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High Point, Winthrop Await Liberty Netters in Big Conference Weekend
First, the Lady Flames will tangle with High Point, who is 9-5 this season, on Friday. Liberty will then aim to snap Winthrop's streak of 55-straight victories against Big South opponents, Saturday afternoon at the Winthrop Coliseum.
This Week's Schedule
Friday, Sept. 28
Liberty (9-6, 1-0 Big South) at High Point (9-5, 0-1 Big South) – 7 p.m. – Millis Athletic Center
Saturday, Sept. 29
Liberty at Winthrop (5-9, 1-0 Big South) – 2 p.m. – Winthrop Coliseum
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Live stats and live streaming video will be available for both weekend matches. To access live statistical updates for Friday evening's match at High Point (courtesy of the High Point sports information office), click here or click "Live Stats" on the volleyball/schedule results page of LibertyFlames.com. Live stats for Saturday's contest at Winthrop (courtesy of the Winthrop sports information office) are available here or by clicking the "Live Stats" link on LibertyFlames.com.
Live video of both road conference matches will be streamed via the Big South EDGE. The cost is $4.95 per match, and there are also seasonal rates available. To find out more about the Big South EDGE, click here or click "Live Video" on the volleyball schedule/results page on LibertyFlames.com.
A Look at Liberty
Liberty, coached by Shane Pinder (41-65 in his fourth season), has triumphed in six of its last eight matches, claiming its best start to a season since 1997. The Lady Flames' conference-opening win at Radford last Saturday marked the team's 12th-straight victory over the Highlanders and was Liberty's ninth win in its last 10 Big South openers. Liberty is one of three teams (also Coastal Carolina and Winthrop) knotted atop the conference standings at 1-0.
For the second-straight week, a Liberty player claimed the Big South Choice Hotels Player of the Week award. The Lady Flames' most recent honoree was sophomore middle blocker Chelaine McCarty. McCarty set new career highs for kills in both Liberty matches a week ago, totaling 15 kills against James Madison and leading the team with 19 kills at Radford. Perhaps most impressive was McCarty's .448 attack percentage for the week.
Freshman Nicki Scripko also excelled last week, as she split time between right-side hitter and outside hitter. She filled the stat sheet with 11 kills, 11 digs and a career-best seven blocks versus James Madison. The newcomer then hit .379 with a career-high 14 kills and seven digs at Radford.
Senior libero/defensive specialist Lara Bartolomeo enjoyed a week of milestones. She appeared in her 100th career match on Sept. 18 versus James Madison. Bartolomeo then came up with a season-high 31 digs at Radford, moving into fifth place on Liberty's career digs list with 1,331.
Freshman outside hitter/defensive specialist Karyl Bacon returned to the front row for the first time in three weeks during the late stages of the Radford match. She did not skip a beat, tallying seven kills during the fourth and deciding game of Liberty's victory over its in-state rival. Bacon also tallied 25 digs on the week.
Triple Digits Three Times
Liberty placed five players in double figures in the dig category at Radford, paced by Bartolomeo's 31 digs. As a team, the Lady Flames summed 104 digs, marking the third time this season Liberty has exceeded 100 digs in a match. The Lady Flames had accomplished the feat only twice in the four preceding seasons combined.
Opening with a Bang
The Lady Flames are off to their best start to a season since the 1997 squad won 12 of its first 18 matches, including nine-straight contests at one point. The 1997 team went on to win Liberty's first Big South title in program history.
The Lady Flames' 3-1 victory at Radford last Saturday was the second road triumph of the year for Liberty, in four matches. A split of this weekend's contests would enable the Lady Flames to equal their 2006 season total of three road wins.
Top 10 Team
Liberty is currently ranked No. 8 nationally with 19.27 digs per game. The Lady Flames are averaging over three more digs per game than they did a season ago. Chattanooga leads the nation, coming up with 23.22 digs per game.
