Falcons play hard but can't get past league-leading Lions

The Liberty volleyball team stuck around on Tuesday night.

Hosting one of the state’s top Class 5A teams and the Northwest Oregon Conference leader in St. Helens, the Falcons fought and they HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Liberty junior outside hitter Kelly Meeuwsen rips a shot during Tuesday's Northwest Oregon Conference volleyball match against St. Helens.

In the end, though, Liberty did not have quite enough to get over the top, falling 25-22, 25-22, 25-19 at home to the Lions. With the loss, Liberty dropped its second match in a row in league play, falling to 10-9 overall and 7-6 in the NWOC to slot behind St. Helens (17-3, 12-1), Wilsonville and Sherwood.

On a night when the Falcons sported pink jerseys in honor of breast cancer awareness and faced a top-tier team, quizzically, the squad seemed a bit reserved out on the court.

That is not to say, though, that Liberty also played poorly. In fact, the team stayed within a few points of the Lions for much of the first game and kept edging ahead for much of the next one before St. Helens pulled out the victory late. After the difficult second setback, the Falcons hung within three to five points of the Lions for most of the third but could not make a significant run at overtaking them.

“They didn’t play bad. I think that they’re getting tired of losing,” Liberty coach Tara Dolan said. “Like I was telling them, we have a tough, tough league. We have to fight for almost every single game. Five teams are in the top 14, 15 of state. So these are all teams that are going to be at state.

“No one’s going to give us anything. We have to fight, and it’s good practice.”

The NWOC is indeed a tough conference this season. As of Wednesday afternoon, St. Helens was ranked third in Class 5A. Wilsonville (fifth) and Sherwood (10th) were also way up in the rankings, trailed closely by Liberty (12th) and Sandy (14th).

While the Falcons have lost six conference matches, they have been quite competitive. Liberty pushed Wilsonville to five sets in both meetings this season, split with Sherwood and Sandy, and won a set against St. Helens the first time around.

“I don’t feel that it was at all a confidence issue,” senior libero Amanda Ganete said about the rematch. “I know we worked really hard at practice this week and last week, and I knew we were 100 percent prepared to go in there. We just had a couple mental lapses.”

The second set was the real heartbreaker. Liberty started on a 6-2 run and was still in front 20-18 thanks to kills from Maryana Kuznetsova and Marisa Nichols and a block from Nichols and Simone Wilson to win three out of four points.

But after St. Helens tied the match at 22-22, the Lions got a kill from Kali Moore and two more from Taylor Albertson to take the game against the decidedly shorter Falcons, who have fared well despite being shorthanded for much of the season. Only eight players, including Kelly Meeuwsen, Alina Munoz, Emma Johnson and Natalie Lubischer, played in the contest.

“Sometimes a team has one good player or two that drag their whole team up ... but we play all together and we need each other every game,” Kuznetsova said.

The defeat left Liberty seeking to wrap up conference play on a winning note on Thursday at Parkrose (results were not available at press deadline). A win would have secured Liberty sole possession of fourth place in the conference and the possibility of hosting a play-in game next week.

The top eight teams in the OSAA power rankings at the end of the week automatically advance to the 16-team state playoff bracket. The next 16 advance to play-in games based on ranking, with the highest and lowest teams playing each other and winners advancing to the first round on Nov. 2.

A conference schedule chock-full of teams like St. Helens should have Liberty ready.

“I think it’s great preparation for then, but I also at the same time don’t want them to lose confidence in the fact that they’ve lost a couple of close games,” Dolan said.

“Those are the top teams not only in our league but also the state, and I want them to recognize that they’re hanging right there with those teams, so we just need to push to that next level.”

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