Liberty North tapping into depth after injuries

Liberty North's Taylor Gates sets the ball during a Class 4 District 15 semifinal match against Liberty in 2017 at Liberty North High School. Gates, now a senior and Louisiana-Lafayette commit, leads an attack in 2019.

LIBERTY — The task to bring Liberty North its first volleyball district title has been a tough one. It got tougher for the Eagles before the 2019 season began, with multiple injuries forcing the squad to tap into its depth.

“It stinks any time this happens, but at the same time I’m thankful for our depth and that the injuries are happening early rather than later in the season,” Liberty North coach Katie Dowden said.

The Eagles started the season down three players ahead of a season-opening 2-0 home loss to Lee’s Summit North on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Junior all-conference defensive specialist Rylee Staatz is lost for the season while sophomore Ainsley Gardner and junior Allie Burkhalter are out for a few weeks due to injury, according to Dowden.

But Liberty North returns five starters, including Louisiana-Lafayette commit Taylor Gates and gains senior transfer Allie Hinkley, who returns to the Eagles after spending two years at Lansing High School in Kansas.

“We’ve been able to see some good competition,” she said. “Granted, we don’t have everybody available, the clientele that we have definitely has provided some great opportunities.”

The Eagles offense runs through Taylor, a first team all-conference outside hitter who owns program records in kills for a career, season and single match.The Eagles also return all-conference members Rachel Spainhour, junior; and Addison Beagle, sophomore. Juniors Grace Lyndes and Grace Reineke are expected to make an impact.

Dowden directed the Eagles to a 17-14-2 season and a third straight district semifinal appearance last year, improving on the program’s single-digit seasons in 2016 and 2017.

Liberty North will only look to better last season’s output in 2019, and possibly make a run at a program-first district championship.

“I believe we have one of the toughest districts, but we have the opportunity to play four conference opponents in our district,” Dowden said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll come out and give our fans something exciting to watch.”

Sports Editor Adam Burns can be reached at adam.burns@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6643.

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