It was all anyone around the volleyball community could talk about for the past four years: when was Liberty going to beat Winthrop? On one of the longest winning streaks in the Big South, this weekend looked like the Lady Flames’ best shot to dethrone a team that had not lost a Big South Conference match since 2003.
This match came after home victories against Norfolk State on Monday night, Oct. 22 (30-11, 30-17, 30-14) and High Point Friday night (30-19, 30-15, 30-24). Homecoming and Parent’s Weekend only intensified the streak Liberty had as the team swept major powerhouse Winthrop University (33-31, 30-21, 30-21) for the Flames 10th straight 3-0 sweep.
Friday’s match against High Point promised to be an interesting one. Both teams had not lost a match in the month of October. The opening game was close, with 10 ties in the first half, and the Panthers emerging with a 15-14 lead before a timeout. However, Liberty answered the timeout with a 10-point run. The home team continued to play well and closed out the first game, winning 30-19.
The second game of the match turned out to be the most decisive of the Lady Flames’ play. Liberty had five aces and five blocks. They were leading the third game with a score of 14-10 before a High Point timeout. After the timeout, the Lady Flames answered strong again. They went on to score seven of the next eight points, and the third game as well en route to their ninth straight sweep.
“We worked hard and focused on the little things in practice. We kept the energy up. We are all very excited about tomorrow,” said freshman Nicki Scripko, who finished with 16 kills.
Head Coach Shane Pinder was also pleased with his team’s play.
“We were able to break down their offense. All credit goes to the girls for their hard work in practice this week. Every challenge that comes their way, they have answered the call. We’ve got a chance at a big win tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll be ready.”
Right after the match, the focus of the Lady Flames was clear: beat Winthrop, an unbeaten conference team and their only conference loss, the following night.
In the biggest crowd in Big South history (1,583), everyone was ready to see the match against Winthrop. The Eagles had not lost a Big South Conference match since 2003— not one player on Winthrop’s roster has lost a conference match in her collegiate career.
The first game opened up with a bang from both sides. There were a total of 13 ties and six lead changes. Liberty used the energy from the stands to hold a 3-0 lead. Winthrop battled back, extending their biggest lead to 20-16, but the Lady Flames had a little run of their own (5-2) with two Karyl Bacon kills.
“We focused on staying consistent and being together. This was a huge match for us. We have been preparing for this match for a long time. It was all about playing our game and working hard,” Bacon said.
The Eagles tied up the game at 24, and the final points of the game were shared by spectacular offensive plays by both squads. Liberty, on its second game point, won the first game with two kills and an Eagles error.
Determined not to fall behind 2-0, Winthrop jumped out to a 3-0 lead to start the second game. After trailing 7-4, Liberty went on a 10-2 run and kept the lead for good, putting themselves ahead 2-0 and setting the stage for their 10th straight sweep. The Lady Flames had a .275 attack percentage in the second game while the Eagles hit a dismal .083.
Like the last game, Winthrop found itselves on top in the beginning stages of the third game. Liberty later answered with a 4-0 run with kills by Scripko and sophomore Chelaine McCarty and took the final lead at 16-14. After the match was secured with a 30-21, all 1,500 in attendance went wild as the win broke the Eagles 63-win conference winning streak.
“This is the biggest win I’ve ever been a part of in my career. We have been pushing for this since I got here. The kids really believe in themselves, and they executed almost ever aspect of the game the way we wanted them to do it,” Pinder said.
Redshirt junior Jessica Nelson talked about her side as a player and what this meant to her.
“This is something we’ve been talking about since I came here as a freshman. We have been trying to do it every year. Thank you so much to the fans. It (the crowd) was really amazing. I’m really proud of my school.”
The pair of wins move the Lady Flames record to 20-7 and have them sitting atop the Big South standings with a half game lead over Winthrop heading into the home stretch of the conference schedule. After taking a few days off, Liberty will travel to face the Blue Hose of Presbyterian on Friday, Nov. 2 evening at 7 p.m. before playing UNC Asheville on Saturday, Nov. 3.
Contact Anjani Salonen at email@example.com.