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Volleyball Heads to Elon for Season-Opening Tournament
Complete Match Notes
Liberty opens its 2014 volleyball campaign against San Jose State on Friday at 4:30 p.m., to begin the Elon Phoenix Classic. The Lady Flames will then take on Big Ten newcomer Maryland on Saturday at 10 a.m., before taking on host and new CAA member Elon at 7 p.m. to wrap up the tournament.
Liberty and San Jose State will meet for the first time ever on Friday, while the Lady Flames are 1-2 all-time against Maryland and hold an 18-2 advantage in the series versus Elon.
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Live stats will be available for all matches at the Elon Phoenix Classic. Fans can view live stats through StatBroadcast, which will be provided courtesy of the Elon Athletic Communications department.
1. Liberty went 11-18 last season, going 10-4 over the final 14 matches after facing a challenging early schedule without the services of 2012 Big South Player and Freshman of the Year Caroline Douglas.
2. The Lady Flames tied for third in the Big South a year ago with a 9-5 conference record. From 2007-12, Liberty posted 20+ more wins six straight years, winning six consecutive Big South regular-season titles and making six straight Big South finals appearances.
3. Shane Pinder, entering his 11th season as Liberty's head coach, needs 14 more wins to become the all-time program leader in career victories. He has gone 185-139 overall, and has posted a program-record 105 conference victories.
4. Liberty returns Douglas, who missed the first half of last season due to injury. Sophomore middle blocker Nzea McQuitery returns after being named to the 2013 Big South All-Freshman team. Senior libero Gabrielle Shipe is 15th all-time at Liberty in career digs.
5. With four starters from the 2013 roster graduating, the Lady Flames bring in eight newcomers, including six true freshmen and two transfers. Junior middle blocker Jade Vorster, a two-time All-Big West selection at Hawai'i, headlines the class. Top freshmen include right side Hannah Weidner and setter Anna Willey.
6. Liberty is looking for its first season-opening win since Aug. 28, 2009, when the team swept UNCG at the Hilton Garden Hokie Invitational. Liberty has gone 6-20 in season openers during the NCAA Division I era, since 1988, including 3-7 under Pinder.
On the Attack
Redshirt junior Caroline Douglas is the Lady Flames' top returning attacker. In 2012, she led the conference with 454 kills, becoming the first player ever to be named both Big South Volleyball Freshman of the Year and Big South Player of the Year during the same season. Despite playing only 11 matches last season due to injury, she paced the team with 2.93 kills per set.
The Lady Flames graduated their top three hitters, kills-wise, from the 2013 season, led by Lillie Happel. Happel, a three-time all-conference player, finished her career with 1,226 career kills (10th in program history) and 1,005 career digs.
Junior outside hitter Haley Jeffcoat has contributed during her career, including a career-high 13 kills at Radford on Sept. 27, 2013.
Freshman Gabrielle Vess appears to be a contender for time at outside hitter. 2013 All-Conference Carolinas third team member, junior Maribeth Kern may see time at the position after transferring from King (Tenn.).
Own the Net
In 2013, the Lady Flames led the Big South with 2.38 blocks per set, marking the third time in the last four years Liberty has been the conference leader in blocking.
Redshirt senior Kendle Rollins paced the conference with 1.12 blocks per set, and she graduated from Liberty ranked fourth in program history with 423 career blocks.
Freshman Nzea McQuitery finished the 2013 season ranked second on the team wih 75 blocks (0.81 blocks per set).
This year, redshirt junior Jade Vorster will add to the Lady Flames' blocking prowess, as she averaged 1.06 blocks per set during two seasons at Hawai'i.
Senior Melissa Racz has totaled 119 career blocks while splitting time between right side and middle blocker. Sophomore middle blocker Susan Babcock posted a career-high five blocks during the 2013 Big South volleyball semifinal against Radford.
Freshman Sirena Vorster joins her older sister, Jade, among the Lady Flames' middle blocking contingent.
