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Lady Flames to Open Season Against No. 23 Ohio State, Friday
Complete Match Notes
Liberty volleyball, two-time defending Big South champion, begins the 2013 campaign at the NIU Invitational in DeKalb, Ill., Friday and Saturday. The Lady Flames face No. 23 Ohio State in the season opener, Friday at 6 p.m. It will mark the first time Liberty has faced a Top 25 team in its volleyball season opener. On Saturday, Liberty meets host Northern Illinois of the MAC, a 21-win program from last season, before closing the weekend with a 6 p.m. match against Horizon League team Green Bay.
Liberty at a Glance
Liberty went 25-8 last season, going 12-2 in conference play and winning the Big South regular season title for the sixth straight year. The Lady Flames made their sixth consecutive appearance in the conference final, downing Coastal Carolina to win its second Big South tournament title in a row and fourth in the last six seasons. The team has also posted six straight 20-win campaigns.
The Lady Flames return five starters from last year's team, including Big South Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Caroline Douglas, three-time all-conference setter Jade Craycraft and two-time All-Big South outside hitter Lillie Happel.
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Live stats will be available for all of this weekend's matches. Live stats are courtesy of Northern Illinois' athletics media relations office. A live video stream for Liberty's match against NIU will be available, for a small fee, through Huskie All-Access. Fans can also follow the matches through periodic twitter updates from @libertyflames.
- Liberty opens the season against a Top 25 opponent for the first time (No. 23 Ohio State)
- The Lady Flames have won 20 or more matches for six straight seasons.
- 2012 marked Liberty's sixth straight conference regular-season title
- Two-time defending champion Liberty is the preseason favorite in the Big South poll.
- Caroline Douglas was named the 2013 Big South Preseason Player of the Year
- Five starters, including three all-conference selections, return for the Lady Flames.
- 10th-year head coach Shane Pinder is one win shy of 175 for his career.
- The Lady Flames open campaign in DeKalb, Ill., for the second time ever (also 2003).
- Liberty is 0-1 all-time against Ohio State, 0-2 vs NIU.
Who Else Can Say That?
Liberty volleyball has posted six straight 20-win seasons, earned six straight conference regular-season titles and made six consecutive appearances in the conference final (2007-2012). The Lady Flames are the only volleyball team in NCAA Division I about which each of the following three statements is true.
- one of four volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to have won or shared their conference or division regular-season championship in each of the last six years.
- one of six volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to appear in its conference championship match in each of the last six seasons.
- one of 21 volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to win 20 or more matches in each of the last six seasons.
Shane Pinder, in his 10th season as Liberty's head coach, has compiled a 174-121 career record and ranks fourth in the Big South in career coaching victories.
Liberty's next victory will be Pinder's 175th career win and will also be the 700th victory in program history. The Lady Flames have averaged nearly 19 wins per season since the founding of the program in 1976.
Liberty's starting outside hitters, Caroline Douglas and Lillie Happel, have been two of the top hitters in the Big South.
Douglas led the league with 454 kills, hitting .281 as a redshirt freshman in 2012. She was named both Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year by the Big South and VaSID All-State, and was voted to the AVCA All-Region honorable mention team.
Happel earned Big South All-Conference second-team mention as a junior last year, after making the first team in 2011. She is currently 54 kills away from becoming the 14th player in program history with 1,000 career kills.
The Lady Flames lost three-time all-conference middle blocker Loren Thomas to graduation. She totaled 477 career blocks, the second most in program history.
Returning middle blocker, redshirt senior Kendle Rollins, is ranked eighth all-time at Liberty with 310 blocks. She is 15 blocks away from entering the all-time top 5.
Setting the Tone
Senior Jade Craycraft, the 2012 Big South Tournament MVP, is a three-time all-conference setter. She was named to the Big South All-Conference first team in 2012, when she led the team with 1,152 assists and 11 double-doubles. Craycraft guided the Lady Flames to a program-record and conference-best .250 team hitting percentage last year.
