Flames finish 1-2 in pool play at East Coast Championships
March 29, 2014 | College Park, Md.
Based on its eighth-place finish at Saturday's EIVA Division I East Coast Regional Championships at the University of Maryland, Liberty University's men's volleyball team was on the brink of qualifying for the Division I, Class A bracket of the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) Championships, set for April 3-5 in Reno, Nev.
"We've never played at the Division I-A or AA level at nationals," Flames Head Coach Bryan Rigg said, noting last year Liberty placed fifth out of 24 teams in the DI-AAA bracket at nationals in Dallas, Texas. "Division I-A takes the top (48) teams in the country and we're right on the bubble. We're probably ranked right around No. (40) in the country, so we'll either be in the A bracket or the first team in AA."
On Tuesday, Liberty found out it was ranked 41st overall, meaning it will compete in the Division I-A bracket for the first time. It will face 17th-seeded UCLA in its first-round match at noon on Thursday before also taking on Purdue and Santa Clara (Calif.) in pool play.
On Saturday, making their first EIVA regional tournament appearance, the Flames narrowly lost their first two matches before rebounding to win a third match to place third in their pool.
Liberty dropped its opener to James Madison University, 25-23, 25-15, 15-12. It had swept the Dukes in the semifinals of last Saturday's EIVA South Division I Tournament at the Schilling Center, qualifying it for the East Coast Regionals.
"We went into the game almost expecting we were going to beat them again and beat them handily," Rigg said. "They came out and played well and beat us and ended up finishing first in our pool."
The Flames then took Rutgers University, ranked 14th in the nation, to the wire in both games before falling, 33-31, 27-25, essentially eliminating them from advancing to the playoffs.
"That first loss physically drained us," Rigg said. "They're a very good team and we were hanging tough with them. They had a few game points and we were resilient and came back. They just had more confidence from the success they've had in this tournament several years in a row."
Rutgers went on to capture the EIVA East Coast Championships crown, sweeping the University of Maryland in the final after overcoming a three-game loss to JMU in pool play and beating Penn State University in the quarterfinals and Virginia Tech in the semifinals, both three-game matches.
Liberty ended the day with a decisive sweep of the College of Brockport: State University of New York (SUNY), winning 25-20, 25-17.
"It was great to beat Brockport," Rigg said. "They finished first in the EIVA North Division I tournament and were seeded first in our pool."
Liberty outside hitter Kevin Snyder, a graduate student, and freshman middle hitter Si Hershberger received All-EIVA Division I South Team honors, based on their performances at last Saturday's conference tournament.
In regionals, Snyder again led Liberty in kills, feeding off of junior setter Ethan Chase's assists.
Kyle Beaumont, who the Flames picked up from an intramural squad to replace injured junior Joel Marselus, played well on the opposite side.
"He had a few solo blocks at crucial times and a number of solid kills," Rigg said.
Middle hitter Ryan Culkin, a graduate student who returned from a shoulder separation last weekend, also came up big for the Flames.
"Ryan is starting to hit a little harder and had a bunch of blocks today," Rigg said. "He's still not 100 percent, but he had a great game as well."
Sophomore libero Josiah Williams turned in his usual spectacular performance on the back row.
"Josiah is a real big part of our success, an unheralded part," Rigg said. "He did a great job with service receive and digging up hard-driven spikes. He was so quick to react and always gets a hand on the ball."
The Flames will find out where they're seeded for nationals after the final NCVF Division I rankings are released on Monday. Rigg is torn as to which bracket he'd rather see the Flames compete in after arriving in Reno on Wednesday.
"We could have a chance at a national championship at the AA level, because we'd be one of the best teams there," Rigg said. "It'd be a great achievement to play at the A level, but a very challenging bracket. Either way, everybody's healthy and ready to go."