Flames meet tough ACC teams at EIVA South Play Date
February 15, 2014 | Durham, N.C.
Liberty University's men's volleyball team finished 1-3 in Saturday's Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association South Division I Play Date. The team faced all three Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham, N.C., triangle and one from an Southeastern Conference power, the University of Florida.
In the first round of pool play, Liberty lost to the tournament host Blue Devils, 25-16, 25-21, before rebounding to defeat North Carolina State University, 25-18, 25-20.
After taking the first game against Florida, ranked No. 9 in the nation, the Flames lost to the Gators, 25-23, 25-19, 15-11. They were then swept by the University of North Carolina, 25-22, 25-22, in their final match of the day, which was a qualifier for the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Championships in early April.
"It was disappointing not being mentally prepared," Liberty Head Coach Bryan Rigg said of falling to the Tar Heels, a team the Flames had swept by similar scores at a Nov. 16 tournament at N.C. State. "We certainly had a lot higher expectations."
Rigg was forced to make a major shift in his lineup after the first match, moving freshman outside hitter Josiah Hershberger to the middle and bringing his replacement in off the bench.
"We changed rotations because we really needed to get some more offense and defense out of the middle," Rigg said, noting the Flames lost one player from the fall and senior middle blocker Ryan Culkin was still sidelined from his separated shoulder injury. "We haven't really seen the potential we thought we had at the beginning of the season. When you have injured players and start shuffling players around, it's hard."
Out of the eight teams in the tournament (the University of Virginia and George Mason didn't travel due to the weather), Florida, Central Florida, James Madison University, and No. 3-ranked Virginia Tech were still competing when Liberty returned to Lynchburg.
Rigg said the highlight of the day was the Flames' performance against Florida.
"We won the first game and hung close the last two," he said. "Mental lapses, physical preparation, and not being able to stay mentally up for entire matches affected us. We're still learning. We're a growing team. It was a good learning experience. We can learn to improve our mental toughness and our slumps."
Liberty has more than a month to prepare for its last opportunity to qualify for nationals, at the EIVA South Division Championships hosted by the Flames at the Schilling Center on March 22. The top two teams in that tournament who have yet to qualify for nationals will receive the final two bids.
Culkin has been cleared to play and should be ready to go by the next time Liberty takes the floor for a tournament — March 1 at JMU. Joining the Flames will be Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Maryland, and Virginia Tech.
"Ryan's return should strengthen our lineup to where we started the season and really restore it to full power," Rigg said. "That will allow us to move one of the other guys to the outside and give us another offensive weapon."