Each team came into the game with a 10-4 record. Liberty had won its first encounter in three games and Heritage took its second match in four games. The Nov. 5 showdown, in a nearly full Liberty gym, featured a deafening playoff atmosphere as the crosstown rivals fought for second place in the Bay Valley Athletic League (undefeated Deer Valley had sewn up first).
And sure enough, the well-played, hard-fought contest – a “battle royale,” as Heritage Coach Janet Hannigan called it – went a full five games, the Patriots edging out the Lions 15-13 in the final game. Liberty took the first game 25-20; Heritage prevailed in the next two 25-19 and 25-22, and the fourth game went into extra points before Liberty prevailed 28-26.
The key to victory for Heritage was finding ways to work around Liberty’s Corinne Costa, who at 6-foot-4 dominates the court on offense (she notched 31 kills) and on defense (five blocks).
“Today we were able to do some things a little differently,” said Hannigan. “We had to adjust to match Corinne – she’s such a huge threat – we were able to do that. We made a couple of adjustments that really helped us out today. You’re trying to hit around a wall, basically. So when she’s not there, wherever she’s not, we are trying to put the ball (and) adjusting who is playing middle when she’s in the front row and trying to score a lot of points when she’s not in the game. She’s a very physical factor.”
Just how much of a factor Costa represents was demonstrated in the first game, in which her kills and blocks helped put the Lions up 12-3. But when she came out of the game for a rest, Heritage climbed back to within four points, down 15-19. Then Costa returned to the game, leading to kill, kill, kill. Before you knew it the game was over and Liberty was victorious. If Costa were superhuman and able to play every minute of every game, the outcome of the match would likely have been different.
Liberty Coach Linda Ghilarducci was gracious in defeat: “Everybody played their heart out. It was a great match. Nothing to be ashamed of. That’s the way it goes. It’s been great. We can’t ask for better. It’s great volleyball. The house is packed. This is great volleyball.”
While Liberty, naturally, is a Costa-oriented team, Heritage takes a more democratic approach. Hannigan praised her whole team but singled out four players for helping make the victory possible: Chelsey Hancock, a sophomore running the team at center; Megan Larmour, who recorded 14 kills and four blocks; Haley Kavanaugh, who made 20 kills and six aces and Maddi Hancock, who chalked up seven kills, six blocks and three digs.
“Those four girls in particular made great things happen for us. But the team as a whole allowed them to do those things,” said Hannigan. “The girls deserve this win. They fight so hard every game, practicing, working hard, building a great team. It was a good game – win or lose, I’d have been happy.
“But I’m very pleased with my team. They worked so hard every day. This is our highest finish ever in league. Deer Valley and Liberty are always tough battles. So I’m glad it went five just because we are equally matched. When Corinne’s in, it becomes an equally matched game.”
The victory upped Heritage’s record to 23-11 overall and 11-4 in league play. Liberty ended the regular season 21-12 overall and 10-5 in league action. Both teams earned spots in the North Coast Section playoffs. Heritage played at home Wednesday against 18-13 Castro Valley; Liberty was on the road against 19-9 Irvington and 22-11 Deer Valley hosted 12-8 San Leandro. The results of those games were not available at press time. The winners move on to the second round Saturday at 7 p.m.