Flames reach EIVA final, qualify for East Coast Regionals
March 22, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's volleyball team finished runner-up in the EIVA Division I South Championship Tournament, Saturday at Liberty's Schilling Center, to qualify for next Saturday's East Coast Regional Championships at the University of Maryland for the first time in five years.
"This is our first time making it in Division I," Liberty Head Coach Bryan Rigg said. "Five years ago, it was in Division II, so this is a big step for us."
The Flames went 2-1 in pool play to advance to the semifinals before clinching a regional bid with a 25-22, 25-17 triumph over James Madison University, ranked 34th in the latest National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Division I poll.
"It's really exciting to go be able to up there and play against some of the best teams on the East Coast," said Liberty freshman Si Hershberger, who has shifted from outside hitter back to his natural position of middle hitter. "We've got a lot of new players this season and they've brought in new energy. We knew what our goal was and we kept our eyes there the whole time and really went after it."
Hershberger had his spike dug up by a JMU defender before blocking a spike by a Dukes outside hitter for a kill to finish off the first game. Graduate student Kevin Snyder started the second with a powerful putaway and later spiked off a JMU block to put Liberty up 14-9. Two more kills by Snyder helped the Flames keep the lead at 15-13 and 17-15 before Hershberger hit back-to-back kills off assists from junior setter Ethan Chase and Snyder set up Chase for a backhanded tip winner on match point.
"That was a decisive victory for us," Rigg said.
Liberty then lost to 10th-ranked Virginia Tech in the championship match, 25-13, 25-21. The Hokies were the only team to beat the Flames in pool play, 25-19, 25-17. Tech opened first-game leads of 13-3 and 12-2 on Liberty to set the tone for the two matches.
"They had two aggressive servers and our serve receive rotation got caught off guard," Rigg said. "Volleyball's a game of momentum and they had the momentum. We took it back, but we've just got to fight to get rid of all of the errors and strive for excellence."
Liberty beat the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 25-18, 25-17, in its first round of pool play before sweeping the University of Virginia 25-16, 25-19 to advance to the semifinals. Virginia defeated the Flames in the championship match of their last home tournament on Oct. 5.
"These are all teams that we lost to last year," Rigg said. "Even earlier in the year, we lost to UNC, we lost to UVa., and we're beating them now, which is great. It's a good time to be winning."
Liberty got solid outside hitting from Snyder and sophomore Sam Eisbrenner and a tremendous block in the middle from Herschberger and graduate student Ryan Culkin, in his first action back from a dislocated shoulder.
"It's really nice to have him back," Hershberger said. "He puts up a huge block and even his energy level that he brings to the team in the huddle."
While Hershberger and Culkin manned the middle of the net, sophomore libero Josiah Williams also played a huge role on the back row for the Flames.
At the East Coast Regionals, Virginia Tech and Liberty will be seeded first and second out of the EIVA since the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida, who had qualified for regionals at a Feb. 15 tournament at Duke University, didn't make the trip to Liberty on Saturday.
Other schools in the 12-team field include Penn State University's club team, the University of Pittsburgh, and West Virginia University.
The East Coast Regionals will determine seedings for the April 3-5 National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Championships in Reno, Nev., and whether it competes in Division IA or Division IAA.
"I don't think we're peaking yet," Rigg said. "I think we'll peak in another week or two with Culkin still recovering and guys learning positions. Our peak will be at nationals, which will be great. We're still on the way up and we've got a long way to climb."
Images by Lizzy Benson/Liberty University