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Lady Flames' Season Ended by California, 3-1
Liberty's season comes to an end with a 27-9 record. The Lady Flames became only the second Big South team ever to take a game in the NCAA Tournament, after Winthrop lost to Northern Iowa, 3-1, last season. Meanwhile, California improves to 23-7 and moves into Saturday's second-round contest against the winner of Friday evening's second match, between host Duke and American.
During the opening game, Cal's Hana Cutura broke open a slim Golden Bear advantage by serving for four-straight points. Her ace to close out the run put California on top by a 14-7 count. Liberty would get no closer than six the rest of the way, and the Golden Bears took game one by a 30-20 count.
Kat Reilly tied for the Cal team lead with four kills and hit .800 during the opening game, helping the Golden Bears post a team attack percentage of .419. Meanwhile, Nicki Scripko (Fr., RS/OH, Fayetteville, N.C.), playing in her home state, made a successful NCAA Tournament debut for Liberty, hitting .714 with a game-high six kills.
California started off the second game with a Carli Lloyd service ace and a Cutura kill, as part of a game-opening 3-0 burst. Trailing 12-10 near the midpoint of the stanza, Liberty fashioned five-straight points. Kallie Corbin (So., S, Beaverton, Ore.) and Ashley Webber (Jr., MB, Lakeside, Calif.) both put down kills and then combined for a block to finish off the surge with the Lady Flames leading, 15-12.
The Golden Bears, ranked No. 7 in the most recent CSTV/AVCA Division I Coaches Poll, were unable to regain the lead during the remainder of the game. A kill by Scripko closed out a 30-26 Liberty victory and sent the teams into the intermission deadlocked at one game apiece.
Six more kills by Scripko contributed to Liberty's .310 attack percentage during the second game. Corbin served for two aces, distributed 14 assists and had a hand in three blocks during the winning stanza.
Whatever California head coach Rich Feller said during the break must have gotten his team's attention. The Golden Bears reeled off the first five points of the third game, including a kill and two blocks by Mindi Wiley. Liberty battled back to get within two at 7-5, but Cal led from start to finish in a 30-15 triumph.
Cutura paced all players with seven third-game kills for Cal, hitting .636 in the process. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames were limited to a .029 team attack percentage, at least partially due to the Golden Bears' play at the net. Cal notched six of its 16 blocks during the third game.
The two teams traded points early on in game four, before California recorded four-consecutive tallies. A pair of kills by Cutura highlighted the quick burst, which gave the Golden Bears the lead for good at 7-4. Liberty later made a 5-0 run, featuring two Webber kills, to trim a 24-14 deficit in half. However, California was able to finish off a 30-21 decision and move on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh-straight year.
Cutura closed out the match with eight kills in the fourth game for the Golden Bears. Liberty's Webber recorded kills on all three of her attack attempts, but it was not enough to extend the match to five games.
Scripko finished with a team-high 18 kills for Liberty, to go along with seven assists and eight digs. Corbin also filled the stat sheet, totaling five kills, 40 assists, two aces, 12 digs and a team-high four block assists. Corbin went over the 100-ace plateau for her career during the match.
Jessica Nelson (R-Jr., OH, Tokyo, Japan) added eight kills, while Webber had seven kills and a team-best .462 attack percentage.
Liberty freshmen Karyl Bacon (OH/DS, Temecula, Calif.) and Rebecca Waneka (L/DS, Colorado Springs, Colo.) both reached double figures in digs. Bacon led all players with 19 digs and Waneka chipped in with 10.
Cutura finished with a match-best 21 kills for California, hitting .360 in the process. Seniors Angie Pressey and Ellen Orchard added 14 and 11 kills, respectively. Pressey completed a double-double with 13 digs, and Orchard was one of four Golden Bears to rack up six blocks.
Liberty's 2007 season featured its first Big South Tournament title since 2001, its first Big South regular-season crown since 2003 and a program Division I record 27 victories. The team featured three players who finished their careers on Friday—Lara Bartolomeo (Sr., L/DS, Huntington Beach, Calif.), Mary Alice Pike (Sr., RS, Durham, N.C.) and Alysson Sanders (R-Jr., OH, Bear, Del.).
Liberty Head Coach Shane Pinder
"I watched Cal all year. If you're in this profession, you watch the best-of-the-best a lot, and I got to see them against Stanford in their last match. Coming in, being in the Pac-10, they're the best blocking and serving team in the conference. Preparing for them, we were trying to get ready for those things – just trying to control the ball and trying to score with them. Serving and blocking goes hand-in-hand. If you don't serve tough, then they can get into their blocking systems a lot better."
"I was proud our kids and their effort tonight. They don't see the importance of winning that game, but from my standpoint that's a huge win. For our program and what we're trying to do, that's something we can build off of. Talking to them in the locker room, I told them if that doesn't make you hungry to be back here and have another chance, then I recruited the wrong kids. They all looked me, and I asked them how much time they were going to take off and they all said none. I said, ‘That's the right answer'."
California Head Coach Rich Feller
"It's always tough to travel and play anyone when you're one and done. Liberty has 27 wins this year, and they're a pretty good team. They came out and had a ton of energy. They have a great system with a good team that is willing to pay whatever price. In game one, we worked as hard as we could and took them out of their rhythm, but they kept pushing. That's a credit to their program that they were able to continue to push and get a game. We're not used to that."
"We're feeling pretty good now that we have a game under our belt and some of the travel concerns out of the way. We can focus on the winner of this next match and settle into our routine. One of the biggest things for us is that we play in a tough conference, but we also play back-to-back nights against two very good teams in a row. That was something that we're really used to feeling. We'll be ready tomorrow for whoever we face."