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Lady Flames Feature: Perfect Timing
For sophomore middle blocker Chelaine McCarty, timing is everything. She was looking to transfer from Auburn after her freshman year, when a timely phone call by Liberty head coach Shane Pinder convinced her to join the Lady Flames. Her play at the net this season has helped Liberty open the year at 17-7, its best record through 24 matches since the 1996 team started out 18-6.
The biggest factor in Liberty's success thus far, according to McCarty, is the players' like-minded spirit, both on the court and in life. "We are all fighting for the same thing—both to serve God and win games," the Lady Flames' leader in attack percentage stated. "It is a common bond we all share, and that helps."
In fact, it's the Christian atmosphere of Liberty which really appealed to McCarty. "One of the major differences at Liberty is that here I am held more accountable in my faith," she explained. "My faith is growing. Here at Liberty, there are so many more people to help you along in your spiritual journey."
McCarty's college career began in her home state, at Auburn, where she played under head coach Laura Farina. "She really worked with me on my defensive transitions, and I am grateful to her for that," McCarty acknowledged.
After spending a year with the Tigers, McCarty decided it was time for a change. "Faith has played a big part in all my major decisions," she recalled. "My mom and I prayed that the first school which called in the spring would be the right one.
"And it was Liberty," McCarty continued. "After Coach [Shane] Pinder called me, I just knew it was what God had planned for me. So I called Coach Pinder right back and verbally committed!"
Faith has always been an important factor in McCarty's life. In a sense, it runs in her family. "My Grandma Midge is a personal hero of mine, because she is so close with God," McCarty revealed. "I want my relationship with Christ to be like hers."
The only child of Duane McCarty and Heather Gurganus, McCarty also credits her relationship with her family as one of the secrets of her personal success. "We are a close family," the Houston, Ala., native said of her parents and three stepbrothers. "I am so thankful for my mom, who raised me the way she did and supported me."
McCarty owes her athleticism in part to her family. "My mom always pushed me to be athletic. And I really loved basketball like my stepbrothers," said the sophomore.
In fact, the middle blocker started her athletic career as a basketball player, picking up volleyball as a means of staying in shape during the offseason. However, she quickly excelled in the sport and has been attacking the net with tenacity ever since high school, when she led the Addison Lady Bulldogs to three-straight 1A state titles.
Indeed, the former Lady Bulldog seems to have found her fit with the Lady Flames. "I love playing volleyball for a Christian university," McCarty said. "It's neat how people know what Liberty stands for, and that we come from a Christian world view. It is such an awesome statement. Sometimes Coach Pinder will just open up the Word and preach at practice, which is refreshing."
Speaking of Pinder, Liberty's fourth-year head coach could not be happier about the timely addition of McCarty to the Lady Flames' line-up. "For the program, whenever you get a 6-2 middle to transfer in and be ready to play, it's a tremendous blessing," explained Pinder.
"Chelaine brings a lot of physical play at the net and she is very coachable," Pinder added. "She has already made a huge impact on our roster."
Leading the team offensively with 333 points, McCarty certainly is making an impact, one which is being noticed around the Big South Conference as well. The sophomore currently ranks second in the conference in hitting percentage, posting an impressive .370 in Big South matches.
Earlier this season, McCarty earned Big South Player of the Week honors, on the heels of a career-best 19 kills and .515 hitting percentage against Radford in Liberty's conference opener, on Sept. 22. "It kind of confirmed all of the hard work I've put into the last year and a half," McCarty said of the award.
In the Lady Flames' recent four-match home stand, McCarty tallied 43 kills in Liberty's four sweeps and averaged a .432 attack percentage in the series. Pinder remarked, "Every time you look, Chelaine is hitting a .400.
"With the highest hitting percentage on our team, she is just a consistent player," he continued. "I know what I can get out of Chelaine. As a coach, knowing what you can expect of your middle every match is a great asset."
McCarty understands exactly how she can contribute to her team. "My role is to make the big plays which need to be made," admitted the sophomore, whose birthday is on Christmas. "On the court, blocking is probably my biggest challenge and that's what I try to work on the most." Her work seems to be paying off already, as McCarty ranks second among the Liberty netters in blocking this season, averaging 0.81 blocks per game.
McCarty and the Lady Flames seem to be moving in the right direction as a team, as they sit in second place in the Big South standings entering the stretch run. "We are doing really well right now," noted McCarty. "We just need to keep our momentum going and play the way we are capable of playing in order to capture the Big South title this year."
In a sport where timing is crucial, Chelaine McCarty, guided by her faith and her family, is pacing the Lady Flames in their quest for Big South glory.
Written by Mollie Richards
Athletic Media Relations Student Assistant for Volleyball