Flames reach championship match of Liberty Tournament
October 5, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Even without starting middle blocker Ryan Culkin, who separated his shoulder in Thursday's practice, Liberty University's men's volleyball team advanced to the championship game of its home tournament before falling to Virginia, 25-22, 25-22, Saturday at the Schilling Center.
A week after finishing fifth out of 12 teams at the season-opening Virginia Tech Tournament, the Flames went 3-0 in pool play and 4-1 overall to earn runner-up honors in the eight-team event. In the final, Liberty was swept by the same Cavaliers squad it had swept 26-24, 25-17 in Blacksburg.
"It was a good day, but a bad ending," Liberty head coach Brian Rigg said. "We played exceptionally well (in a 25-9, 25-18 opening win over) Duke. Had we brought that game to the (championship against UVA), we would have won. We had our ups and downs and unfortunately, at the end of the day, we had our downs. The guys were playing very, very tired. It was a long day, and I guess they haven't trained enough to be able to finish five, six, seven games in a row. We need to train harder to be able to finish at the same level, because it's an endurance match. The most-fit team wins."
The Flames were virtually unstoppable against the Blue Devils and in a 25-9, 25-13 second-round rout of Richmond before edging William & Mary 25-23, 25-23 to finish 3-0 in pool play.
"Everything was working," Rigg said. "We were beating them with blocks. Defense is the way to win and we were blocking them like crazy. We got blocks on the outside, blocks in the middle, everybody was blocking, and we were playing good defense (from the back row), passing the ball."
Then in the semifinals of the playoffs, the Flames rallied past Virginia Commonwealth University, 19-25, 25-21, 15-13.
"The second game, we were down, just like in the first game, and found a way to win," said outside hitter Kevin Snyder, who put away match point with a one-time spike of a VCU return right to him. "I saw it coming over and there was no way I was going to screw it up. I was going to put it down for the team."
In the final, fatigue and the loss of Culkin, Liberty's top blocker at Virginia Tech, took its toll. Junior Joel Marselus filled in and had a couple monster kills against the Cavaliers, but didn't put up quite as effective a block.
"Joel stepped in, and he's such a versatile player," said Snyder, who played with Marselus on the beach volleyball team this summer. "Joel's played outside, he's played right side, I think he played middle in high school, so he came in and tried to fill the gap. But you can't fill Ryan's shoes. It's a big loss. His blocking ability's something we miss very much."
Rigg is hopeful Culkin will be back in time for the spring season.
"He may need surgery, he may not, but either way, he's going to need a lot of rehab," Rigg said.
To make it to the finals without Culkin in the lineup was a good sign, as the Flames relied on the power of their outside hitters to compensate.
"It was a good showing without him," Rigg said. "We struggled at times, our passing was up and down, (Ethan) Chase is still learning a lot of setting, but the outside hitters continue to do a good job. They're great outside hitters, Si (Hershberger), Kevin (Snyder), and Derek (Abildness). Chase struggled a little bit today, but he's continuing to build his skills and getting better all the time."
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer