HOLCOMB — Nathan Novack had high expectations for his Holcomb Longhorn girls this season.

Against Class 5A in a home and season opener, his girls showed flashes of those expectations, but it wasn’t quite enough as they fell to Liberal, 55-40.

Holcomb played with the Redskins through the first nine minutes, taking a 13-12 lead on a Courtney Wren trey. But then Liberal went on an 8-0 run to go up 20-12. Holcomb cut that back to 20-19 with a 6-0 counter-run, and trailed just 33-23 at halftime.

Light on the boards in the opening period (just one rebound), Holcomb bounced back with eight in the second, out-rebounding the Redskins 9-6 for the half, but turning the ball over 12 times to Liberal’s nine, which led to nine Liberal points in the half.

Holcomb could only convert five field goals in the second half as Liberal got up by 18 a few times, before the final differential of 15.

Machia Mullens led the Redskins with 16 points, including 10-of-10 from the line. Ali Lucero added 12.

Eboni Sapien led Holcomb with eight points. Lauren Jones added seven and Darien Mader six.

Still, a pretty good opening — especially first half, Novack said.

“We got outscored 21-13 in that second quarter,” he said. “But it seemed that we were getting so many hustle plays that ended up in their (Liberal’s) hands, and they ended up getting an outside shot or something down low. That’s hard to get upset when the girls are going that hard, diving after loose balls.”

Liberal’s height and arm length advantage took its toll on Holcomb in the second half.

“That extra effort boxing out would have helped. At the same time, we had box outs where the ball hit the floor,” Novack said. “That’s awesome.”

That said, Holcomb out-rebounded Liberal 21-20 individually, but Liberal picked up more team boards.

“We struggled the first half for rebounds, but the girls adjusted,” Novack said. “Liberal’s really active on the boards and don’t give you much, so you have to work at it.”

Holcomb hosts three games in the Clarion Classic next week against three tough teams.

But one thing he liked about his team was how competitive they played, and not just during the game.

“One thing I liked after the game was how the girls were talking in the locker room to each other, and they were almost as intense there — after a loss,” he said. “They were just feeding off each other. That was just awesome.”

To compete against one of the better teams in the area, despite spurts of no scoring, was also a plus, Novack added.

“We did a lot more good things than not tonight,” he said. “Our defense against zone has looked the best it has in the past two years. There were times we struggled, but more often than not, we were working to get open, passing to drive, take the middle. We’ll continue to get better, but it was a good sign for sure.”