New-look Lions serve notice

Having graduated last season's talented senior class, the Liberty volleyball team might not be perfect, but it still is one of the metro area's best.

September 28, 2005|By RICH SCHERR | RICH SCHERR,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For a Liberty volleyball team that was nearly perfect last fall, opening night this season was anything but. The defending Class 2A state champion Lions touched balls headed out of bounds, made contact on the wrong side of the net and committed error after error.

They also did something they did just once in 58 games last season.

Lose a game.

"Oh, we were so nervous. We made mistakes ... we were terrible," said coach Dave Trumbo, who called a timeout to calm his players. "I said, `Listen, let's just relax. Let's do some simple things, things we know we can do. ... Do you really think this team is better than us?' "

Even after graduating nearly its entire starting rotation, including three All-Metro players, few teams in the metro area are better than Liberty. Since dropping that first game of the season to North Hagerstown, the Lions (6-0) won their next 15 games in a row to maintain a top five area ranking.

Liberty has won 44 consecutive matches, a metro-area record, after earlier this season eclipsing Centennial's mark of 39.

With a starting lineup that consists mainly of players who sat on the bench last season, Trumbo knows there will be some bumps in the road. What will keep Liberty at the top of its class, he hopes, is the preparation that comes from playing for a two-time defending state champion.

"I think one of the best teams we faced last season was the one we faced in practice every day," said Trumbo, adding that players gained more experience facing teammates on off days than they ever could have playing a full junior varsity schedule. "They were playing against three All-Metro players in Stacey Krebs, Meghan McConville and Lauren Locklear. I knew pretty much who was going to be playing for us this year and where."

This team is led by 6-foot senior Kristen Steinnagel, a three-year varsity starter in the middle. She is one of four three-year varsity players on the team, all of whom have never lost a high school match. Others are defensive specialists Amy Seivold and Whitney Miller - also the team's top server - as well as outside hitter Jen Schissler.

Of course, no amount of experience can replace such heavy losses.

Krebs, The Sun's All Metro Player of the Year, is starting as a freshman at Salisbury, second-team All-Metro hitter McConville plays at Gettysburg, and yet another member of that team, Jamie Gardner, plays at Hood College.

"We definitely have to prove ourselves," said senior Lauren Tabor, who won a preseason battle to take over for second-team All-Metro setter Locklear. "With almost our entire starting lineup graduating last year, everybody was like, `Oh, they're never going to be as good as they were.' So now we have to prove to everybody that we are."

Trumbo, however, knows this team is a work in progress.

While not as dominant up front, the Lions appear to be deeper. Against North Hagerstown, for instance, five players, led by juniors Melissa Stansbury and Sam Walters, finished with between five and eight kills each.

"It's more spread out," Steinnagel said. "Somebody will have a great game this day, and the next day it will be somebody else."

Said Tabor, "Last year, we played with basically the same seven players all season. This year, we play with almost the entire roster."

With so many new players in the mix, Trumbo knew there was little time to waste during the preseason. Unlike previous years, he instituted two-a-day practices from the outset, attempting to prepare players he knew would soon have to step into key roles. For the 10th-year coach, the challenge has been invigorating.

"My assistant coach, Robbie Meadows, and I were saying that this might even be a little bit more fun this year, because for us to win, we're going to have to do a lot of coaching," Trumbo said. "Last year, we just fine-tuned everything."

In this year's season opener, however, fine-tuning was the last thing on Trumbo's mind. After falling, 25-23, to North Hagerstown, some players secretly wondered if Liberty's dominance of the past two years had evaporated.

"I was concerned, but if I would have broken down as a captain, it would have been bad for the entire team," Tabor said. "So once we got in the huddle on the other side of the net, we were just like, `You know what, let's win the next three and just forget about it.' "

As has been the case in recent years, the Lions did just that, finding a way to pull out a four-game victory.

Trumbo knows there may be other hiccups, but he also realizes that the preparation of a year ago puts the odds in Liberty's favor.

"It's going to be an up and down season," Trumbo said. "We're going to lose games like that North Hagerstown game, but they've got to beat us three out of five. We may not play well for one or two, but beating us three games is going to be pretty tough."

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