By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
The friendly rivalry between Liberal and Southwestern Heights added a new chapter Tuesday with two new head coaches, and while both sides had some success, it was Liberal that earned the win.
It didn’t come easy, and the Lady Redskins didn’t get off to a smooth start against the younger and shorter Lady Mustangs who played without a single senior on the roster.
Despite their youth, the Lady Mustangs won the first set while the Lady Redskins struggled to keep the ball in bounds on spike attempts.
Heights jumped out to a 3-0 lead and maintained the advantage at 12-9.
Megan Besecker reeled off seven straight points for the Lady Redskins to take a 16-12 lead before a Lady Mustang time out led to a net shot on Besecker’s next serve.
Liberal continued to lead until at 20-17, the Lady Mustangs tallied to tie the game at 21-21. The Lady Mustangs were able to take the lead ar 22-21 and went on to win the first game 25-22.
The Lady Redskins started the second set with a quick 5-1 lead, but the Lady Mustangs rallied with four straight points to tie the game at 5.
Heights took a 9-6 lead before the Lady Redskins went on a 13-4 run to take a 19-13 lead. The Lady Mustangs cut the lead to three at 21-18 but couldn’t get any closer, and the Lady Redskins tied the mach with a 25-19 win.
The third match stayed close until Liberal took advantage of its height at the net and turned an 8-7 lead into a 19-8 advantage.
But Heights continued to defend ever shot. Libero Bailey Compton spent a lot of time on the hardwood diving after balls and saving spikes with pancakes.
The Lady Mustangs outscored Liberal 10-6 down the stretch but could not overcome the deficit, and the Lady Redskins took a 2-1 lead in the match with a 25-18 win.
The fourth set was another see-saw battle early, but again the Lady Redskins turned a one-point lead at 10-9 into an 18-10 advantage.
The ady Redskins continued to build momentum at the net, forcing the Lady Mustangs to fend off attack after attack, but in the end the Lady Redskins earned the 25-17 win to take the match, 3-1.
The win was the first for head coach Taryn Dinh while new Lady Mustang coach Meagan Wilson took the loss.
“The first set, I’m going to chalk that up to nerves. I’m going to just leave it at that,” Dinh said. “I hope they can get that out of their system, but I’m glad they got it.”
The Lady Redskins moved well on defense, and that was a bright spot for Dinh.
“I liked the transition part of our defense,” she said. “I think we still need some work. There needs to be a little bit of clean-up going on. That’s what I am going for — a much quicker game.”
The opening win will provide confidence heading to Garden City Thursday to face Western Athletic Conference competition.
“I think it gives the girls a boost they needed,” Dinh said. “I threw some different stuff at them, and I think this gave them the chance to see that is and can be what works for us this season.”
One late curve ball Dinh threw was moving Abbey Hebbert to the middle front, and the transition didn’t disappoint. Hebbert was able to get her hand on a number of balls and block some shots.
“Abbey did awesome tonight,” Dinh said. “This was her first time playing middle since her freshman year. I threw that at her in the last couple of days, and she told me tonight, ‘I’m really gonna like the middle.’ I’m glad she feels that way, I think she will do so well there.”
Heights may have taken the loss, but their ability to compete and take a set was an indication that the smaller school should be competitive in the Hi-Plains League, and Wilson’s first night taking over for long-time coach Julie Tucker had signs of promise.
“A lot of credit goes to coach Tucker,” Wilson said. “She has the girls fundamentally really sound, made my job easy.”
Wilson was also satisfied with the never-say-die attitude the Lady Mustangs showed despite facing a Class 5A opponent.
“I feel like our girls never gave up on any play,” she said. “The girls ran across the court, and never gave up on any point. They were always willing to play the next point out as hard as we could. That is what we will be looking for all year.”
Heights felt little pressure coming to Liberal for what has become the annual opener for both schools.
“We knew coming in Liberal would have some size and some speed,” Wilson said. “We’ve talked all early season about how our defense will keep us in games and win us games. They did a good job of getting a hand on the ball at key moments. We will keep working on it.
“For us, this is one of the bigger schools we play all year, one of the more athletic we play all year. Everyone will seem slower and shorter after this game. We wanted to come in and be competitive. Being the small school, there’s not a lot of pressure on us. We just wanted to go out and play and have fun, and I think we did that. I know I did.”