Flames' DI, DII volleyball teams win pools, bow out in semis
March 24, 2018 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's Division I men's volleyball lineup fared surprisingly well in pool play at Saturday's East Coast Volleyball Association (ECVA) South Division Tournament at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center, defeating Virginia Commonwealth University, 25-20, 25-19, the University of North Carolina, 25-20, 25-16, and the University of Virginia, 25-20, 23-25, 15-8.
"It amazed me," said Head Coach Bryan Rigg, who sat four of his regular starters due to violations of team rules. "The DI team had a totally different lineup with only five guys that were eligible to play and most of them put in positions they weren't used to. … But some really stepped up. We even called up one reserve player from the DII team. Austin Dangerfield, who played middle hitter. … He played consistent volleyball and left everything on the court. I was really proud of him."
Regular starting setter Kaden Knepper helped to keep the team together.
"He distributed well and led us in aces and had quite a few kills and blocks," Rigg said. "He did everything he needed to do and was our MVP for the day."
"Those guys stepped up big-time and got us a bunch of kills that we needed as well as passing and serving well," Rigg said.
Zalizniak and sophomore opposite hitter Daniel Koloff paced the team in kills for the day.
Liberty was the top seed out of its pool and advanced to face North Carolina State in the playoff semifinals, when regular starting outside hitter Brady Quakenbush, middle hitter Gene Dejesus, and libero Sam Wyman returned to the lineup. The move backfired as the Wolfpack battled back to win, 20-25, 25-23, 15-10, knocking the Flames out of the single-elimination playoffs.
"Maybe we should have stuck with the lineup we went with in pool play," Rigg said. "NC State was really on top of its game and our guys weren't ready yet."
Though unranked in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) DI poll, after upsetting seventh-ranked Liberty, the Wolfpack took fourth-ranked Virginia Tech to three games before falling in extra points in Saturday's championship game.
Liberty's DII team, meanwhile, played without regular starting setter Eli Plasterer, its floor leader who was replaced by senior outside hitter Caleb Pitcher in pool play before returning for the playoffs.
Similar to the DI team, the Flames' DII squad, ranked eighth in the NCVF DIII poll, went unbeaten in pool play, defeating James Madison, Longwood, and Christopher Newport, before allowing East Carolina to rally from one game down to eliminated it in the semifinal round, 22-25, 25-19, 15-12.
"ECU wasn't ranked, but went on to beat Virginia Tech, which is ranked fourth, in the DII championship match," Rigg said.
Freshman outside hitter Sean Taggart, who Rigg considers Liberty's Rookie of the Year, posted team highs in hitting attempts and kills, complemented by sophomore outside hitter Gabe Jackson, who he says is the Flames' most improved player this season.
"We relied on them heavily throughout day with one on the front row and the other on the back," Rigg said.
Freshman opposite hitter Joel Slaughter contributed a few blocks and plenty of kills.
After having their practice schedule jumbled by Spring Break, the Flames' DI and DII teams will have a full week of practice in preparation for Saturday's East Coast Championships, hosted by the University of Maryland.
There will be three pools of four for a total of 12 teams in both the DI and DII brackets, with the top finishers improving their seedings for the April 12-14 NCVF National Championships in St. Louis.
In the DI bracket, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Virginia Tech, and the No. 7 Flames will be the highest-ranked teams in the tournament while No. 14 Delaware and No. 16 Penn State will be the top two teams out of the Central Region. Liberty will be in the same Pool C as Penn State, Binghamton, and NC State. Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania make up Pool A and Virginia Tech, Delaware, Central Florida, and Army are grouped in Pool B.
The Flames' DII squad will play in Pool E with Penn State, Binghamton, and Siena with Virginia Tech and JMU joining Brockport and Pittsburgh in Pool D and ECU and Maryland matched with Albany and Lehigh in Pool F.