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Big South's Top Volleyball Teams to Converge at the Vines Center This Weekend
High Point, has won 10-consecutive matches since losing to Liberty, 3-1, on Sept. 28. Meanwhile, Winthrop is in the midst of an 11-match winning streak and has won its last 62 contests versus Big South opponents, dating back to November 2003.
Entering this weekend, Winthrop leads the Big South standings at 7-0, Liberty is a close second at 7-1 and High Point sits in third place, with a 5-2 conference mark.
The stage is set for a pair of highly competitive volleyball matches for the Lady Flames' Parents' Weekend festivities and as part of Liberty's Homecoming Weekend.
This Week's Schedule
Friday, Oct. 26
High Point (19-6, 5-2 Big South) at Liberty (18-7, 7-1 Big South) – 7 p.m. – Vines Center
Saturday, Oct. 27
Winthrop (13-9, 7-0 Big South) at Liberty – 7 p.m. – Vines Center
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Live stats will be available for both of this weekend's matches. They are accessible by clicking "Live Stats" on the volleyball schedule/results page of LibertyFlames.com or by clicking here.
The contests against High Point and Winthrop will both be broadcast on the Liberty Channel, by the announcing team of Ray Jones and Lee Beaumont. The Liberty Channel feed will also be available via the Big South EDGE, for a cost of $4.95 per match. Click here for more information on the EDGE, or click "Live Video" on the volleyball schedule/results page.
A Look at Liberty
Liberty, coached by Shane Pinder (50-66 in his fourth season), won three more matches by 3-0 counts last week. The Lady Flames went on the road to win at Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina over the weekend. Liberty then returned to the Vines Center to claim its fifth-straight home triumph, a 3-0 victory over Norfolk State on Tuesday. The win over the Spartans was No. 50 of Pinder's coaching career.
Sophomore setter Kallie Corbin was named Big South Conference Choice Hotels Player of the Week for the second time this season, on Monday. She has hit .394 with 15 kills, 114 assists and 30 digs in the last three matches. Corbin has already eclipsed her freshman year assist total, with 1,133 assists. She is the only setter who has been named Big South Player of the Week in either of the past two seasons, and Corbin has now garnered the award three times.
For the third-consecutive week, right-side hitter Nicki Scripko was recognized as Big South Conference New Balance Freshman of the Week. She opened Tuesday's match against Norfolk State with nine kills and a .900 attack percentage in the opening game. Scripko's hitting percentage is .435 during the Lady Flames' current eight-match winning streak.
Junior middle blocker Ashley Webber is quietly posting some impressive numbers herself. The team leader with 90 blocks on the season, Webber has hit .385 with 14 kills and eight blocks in the last three contests.
Senior libero Lara Bartolomeo has notched 10 or more digs in 23 of Liberty's 25 matches this season and paces the team with 395 total digs. She needs five more digs to become the first Lady Flame to record a pair of 400-dig seasons, since rally scoring was instituted in 2001. Bartolomeo finished the 2006 season with 494 digs, the fourth-highest total in program history.
Climbing up the Rankings
Corbin has been steadily moving upward on the national list for assists per game. She is averaging 12.32 apg, and ranks No. 49 nationally in the category. Corbin is just ahead of the setters for No. 6 USC and No. 22 Minnesota on the list.
Ever since the calendar turned to October, the Lady Flames have literally been unbeatable. Liberty is 8-0 in matches and 24-0 in games during the year's 10th month, and has not lost since falling by a 3-1 count, Sept. 29 at Winthrop.
Bartolomeo, a senior libero, ranks fifth in Liberty history with 1,467 digs. She needs 13 digs to pass Erin McKeown for fourth on the all-time list. Additionally, her 395 digs this season is the fifth-highest single-season total by a Lady Flame since rally scoring was instituted in 2001.
Unofficial Regional Rankings
The Lady Flames are ranked a season-best No. 12 in this week's unofficial East Region rankings, as determined by the RKPI listings. The RKPI rankings simulate the RPI formula utilized by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Liberty's RKPI currently stands at No. 116 out of 325 NCAA Division I programs. By comparison, Winthrop's RKPI rating is No. 158 and High Point sits at No. 172.
Best in the Big South
Liberty leads the Big South Conference in five team statistical categories. The Lady Flames top the conference in attack percentage (.220), opponent hitting percentage (.152), assists (14.37 apg), kills (15.88 kpg) and blocks (2.26 bpg)
Individually, five Lady Flames rank in the top five of Big South statistical categories, highlighted by Corbin, who leads the conference with 12.32 assists per game and is fifth with 0.37 aces per game.
