Saturday, November 1, 2014

Going in for the kill

The Lady Flames look to bounce back after first non-title season in years

Elevate — Sophomore Nzea McQuitery rises up to spike the ball against conference opponent Charleston Southern. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

Elevate — Sophomore Nzea McQuitery rises up to spike the ball against conference opponent Charleston Southern. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

With a 2013 conference tournament loss to Radford in the past, the 2014 Lady Flames volleyball team is seeking contributions from all players in order to return to championship form.

For the first time in six years, the Lady Flames failed to win either the regular season or tournament title. However, with consistent play, the Flames are seeking to bring the 2014 Big South Championship title back to Lynchburg.

Head Coach Shane Pinder points to learning how to play together as a team and the continual improvement of all players as the keys to returning to the top of the
Big South.

“First and foremost, (we need to) get better every day,” Pinder said.

He said he is not only excited for his team to continually improve each day, but to “be in position to be in the championship match and ultimately have a chance to win it.”

Pinder summed up the Lady Flames’ focus of the season in two words — “eliminate distractions.”

The Lady Flames will have to remember Pinder’s words in order to adjust to the losses of senior outside hitter Lillie Happel, middle blocker Kendle Rollins and setter Jade Craycraft, as well as the addition of eight new players.

According to Liberty’s official athletic website, Happel, Rollins and Craycraft, who was named First Team All-Big South in 2013, combined for over 50 percent of the Flames points last season.

Either freshman Anna Willey or junior Caila Stapleton will emerge as setter for the Lady Flames.

Returning sophomore middle blocker Nzea McQuitery is confident in the ability of Willey and Stapleton.

“I believe that both setters can step up and fill that spot that (Craycraft) had,” McQuitery said.

McQuitery and redshirt junior outside hitter Caroline Douglas will both return and seek to make significant offensive contributions to the team.
The Lady Flames also return senior libero Gabrielle Shipe, who will anchor the team’s defense.

“(Shipe) knows how to lead back there,” Pinder said. “She knows where to be (and) when to make the plays we need in moments. It’s (her) time to lead us emotionally, mentally, but (also) physically go out there and make plays night in and night out.”

Six freshmen and two transfers will join the Lady Flames this year, including Jade Vorster from the University of Hawaii.

Pinder said he is not seeking to replace the graduated seniors, but rather give the incoming players a chance to shine on
their own.

“We want to have people step up and do it the way they do it,” Pinder said.

Even before the Lady Flames have played in one regular season match, Shipe says she believes the new players have already made an impact.
“The freshmen came in working hard,” Shipe said. “We fit together well.”

According to the Big South Sports Preseason Volleyball Poll, the Lady Flames were chosen to finish third behind rivals Radford and Costal Carolina. The Lady Flames will need contributions from each incoming player and returning veterans in order to improve on their 11-18 (9-5 Big South) record in 2013.

“Everyday we need to get better,” Shipe said. “It starts with practice and the first point of every game.”

McQuitery echoed Shipe by adding that hard work and communication are essential for the team to be successful.

The Lady Flames will open the regular season against San Jose State Aug. 29 at the Elon Phoenix Classic in North Carolina. Conference play begins Sept. 26 at home against the Radford Highlanders. In 2013, the Highlanders knocked the Lady Flames out of the Big South tournament in the semifinal and ultimately won the title.

With the rematch against Radford in mind and their sights set on learning how to mesh as a team, the Lady Flames are poised to make yet another run at the Big South Championship in 2014.

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