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Zephs knock off Liberty to advance

The fourth-seeded Liberty Hurricanes were certain they would beat the fifth-seeded Whitehall Zephyrs in a District XI Class 3A quarterfinal volleyball match, but the Zephs would have none of it and dominated in a 3-1 (25-20, 18-25, 25-17, 25-17) victory over the ‘Canes on May 25 at Liberty.

“That was amazing,” said Whitehall setter Ethan Ringenberger, regarding the last point of the match. “No one thought we were gonna win. They beat us twice this season. Even after that second set, after we lost that, we were like, all right, that’s not a good taste. We’re gonna buckle down and really put forth effort here.”

That effort, a newfound one, began two weeks before district playoffs.

“We wanted to patiently get better as the season went on, and we knew we were going to have a two-week gap at some point, and I kept saying we’re going to get to where we need to get and play May volleyball, and we’re doing it right now, for sure,” said Whitehall coach George Cowitch.

In no particular order, Cowitch pulled up Peter Tabarani from the JV squad, calling it a good move on the part of the coaching staff, inserted Cole Richards into the starting lineup, and summoned Zephyr volleyball alumni to help prep the current team for districts.

“The alumni came and kicked our butts, but we really competed with them and it got us a lot better,” Ringenberger said. “At practice, the alumni really got us to see [the holes] better, and they really coached us. That’s how we got to put those balls down in key moments. That’s how we came out here and got the win.”

Richards and Tabarani made their presence known immediately with blocks at the net, along with Aiden Parvel, that helped to keep the Zephyrs ahead for most of the first set.

[Coach] told me to go out there and do my thing. Block, be up there, and be big,” said Richards. “I’m really happy for the guys, for the program, for the coach.”

Liberty took the early lead in the second set, but Whitehall tied it at 7-7 before trailing at the first timeout, 12-8.

“They changed their lineup to adjust to us and then we flipped to get a bigger block on Adam Mittl, their outside hitter,” said Cowitch. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen, so kudos to our guys for playing really good defense. Our young guys in the back row were awesome.”

Whitehall’s back row included Brandon Bird, Andrew Sodl, and Erick Zuniga.

“We’re tough on our liberos. They have to be mentally tough, and [Brandon] really rose to the challenge. With Ethan setting out there, it really helps us. It makes the game faster and Bryce (Schache) did his part, too, as our second setter. All around, these guys were phenomenal,” Cowitch said. “Liberty really believed they could beat us, and two weeks later, they’re done and we’re not, so that’s what it’s all about.”

After a 5-1 Liberty lead in the third set, a Whitehall block by Gavin Kneller and Jack Kocher tied it, 7-7, and Kocher and Ringenberger took over with their offensive attack, pulling ahead, 17-10.

“There was a lot of relief, but still, one thing that Coach always says to us is, ‘We can’t let up on them. We have to keep pounding,’ and that’s what we did,” said Ringenberger. “Go out swinging.”

Between multiple digs on the part of Whitehall’s Bird and unforced errors by Liberty, the Zephyrs headed to the fourth set, ahead, 2-1.

“We were thinking we’re not gonna lose a third time to them, and we’re not gonna go out first round,” Kocher said. “That’s all we were thinking. We went up a lot after the last set, and we got on them fast.”

A Kneller-Tabarani block put the Zephyrs up, 13-6, and another block from Parvel made the score 16-8.

Liberty gained some ground on Whitehall with the score 20-16, but a well-spent timeout put an end to a Hurricane run.

“Win or lose, we would have been really proud, just because of the work they put in the last two weeks,” said Cowitch. “It’s nice to get a payoff.”