Flames place third out of 14 teams at N.C. State tournament
November 16, 2013 | Raleigh, N.C.
Liberty University's men's volleyball team turned in its best tournament performance in years — even better than its runner-up finish in an event held Oct. 5 at home considering the level of competition — placing third out of 14 teams Saturday at North Carolina State University.
The Flames finished 3-0 in pool play, defeating Wake Forest 25-17, 25-19, North Carolina State's B team 25-19, 25-19, and a USA Volleyball team from Raleigh, N.C. 25-13, 25-13 to earn a No. 1 seed going into the playoffs.
Liberty then edged host North Carolina in the quarterfinals, 25-23, 25-23, before falling to N.C. State's alumni team, which wound up facing the Wolfpack's undergraduate team in the tournament final, 20-25, 25-20, 15-11.
"It was a great day," Flames Head Coach Bryan Rigg said. "We rose to the occasion and played a lot better when we played UNC and N.C. State's alumni in the playoffs."
Outside hitter Kevin Snyder, a first-year graduate student, led Liberty in three categories during the tournament — kills, blocks, and service aces, using a powerful jump serve.
"The part of the game that has really picked up is he's working on his blocking ability," Rigg said. "He's not a middle blocker, but we got him into the film room and saw he was just jumping straight up at the net. What we want him to do is to swing block, stretching over the net. You basically swing your arms from the outside in, which brings the ball back into the court. It's really more effective, once you get the timing down, and the last three weeks he's improved dramatically."
Senior converted setter Ethan Chase also had a solid tournament, distributing the ball to a variety of hitters and drastically improving his setting technique, according to Rigg.
"He certainly has some more room to improve, but he made some big strides and he had a very good tournament," Rigg said. "His assists per set were higher, he had more kills in this tournament, and he also had some service aces, so he had an all-around good day."
Junior middle hitter Joel Marselus, meanwhile, added some firepower to the Flames' attack.
"Joel played a great game, too," Rigg said. "He didn't have many blocks, but he had some amazing kills. They were picturesque.
"Everybody played their positions well and made a visible improvement," he added. "(Freshman outside hitter) Si Herschberger had another outstanding game. He was hitting well, jump serving well, passing well, blocking well. He really had a great game."
Size was a factor in the Flames' favor.
"We didn't play a team that was taller than us," Rigg said. "We had a height advantage over everyone."
In the semifinal match against the alumni team, the Flames won the first game fairly handily before struggling down the stretch, in part due to fatigue caused by playing their fifth match of the day.
"One of the things we're struggling with is endurance," Rigg said. "We get a little worn down. We need to continue those workouts with (strength and conditioning coach) B.J. Hayes. That's the difference between us winning and losing. It's a matter of who has the most endurance right now."
He is encouraged by the fact that only two of Liberty's four losses this fall have come against undergraduate programs. That bodes well for the spring regular season, starting in late January, when the Flames will only play collegiate competition.
"If we look back over the past two tournaments, we had one loss against North Carolina two tournaments ago at Virginia Tech, and one loss to Virginia in the final of our home tournament," Rigg said. "Other than that, we have only lost to Virginia Tech's and N.C. State's alumni teams. If we continue to perform at this level, it puts us in a great position to beat them."
Though the Flames didn't meet N.C. State's undergraduate team, Rigg believes they would have come out on top.
"Last year, we faced them multiple times when they were ranked in the top 15 and they went on to be runners-up at the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Division IAA National Tournament, losing to Miami in the final," Rigg said. "We actually have a goal, which is realistic and probable, that we might be nationally ranked when the first poll is released in January."
He is optimistic middle blocker Ryan Culkin can return from his separated shoulder injury by the Flames' first match of the spring season, Jan. 25.
"He's hoping to be back that first week of February," Rigg said. "If so, we'll have a bunch of great guys and not enough positions, eight or nine guys who could start for other teams. Every position will be up for grabs in the spring."