Best in the Big South
Liberty leads the Big South Conference in five team statistical categories, entering the weekend. The Lady Flames top the conference in kills (14.90 kpg), assists (13.30 apg), digs (19.27 dpg), blocks (2.30 bpg) and opponent hitting percentage (.164).
Individually, McCarty is second among conference players in attack percentage (.296) and third in blocks per game (0.92).
Sophomore setter Kallie Corbin is also ranked in the top five of two different categories, as she is listed third in assists per game (11.20) and fifth in aces per game (0.37).
Junior middle blocker Ashley Webber sits second in the Big South in blocks, with 0.98 blocks per game. Meanwhile, Bartolomeo is now fifth in digs, at 4.32 digs per game.
The High Point Panthers, located in High Point, N.C., are coached by Chad Esposito, who is 60-90 in his fifth season at the helm. Esposito owns a 216-187 record in 11 years overall as a collegiate head coach.
High Point, picked to finish fifth in the Big South, is 9-5 overall and 0-1 in conference action. The Panthers have posted the best non-conference record of any Big South squad, but dropped their conference opener to Winthrop in four games, last Saturday.
The Panthers and Lady Flames have played a pair of common opponents so far. Both teams defeated Duquesne, with Liberty doing so in four games and High Point taking the full complement of five. Also, the squads have each dropped matches to James Madison. The Dukes lost one game to Liberty but swept High Point.
High Point is led by 5-11 senior outside hitter Jamie Kaufman. A year ago, Kaufman became the first Panther ever to receive first-team All-Big South distinction. This season, she ranks fourth in the conference with 3.55 kills per game and paces the conference with 0.55 service aces per game. She is one of eight players in Big South history with over 1,500 kills and 1,000 digs in her career.
Kristina Taylor, a 5-10 junior setter, sits second in the Big South with 11.32 assists per game. Meanwhile, Taylor's teammate at Seton Catholic High School in Arizona, Julie Hershkowitz, has been one of the conference's top newcomers this season. Hershkowitz leads all Big South freshmen in digs and ranks third overall, tallying 5.06 digs per game.
The Lady Flames have enjoyed more success against High Point than they have against any other current conference member, leading the head-to-head series, 19-3. The Panthers' three victories all came during the 2004 and 2005 campaigns, before Liberty responded for a pair of 3-0 sweeps versus High Point last season.
Liberty has only lost one match at High Point's Millis Athletic Center, dropping a 3-2 decision on Oct. 8, 2004.
The Winthrop Eagles, located in Rock Hill, S.C., are guided by first-year head coach Sally Polhamus. Polhamus, who came to Winthrop after spending five seasons as an assistant at Georgia Tech, is 5-9 with the Eagles.
The Eagles' 5-9 mark is a bit deceiving, because they opened the year by playing the toughest non-conference slate of any Big South team, facing teams like Duke, Purdue and Colorado.
Winthrop has won its last three matches, though, and appears well-prepared to chase its sixth-consecutive Big South title. The Eagles are 1-0 in the conference after posting their 55th-straight win against a Big South foe, a 3-1 home triumph over High Point last Saturday.
Shannon Sitzmann, a 6-3 junior middle hitter, was voted the Big South's Preseason Player of the Year. She is doing a nice job of living up to the distinction so far, leading the Big South in blocks (1.16 bpg), ranking second in kills (3.87 kpg) and sitting fourth in attack percentage (.284). She has already eclipsed the 1,000-career kill plateau.
Winthrop also boasts the conference digs leader, junior Pohai Nu'uhiwa, who notches 5.51 digs per stanza. Kelsey Hall, a freshman, has stepped in as the Eagles' starting setter and is listed fifth in the Big South with 9.63 assists per game.
Liberty is 18-14 all-time versus Winthrop, even though the Eagles have triumphed in seven-straight contests in the series. The last time the Lady Flames were victorious over Winthrop was a 3-0 sweep at the Winthrop Coliseum, on Oct. 31, 2003. Liberty hit .322 in the match and placed four players in double figures for kills, including current assistant coach Jennifer (Belk) Vaden, who ended with a dozen kills.