberty North hurts, but that is a win tally that will be remembered for a long time.
“We had fun every single day, we took a lot of trips together. We spent a lot of time in and out of the gym,” coach April Fleming said. “This is a season for the books. A lot of these girls have grown up together and we go to watch them grow up.”
Fleming shared her appreciation for her senior class of Grace Toney, Phoenix St. Louis, Jocelyn Renfro, Brooklyn Young, Ashley and Aiono.
Ashley is headed to the University of California, Los Angeles to play volleyball next year. Aiono will be playing at the University of Kansas. Young closed out her high school career by reaching over 300 blocks, a new Liberty record.
“I am not getting them when they are 18, I am getting them when they are babies. I get to watch them grow into the players and humans that they become,” Fleming explained. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. Today wasn’t our best night, but they have showed up every single day with a great attitude.”
As for Liberty North, their volleyball season continues on Saturday, Oct. 29. They will host St. Teresa’s at 3 p.m. in the Class 5 State Quarterfinals.