Flames showcase depth of talent at Preseason Play Date
September 30, 2017 | Lynchburg, Va.
Head Coach Bryan Rigg shook things up for Liberty University's men's volleyball team in Saturday's fall season-opening Preseason Play Date, a 10-team tournament held on two courts at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center. He combined his Division I and II teams into two squads with a variety of both levels of players, and they both excelled, going 4-0 and 3-1 against mostly Eastern Collegiate Volleyball Association (ECVA) competition.
"About half the ECVA South was here, so it was terrific," Rigg said. "We thought the teams were good enough that they would be able to survive mixing the new guys and the old guys, the A team and B team. That was part of the plan as well as to see how the setters did leading those teams, and it ended up working really well."
In the final match of the tournament, Liberty overcome a 17-25 first-game setback to upend JMU's A team by scores of 28-26, 15-12.
"JMU is probably one of the top two or three teams in the South," Rigg said. "It's still early in the season so it was nice to be able to see that we could beat them already with half our (Division I) squad."
Senior middle hitter Gene Dejesus, who switched from the outside hitter position three weeks ago, and junior Brady Quakenbush, who took his place on the outside, paced the Flames against the Dukes with eight kills apiece and Dejesus added five stuff blocks.
"We were actually partners (in beach volleyball), so we had good chemistry going," Quakenbush said. "It's harder to jump in the sand, obviously, so coming onto this hard court, it just felt like I was bouncing. Having someone like Gene on the court next to you just makes my job even easier. The man is 6-6 with a wingspan of like 7 feet, so all you got to do is put the ball up and he's going to score."
"Kaden was setting perfect balls all day and really controlling and leading the team," Quakenbush said. "He was the guy we looked toward when we were down. We looked to him and he was pushing us, picking us up, and that's ultimately what got us through it."
That Flames team finished 4-0 on the day, also sweeping Longwood, 25-17, 25-12, JMU's B team, 25-18, 25-18, and a Liberty alumni team, 25-21, 25-23. But the final against the Dukes' A team was the equivalent of a championship match, since there was no playoff in the round-robin tournament.
"There were three or four momentum points where there were huge rallies and someone just had to step up and get a kill," Quakenbush said. "We probably won three out of four of those and that's what changed the game for us. We really dug deep and fought through the adversity and found the strength to finish it out at the end."
Meanwhile, Liberty's other split squad led by junior setter Eli Plasterer and senior outside hitter T.J. Forsythe went 3-1, edging Virginia 25-22, 30-29, falling to JMU's A team, 25-19, 20-25, 10-15, and defeating Duke, 25-16, 25-18, and VCU, 25-21, 25-19.
"Eli did very well leading those guys," Rigg said. "There's a lot of different personalities on that team and he's keeping them all in check. On the outside, T.J. dominated. He just had a terrific day on the outside along with (freshman recruit) Sean Taggart and (sophomores) Gabe Jackson and Daniel Koloff."
Rigg said Taggart is competing with Forsythe and Quakenbush for the starting outside hitter spot on the Division I team.
"He's had the best hitting percentage through our first four weeks of practice of anybody," Rigg said. "There's a great parity right now between the two teams. It's going to make the position battles really hard, but it's going to make both teams better."
The team has a month to prepare for its next match at King College, an NCAA Division II program, their last tune-up for the Nov. 10-12 Hardwood Classic hosted by Michigan State.
"We're probably going to (finalize the DI and DII teams) in the next week or two and once we do that, it's full steam ahead and we'll try to perfect our craft," Quakenbush said. "We've never been able to perform (at the Hardwood Classic) and this year, we'll give them a run for their money."