Flames finish 1-1-1 in season-opening N.C. State Invitational
February 2, 2013 | Raleigh, N.C.
Competing in its first tournament since sweeping N.C. State and Campbell on Nov. 17, Liberty University's men's volleyball team split six games against three opponents in the 10-team N.C. State Invitational, Saturday morning in Raleigh, N.C.
In an opening-round match against the host Wolfpack, the Flames lost the first game, 25-17, before rebounding to win the second, 25-22.
Liberty then swept UNC Wilmington, its second opponent in pool play, 25-19 and 25-21, to advance to a playoff matchup against Duke.
But the Blue Devils won two tight matches, 25-22 and 25-23, against the Flames, who finished with a record of 1-1-1.
"I would say as a team we were disappointed," Liberty head coach Bryan Rigg said. "We were probably one of the top three teams there, so to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs (was a letdown)."
Rigg said the Flames, lacking a finisher with killer instincts, let leads slip away in both of their games against Duke.
"In the second game, we were up, 16-11," he said. "The difference was, most teams have an individual who is a closer, who can rise to the occasion (and put games away). We haven't found a go-to guy. Duke has a guy who's 6-foot-8 and when they get in a bind, they go to him."
The same was true for N.C. State, featuring a returning outside hitter who accounted for 18 of the Wolfpack's 47 points against the Flames.
Offensively, Liberty leaned on Ethan Chase, who spiked eight kills and made three blocks against N.C. State, nailed down 10 kills and stuffed four blocks against UNCW and added 12 kills and two blocks against Duke.
Libero Josiah Williams made five digs and five assists against N.C. State, seven digs, five assists, and one kill against UNCW and seven digs and three assists against Duke.
"Digs are hard to account for," Rigg said. "It has to be a hard-driven ball that he digs up. It can't be rolled and can't be tipped. For three matches, (19 digs is) pretty good."
Liberty's defensive leader was Sam Eisbrenner, who put up an effective block in the middle of the net.
The Flames lost one player last semester, middle hitter Adam Perry, but picked up another middle blocker, Jason Heckman.
"We have a very good line, much better than last year," Rigg said. "We've improved at many positions, from our setter (Isaac Zwyzcok from Canada) to our blockers. Our lineup's taller this year, which is good. We're well ahead of our pace for blocks, which has a lot to do with our height."
Liberty could take consolation in the facts that it only had a week of practice since returning from Christmas break and this tournament didn't count in the Eastern International Volleyball Association, South Region, Division I standings.
"These matches count toward our record," Rigg said. "Our actual opening play date, when the spring season starts officially, is Feb. 16," also at N.C. State.
The Flames play all their regular-season matches on the road, but will have the opportunity to host the EIVA championships for the South, which includes 12 Division I teams and six in Division II, March 22-24 in the Schilling Center.
"Everybody plays, but only the top two teams in each division of the south will go on to play in the East Coast Championships (set for March 29-31) at the University of Maryland," Rigg said.
The top two teams from the South, Central, and North divisions advance along with two wild card or at-large bids. The East Coast Championship winners earn berths to Nationals, set for the first week of April in Dallas, Texas.