Setting the Tone
For the first time since 2010, the Lady Flames will have a new starting setter on opening day. Jade Craycraft, Liberty's third four-time all-conference player in program history, graduated with the fourth-most assists (4,162) among Liberty players. A versatile player, she paced the Big South with five triple-doubles a year ago.
Junior Caila Stapleton and freshman Anna Willey will vie for playing time at the setter position this season. Stapleton appeared in 17 sets during two seasons as Craycraft's backup, while posting a career-high 22 assists at VCU on Oct. 3, 2013. Willey was a first team all-conference selection at Bettendorf High School in Davenport, Iowa.
Senior libero Gabrielle Shipe will anchor Liberty's back-row defense. Shipe led the Lady Flames in digs each of the last two seasons, and ranks 15th all-time at Liberty with 1,166 career digs. She posted eight 20-dig matches last season, including a career-high 31 against High Point on Nov. 8.
Following Shipe's 411 digs last season were seniors Craycraft (250), Academic All-American Becca Haraf (235) and Lillie Happel (225).
Junior Allie Reynolds collected 192 digs a season ago, recording eight double-digit dig matches. She started seven straight matches at libero, averaging 4.31 digs per set during that span. Reynolds collected a career-high 24 digs at William & Mary on Oct. 1.
Sophomore Kate Corson, along with freshmen Hannah Williams and Rachel Morris and junior Rachel Smoltz, should also battle for time in the back row.
Right Side, Right Now
Senior Melissa Racz has contributed to the Lady Flames on the right side during her career, recording 262 total kills and 119 blocks.
Freshman Hannah Weidner appears to be a front-runner for the right-side position this season, after a strong prep career that saw her earn Minnesota All-State honors and AAU All-American mention. Both Racz and Weidner hail from Minnesota.
Scouting San Jose State
San Jose State begins its first season under head coach Jolene Shepardson on Friday. The Spartans went 8-23 overall in 2013, posting a 5-15 record in Mountain West play. SJSU will have to fill in for graduated outside hitter Hannah Blume, who was named to the 2013 Mountain West All-Conference team. Shepardson will field a team that includes 12 newcomers, and only two returners from the 2013 season.
While the Lady Flames have never faced San Jose State in volleyball, Liberty defeated CSU Bakersfield, 3-0, on Sept. 10, 2011 in Lynchburg. The Roadrunners were coached by current SJSU head coach Jolene Shepardson that day.
Maryland opens its first season as a Big 10 program, after leaving the ACC. The Terrapins went 13-19 last season, with a 5-15 record in ACC play. They led the ACC and ranked 15th nationally with 2.82 blocks per set last season. Maryland will be led by former a Penn State assistant, in first year head coach Steve Aird. Current senior outside hitters Ashleigh Crutcher and Adreené Elliott were named to the 2013 All-ACC Volleyball Team. Returnees Ashlyn MacGregor (1.33 blocks per set) and Kelsey Hrebenach (1.08 bps) led the way for the Terrapins' blocking last season.
The Terrapins hold a 2-1 record all-time against Liberty, defeating the Lady Flames in 1990 and 2007. Liberty won the most recent meeting, 3-1, on Aug. 30, 2008 in Richmond, Va., as the Lady Flames added another victory on their way to an 8-0 start to the season.
Elon is the newest member of the Colonial Athletic Association, ending its stint in the Southern Conference in 2013. The Phoenix went 16-17, including 7-9 in SoCon play. The squad returns a pair of standout middle blockers, in 2013 SoCon All-Freshman Team member Ally Karle and two-time NCCSIA All-State second team selection Kris Harris. Junior outside hitter Megan Gravley led the Phoenix in kills each of the last two seasons.
Liberty holds a commanding 18-2 lead over the Phoenix, including wins in each of the last two meetings. Caroline Douglas hit .538 with 16 kills, leading Liberty to a 3-0 sweep of Elon on Aug. 25, 2012, in Durham, N.C. Elon's most recent victory over Liberty was a 3-0 win at the Liberty Invitational on Sept. 5, 2009.