Both of Liberty's starting middle blockers rank second in their respective categories, as Chelaine McCarty is second in attack percentage at .325 and Webber is second with 0.98 blocks per game.
Scripko's recent hot streak has boosted the rookie into fourth place for attack percentage, .283, while Bartolomeo ranks fifth with 4.34 digs per stanza.
The High Point Panthers, based in High Point, N.C., are coached by Chad Esposito, in his fifth season at High Point. His record with the Panthers is 70-91, while he is 226-188 in 11 total seasons as a collegiate head coach.
High Point has won 10-straight matches to improve its record to 19-6. The winning streak is the Panthers' longest since moving to Division I, and one more triumph will give High Point its first 20-win season since 1996.
Ironically, the Panthers' winning streak got started after arguably their best player, Jamie Kaufman, was injured during the team's first meeting with Liberty. The 5-11 senior outside hitter was a preseason all-conference selection. She has since returned to action, but is not yet back to top form.
Ashley Mellott, a 6-3 junior outside hitter, has stepped up in the meantime. She is ranked fifth in the Big South in both attack percentage (.280) and kills per game (3.49) and was named Big South Player of the Week on Oct. 8.
Kristina Taylor, a 5-10 junior, has performed admirably at setter, putting up numbers comparable to Corbin. Taylor ranks second behind Corbin among Big South players, with 11.48 assists per game, and is fourth in aces, averaging 0.38 per game.
Friday's match will feature two of the top defensive teams in the nation, as High Point ranks No. 7 nationally in digs per game (19.52 dpg) and Liberty is No. 12 (19.25). The Panthers have been led in the back row by 5-5 Julie Hershkowitz, one of four Arizona natives on the High Point roster. Hershkowitz, who attended Seton Catholic High School with Taylor, is second in the conference with 5.24 digs per game.
Liberty is 20-3 all-time against High Point, including the aforementioned 3-1 win at the Millis Athletic Center on Sept. 28. Scripko enjoyed a breakthrough performance of sorts that evening, notching a career-high 19 kills, to go along with 16 digs and five blocks. Ashley Johnson, a 6-0 senior middle blocker, starred for the Panthers, with a .351 attack percentage and 18 kills.
The Winthrop Eagles, located in Rock Hill, S.C., are coached by Sally Polhamus, 13-9 in her first season at Winthrop. She came to the Eagles from Georgia Tech, where she was an assistant for five seasons.
The Eagles have reeled off 11-consecutive wins since suffering a home loss to Troy on Sept. 15. Seven of the victories have come against Big South foes, to increase Winthrop's winning streak against conference opposition to 62-straight matches. Coastal Carolina was the last Big South team to defeat the Eagles, claiming a 3-2 decision at the Winthrop Coliseum on Nov. 14, 2003. None of the current Winthrop players has ever lost a Big South match.
Shannon Sitzmann, a 6-3 junior middle blocker, was tabbed the Big South Preseason Player of the Year, and has lived up to her billing. She has won a pair of Big South Player of the Week distinctions and leads the conference in both kills per game (4.09 kpg) and blocks per game (1.14 bpg). However, Sitzmann missed both Winthrop matches last weekend, and her status for Saturday's contest is unknown.
Even if Sitzmann is unable to play, Winthrop will not be devoid of offensive firepower. Kellie Sellers, a 6-0 freshman outside hitter, had a career-high 23 kills against UNC Asheville last Friday and is sixth in the Big South with 3.26 kills per game. Meanwhile, 6-1 sophomore right-side hitter Kelley Taylor is coming off a .692 match against Presbyterian. She ranks eighth in the conference with a .268 attack percentage for the year.
Tara Toepke, one of two seniors on the Eagle roster, has provided some aggressive serving for Winthrop this season. She ranks No. 8 in the nation, averaging 0.74 aces per game. Toepke served up 12 aces in a five-game win at Charleston Southern on Oct. 12.
Liberty leads the all-time head-to-head series with Winthrop, 18-15, although the Eagles have won each of the last eight meetings. Winthrop defeated Liberty, 3-1, on Sept. 29 at the Winthrop Coliseum. Sitzmann led the way for her team with 23 kills and a .477 hitting percentage in the match, while McCarty paced Liberty with 17 kills.
The Lady Flames' most recent win over Winthrop came in a 3-0 sweep, Oct. 31, 2003 at the Winthrop Coliseum. Current Liberty assistant coach Jennifer (Belk) Vaden was one of four Lady Flames in double figures in kills in the contest, finishing with 12 kills and seven digs. Mary Hock led all players with 15 kills for Winthrop.