Liberty High School has been around for more than 100 years, so it’s not easy for someone in 2022 to do something that’s never happened before in the school’s history. But that’s what Liberty’s boys volleyball team did.
Entering the season, the Lions had never won a league championship in boys volleyball. For more than a decade, the boys volleyball standings in the Bay Valley Athletic League have been dominated by Deer Valley and Heritage. Coming into the year, Liberty coach Haylie Bustamante knew that Liberty could unseat those two and make school history -- but she knew that it had to be done in pieces.
“Winning the BVAL Championship was seen as a goal at the beginning of the season,” the coach said. “It was something that the coaching staff and I definitely felt was a strong possibility and we just kept reminding the team that in order to achieve this goal we needed to take it one match at a time, one set at a time, one point at a time, and never underestimate another team.”
That approach worked well.
The Lions opened their BVAL schedule on March 29 with a 3-1 win over the Wolverines. Liberty won its next eight league matchups to set up a de facto BVAL Championship game against Heritage. If the Lions won, they’d finish 10-0 and win the league outright. If the Patriots won, both Liberty and Heritage would be 9-1 and the Patriots would have the tiebreaker. But the Lions controlled that matchup from the outset, winning 25-21, 25-23 and 25-17 for a 3-0 victory.
That was a theme of the season for Liberty. Not only did the Lions go undefeated in league play but six of the 10 matches were 3-0 sweeps. Only once -- on the road against Deer Valley on April 14 -- were the Lions taken to five sets by a BVAL opponent. The Wolverines won the fourth set 25-20 to force a fifth and decisive set. Liberty won that set 15-13 to win the match, then won each of its final four BVAL matches by 3-0 margins.
“The team was very excited to win league,” junior Oliver Lyman said. “And everyone was very proud of each and every person on the team for doing their part to make this team successful.”
It was a team effort for the Lions. The offense didn’t run through one player, but four seniors -- Christian Richardson, Gabe DeGuzman, Jesse Glenn, and Marcelo Bustamante. The quartet has played together since they were freshmen and are all three-year varsity players.
They produced most of the team’s points, with all four logging over 100 kills on the season. Bustamante had 140, Richardson had 132, Glenn had 116 and DeGuzman had 104. DeGuzman and Bustamante also were their team’s primary assist men. DeGuzman led the team with 359 assists while Bustamante had 180.
While the seniors filled up a lot of the statistics, their younger teammates were key contributors, as well -- especially on the defensive end. Junior Owen Wortinger led the way with 86 blocks while sophomore Xavier Cordova was second on the team with 67. Lyman, meanwhile, led the team with 267 digs.
All three impressed their coach with their improved play.
“I wouldn’t so much say they surprised us as coaches as we could see the potential they have,” Bustamante said. “I would say I am proud of the hard work and commitment, which has led to the improvement we have seen.”
“Oliver Lyman has stepped up as our libero and really improved throughout the season,” she added. “Owen Wortinger and Xavier Cordova stepped up as middles. This is Owen’s second season playing; his first was last year’s very abbreviated season. It is Xavier’s first season playing and he has picked up the game very quickly and became an integral part of our team very quickly.”
Liberty finished the regular season with a 10-0 league record and a 20-8 mark overall. That was good enough for the No. 8 seed in the North Coast Section playoffs and a matchup against No. 9 Dublin. Unfortunately for the Lions, the season came to an end there, with the Gaels winning 3-0 (25-17, 25-16, 25-20).
With the season coming to an end, the players were reflective on what they had accomplished. A unanimous feeling was pride at giving Liberty its first banner in boys volleyball.
“It felt amazing to write history for Liberty,” senior Jason Henderson said. “And I am excited to continue being with the team.”
His fellow senior, Ray Serana, was happy to be leaving on a high note.
“What better way to go out.”