Both coach and players agreed that the Liberty Christian School girls’ volleyball team played its best match of the season Saturday afternoon at home.

It wasn’t enough to beat the toughest opponent of the season, No. 2-seeded Avalon in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoffs. But it was certainly enough to push the visiting Lancers, who earned a 25-16, 25-19, 25-13 sweep that ended Liberty Christian’s season.

The Minutemen (8-15) have seen consistent growth under third-year head coach Ryan Parker, who graduated from Liberty Christian in 2016. He guided them to their first playoff win in that tenure Thursday, as they beat Victor Valley Christian in four sets in the first round of CIF.

Parker said it was the first playoff win for any sport at Liberty Christian in at least eight years. His team did not back off Saturday, despite the end result.

“This was a big building year from us,” Parker said. “Last year was our first year getting into playoffs, and our goal from the very beginning was to win a playoff match. It was all about building to this moment. These last two [matches] have been by far the best they’ve played. We treated the playoffs as a brand new season, and they came in with a whole different attitude and started playing way different than they were.”

Junior outside hitter Sydney Washa led Liberty Christian, the second-place team from the Western League, with eight kills. Senior Kayla Key added four kills and four service aces, while senior setter Natalie Younger also had four kills and four aces. Middle blocker Audri Turner added three kills and one ace.

Liberty Christian earned a 5-2 lead in set one, thrilling the home crowd.

“We came out with fire and confident,” Key said. “We weren’t afraid to lose.”

But Express League champion Avalon (32-6) quickly scored 13 points in a row to end the hosts’ momentum. Sophomore setter Virginia Soto controlled the action for the Lancers, also chipping in eight kills. Junior Giselle Alvarez had seven kills.

“Sometimes [Soto] does lead us in kills, just because she knows where to place the ball every time,” Avalon coach Carlos Martinez said. “She’s getting better every match.”

Avalon led for all of set two. Liberty Christian, aided by three straight aces by Key, took an 8-5 lead in set three before the visitors rallied back.

Alvarez ended it on a cross-court kill for Avalon, which beat Liberty Christian for the second time this season in its home gym. The Lancers also beat the Minutemen on their way to the Liberty Christian tournament title in late August.

Avalon will play either San Luis Obispo Classical or Oxnard Santa Clara in the Division 9 quarterfinals on Wednesday. But Liberty Christian still could emerge from Saturday’s match knowing it had played its best.

“I was here my freshman year and it was pretty bad,” said Younger, one of three seniors along with Key and middle blocker Chantelle Estrada. “I think the improvement was just amazing … We always have been the underdog in a lot of the [matches] we play in. I think we feed off that, just because we’re so used to it. But I still think we came out strong, stronger than ever.”

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