Flames give NCAA DIII Eastern Mennonite a challenge
January 27, 2014 | Harrisonburg, Va.
Taking on the first NCAA opponent in its 35-year history of club competition, Liberty University's men's volleyball team held its own before falling to Division III Eastern Mennonite University, 23-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-22, Monday night in front of a boisterous crowd at Yoder Arena.
"We won the first set and then played a very close second game which we were leading until the very end," Liberty head coach Bryan Rigg said. "It was a good experience and a great challenge for them. The crowd was a huge factor."
Besides getting used to playing with NCAA referees and line judges the Flames had to adjust their lineup to comply with NCAA rules.
"We found out when we got there about a new rule change in the NCAA this year," Rigg said. "We had to put two players in positions they were not used to playing. In the NCAA, the libero cannot serve so our middle blockers (Sam Eisbrenner and Ryan Burrt) had to serve and play defense (on one rotation). When we go to Pennsylvania, we'll know how to prepare."
On March 5, Liberty will travel to Cairn University, an NCAA DIII program formerly named Philadelphia Biblical University, for a three-team tournament with NCAA DII Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) University.
"I told them all, this was going to be a learning experience no matter how it turned out," Rigg said of the Flames' first taste of NCAA competition. "From a coaches' perspective, the higher the level of game you can get, it's a real blessing. We've developed a good relationship with Christian schools like Eastern Mennonite and Cairn and to be able to play with NCAA teams, that will give us confidence.
"We did pretty well for who we are and what we have," Rigg said, noting the Royals have the advantage of practicing five days per week with a coach, Dominick Porter, who was a professional player in Germany and member of the U.S. National Team. "We were a far better team at blocking and defense," Rigg said. "They were superior to us in their serving and offense. We had a ton of blocks. The first two points of the first game were blocks for us. They had much better servers. They had three jump servers with a lot of velocity."
"Ethan's getting better and better," Rigg said. "He's really worked on his set and getting his hitters behind the set. He's making really good decisions and did a really good job for us. He was great. (Porter) complimented him, and said he has really good hands."
Freshman outside hitter Josiah "Si" Hershberger was the Flames' most effective server while sophomore libero Josiah Williams anchored the defense.
"Si's jump serve added something to our game and Josiah Williams did a really good job with his passing and his digging of hard-hit balls," Rig said. "He just always had himself in the right spot. He's coming into his own."
Rigg said despite the defeat, the experience of facing the Royals on their home court was invaluable preparation for the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Tournament, April 2 in Reno, Nev.
"Through the crowd noise and the adversity, we can develop real perseverance and endurance," Rigg said. "It was great for the team and it really sets us up well as we prepare for nationals."
For now, Rigg is concerned with getting the Flames ready for the Feb. 15 Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) Division I South Play Date, with all 10 conference foes on hand for the round-robin event at a site yet to be determined.
From humble beginnings, the Flames hope to rise to the top of the EIVA South this season.
"This club's been around since late 1970s, soon after the university started," Rigg said. "It took a brief hiatus in the mid-1990s and came back in the late 1990s. At some point, it was just a group of guys traveling in a van to play in tournaments. We're taking big steps."
Liberty's preseason record this past fall was 14-4, compared to the previous year when it struggled to win any games in a league that includes Virginia, Virginia Tech, George Mason University, James Madison University, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida and Central Florida, which replaces Virginia Commonwealth University this year.
"We've played all those schools in the South except the Florida teams and it's a totally different game now going into the regular season knowing you have beaten these guys," Rigg said. "We're looking for a complete turnaround. Last year, we were in the bottom two. This year, the expectation is to finish in the top two."