Craycraft enters the 2013 campaign sixth in program history with 3,305 career assists. A versatile player, she also has a triple-double (2010 at Winthrop) and a 10-block match (2011 at Radford) to her credt while at Liberty.
Junior libero Gabrielle Shipe finished fourth in the Big South with 510 digs last season, and was twice named the Big South Defensive Player of the Week. She reached double-figures in digs 25 times, including each of the final 13 matches of the season.
Scouting Ohio State
No. 23 Ohio State enters the campaign with three returning starters from a team which went 23-11 in 2013 and posted a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have won 20 or more matches and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four seasons. Ohio State lost a pair of impact outside hitters to graduation, in two-time All-American Mari Hole and two-time all-region player Emily Danks. 2012 All-Big Ten honorable mention selection Kaitlyn Leary averaged 2.90 kills per set last season. Davionna DiSalvatore led the Buckeyes with 512 digs in 2012, while Anna Faul (0.98 bps) and Andrea Kacsits (0.82 bps) are the team's top two returning blockers.
Sixth-year head coach Geoff Carlston is 105-68 at Ohio State, and is 298-132 in a 13-year career which included stops at Ohio (144-22) and Concordia-St. Paul (49-42). Carlston's 15th-ranked Ohio team downed Liberty, 3-0, on Sept. 2, 2006.
Ohio State won its only previous meeting against the Lady Flames, 3-0, on Sept. 15, 2000, in Kalamazoo, Mich. Liberty is 0-7 all-time against teams currently in the Big Ten, including setbacks to Penn State and Minnesota in the last two NCAA tournaments.
Scouting Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois posted a 21-15 record last season, its third 20-win season in a row, while qualifying for the MAC championship match for the third straight campaign. NIU lost a pair of all-conference players, middle blocker Mary Kurisch and libero Amber Walker. Senior middle blocker Sarah Angelos returns as a two-time all-MAC player, while 2012 MAC All-Freshman team setter Alexis Gonzalez dished out 1,376 assists last year. MacKenzie Roddy averaged 3.33 kills and a team-leading 0.33 aces per set last year.
12th-year head coach Ray Gooden has posted a 205-151 record at the helm of Northern Illinois, and won MAC Coach of the Year honors in 2006, 2011 and 2012.
The Lady Flames have faced Northern Illinois twice all-time, with the Huskies winning both meetings. NIU defeated Liberty, 3-1, on Aug. 29, 2003 in DeKalb, the Lady Flames' season opener, in which current Liberty assistant coach Jennifer (Belk) Vaden and Rebecca Rudnick both sent down 11 kills. On Sept. 10, 2010, the Huskies beat the Lady Flames, 3-0 in Elon, N.C. Current Liberty seniors Kendle Rollins (redshirt), Jade Craycraft, Lillie Happel and Becca Haraf all started as freshmen in that match.
Scouting Green Bay
The Green Bay Phoenix, coming off of a 15-14 campaign in 2012, were predicted to finish sixth in the Horizon League this season. Green Bay will be looking to fill in for departed libero Brittany Groth, a 2012 AVCA All-America selection, and all-conference middle blocker Carmen Leitermann. Senior outside hitter Monica Anderson record 297 kills a year ago, while senior setter Leah Poel is back after leading the team with 1,089 assists in 2012. The Phoenix' top blocker, Katie Mroczenski, finished third in the Horizon League with 128 total blocks last season.
Green Bay enters its first year under head coach Michaela Franklin, who replaces longtime head coach Debbie Kirch. Franklin spent the last four years as an assistant coach at Marquette, a team which appeared at the same opening-round NCAA Tournament site as Liberty in 2012, Minneapolis.
Liberty and Green Bay will be meeting for the first time. The Lady Flames are 1-4 all-time against members of the Horizon League. Their lone win against a Horizon League opponent came on Sept. 7, 2007, a 3-1 win over Wright State.