After 4-0 start, Flames ousted in Hoosier-Illini quarterfinals
February 17, 2019 | Bloomington, Ind.
Liberty University's Division I men's volleyball team played like the No. 2-ranked team in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) in Saturday's first round of the Hoosier-Illini Classic — hosted by Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. — winning all four of its best-of-three matches without dropping a single game.
However, the Flames experienced a rude awakening in Sunday morning's quarterfinal round of the single-elimination playoffs, with a 23-25, 25-22, 15-9 upset loss to No. 12 co-host Illinois, which had won a crossover match earlier in the morning and advanced to the championship match.
"It was totally different than Saturday, when we were getting a lot of aces and going on long service runs," Liberty Head Coach Bryan Rigg said. "It was a combination of us getting off to a slow start and them playing very well. They're a good team. We just came out flat."
Playing on a cramped court with only 10 feet of space beyond the service lines, the Flames weren't able to get into a rhythm in their serving, which affected all phases of their attack.
"If we can get our four jump servers going, that buoys us through the ups and downs," Rigg said. "We didn't have our service game going and it changes our game. We had way too many service errors and not enough aces and our hitting percentage was lower."
It was the Flames' fifth consecutive season competing in the tournament and second-best finish after being ousted by Virginia Tech in the semifinals last season.
Overall, Liberty finished 4-1 for the weekend after sweeping all four teams in its pool on Saturday — Loyola (25-18, 25-22), Louisville (26-24, 25-9), Northwestern (25-21, 25-20), and seventh-ranked Ohio State (25-21, 25-21) — and its spring season record now stands at 10-1.
|Sophomore Sean Taggart hit at a .400 clip this weekend.|
Senior middle hitter Gene Dejesus (5 solos) and freshman opposite hitter Joshua Knapp (3 solos) paced the Flames with seven blocks apiece, but didn't rack up their typical numbers of blocks or kills.
"When you play upper-level teams that are serving well, your setter is not always comfortable with the pass he receives and has a harder time getting the middle hitters involved," Rigg said. "(Senior setter Kaden Knepper) didn't get the passes he normally gets and playing out of the system, we had a hard time getting our offense going. We didn't get the blocks we usually get, either, but more digs."
Senior outside hitter Brady Quakenbush led the team with 24 digs and nine aces.
Rigg said the early exit gives the Flames a greater sense of urgency for future tournaments, leading up to the April 18-20 NCVF National Championships in Denver.
"It's a reality check," he said. "We haven't lost a game in a while and there are a lot of good lessons learned for us. We will watch video from this tournament and see where our blind spots are and how can we get better from this. We're going to go to nationals and we now know that we can't come out flat any day."
Liberty has two weeks to prepare for its next match, at Southern Virginia University on March 2 at 7 p.m.