CAPE GIRARDEAU — In just their second appearance in the final four of the state tournament, the Liberty Blue Jays made the most of their opportunity to place well.
After landing in the third-place game on Saturday, Nov. 9, the Blue Jays bettered their best state finish in program history with a straight set victory (28-26, 25-15) over Francis Howell Central.
Liberty’s previous best finish was fourth place in 2014.
“I’m just proud of them,” Blue Jays coach April Fleming said. “I think that’s the best way to describe what they did this year.”
Liberty (30-8-1) received the No. 3 seed after going 1-1-1 in the pool play round on Friday, Nov. 8.
The Blue Jays defeated Francis Howell Central in straight sets (25-20, 25-12), tied Lafayette (Wildwood) 1-1 (16-25, 29-27) and fell to Nixa in straight sets (25-15, 25-22).
“There were situations where it was super tight on Friday. We came back to battle against Lafayette,” Fleming said. “The goal is to win it all, but we always talk about taking it one day at a time. The goal at that point then was to focus on third place.”
Nixa won the state title after beating Lafayette (Wildwood) in straight sets. In the third-place match with Francis Howell Central, the Blue Jays overcame a slow start to win in straight sets.
“It didn’t start out great,” Fleming said. “We gave them a lot of points in the first set, so in a game like that in that caliber, you have to take care of the ball on your side of the net. But we came together and played better and ended up pulling it up. In the second set we just took over.”
In the third-place match, Bailee Middleton led the attack with 12 kills. Meghan Schneider orchestrated the offense with 17 sets, while Deb Glaeser led the defense with 10 digs. Brooklyn Young added four blocks.
J’Nai Moultrie and Joecelyn Renfro each added five blocks apiece. Liz Stepp produced six digs and three aces.
A five-player senior class goes out with a strong finish to their prep careers, as Schneider, Stepp, Glaeser, Justine Jones and Lauren Hiestand all reached the state final four for the first time.
Schneider surpassed the 2,000 career assist mark, finishing with 2,056, good for a program record. And Stepp broke the career dig mark (1,018) and the single-season dig record (469).
The group of seniors led the Blue Jays to reverse a trend of three straight postseason losses to St. Teresa’s Academy with their quarterfinal victory over the Stars.
“Some people would have just said ‘this was it,’” Fleming said of the STA victory. “But they continued to battle big. In the third place match, once again, it was super close, but we ended up pulling it off.”
In a big way, too, finishing with the team’s best finish in program history, and making a Liberty community proud in the process.
“They just showed a lot of heart, character and resilience,” Fleming said. “Throughout the whole trip and journey, the community and everybody back at the school, family and friends, everyone was doing special things for the team. Alumni, former players parents reaching out and sending messages was so incredible. It shows how wonderful this community is.”