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Liberty Netters to Open 2008 Season at VCU
The Liberty volleyball team, coming off a season which saw the Lady Flames win its first Big South title since 2001, opens the 2008 campaign this Friday and Saturday, at the VCU Third Degree Sportswear Invitational.
The Lady Flames are scheduled to play a trio of matches at the tournament, beginning with a Friday afternoon tilt versus N.C. State. The Wolfpack will be one of two ACC foes Liberty will meet on the weekend, as Saturday's foes include Maryland and Central Michigan.
VCU Third Degree Sportswear Invitational Schedule (2007 records in parentheses)
Richmond, Va. (Alltel Pavilion)
Friday, Aug. 29
Noon – N.C. State (3-29, 0-22 ACC) at VCU (12-21, 6-8 CAA)
2 p.m. – Central Michigan (22-10, 10-6 MAC) vs. Maryland (18-13, 10-12 ACC)
4:30 p.m. – N.C. State vs. Liberty (27-9, 11-1 Big South)
7 p.m. – Kansas (13-17, 6-14 Big 12) at VCU
Saturday, Aug. 30
10 a.m. – Central Michigan vs. Liberty
Noon – N.C. State vs. Kansas
2 p.m. – Maryland vs. Liberty
4:30 p.m. – N.C. State vs. Central Michigan
7 p.m. – Maryland at VCU
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Live stats will be available for all three of the Lady Flames' matches this weekend, courtesy of the VCU Department of Athletic Communications. They are accessible by clicking "Live Stats" on the volleyball schedule/results page of LibertyFlames.com or by clicking here.
VCU has also put together a "Tournament Central" webpage, containing a complete tournament schedule, information on the participating teams and much more. The page is accessible by clicking here or by clicking the Tournament Central link at the top of this article.
A Look at Liberty
Liberty, coached by Shane Pinder (59-68 entering his fifth season), has a tough task if it hopes to exceed the accomplishments of the 2007 Lady Flames. Last season's squad achieved numerous program "firsts." Liberty totaled 27 victories a year ago, which were the most wins since the program moved to the NCAA Division I level. The Lady Flames also took a game from Final Four qualifier Cal, representing the first game Liberty has ever won in the NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament.
Six starters return from last season's team, as the lone departing starter is graduated senior Lara Bartolomeo, the starting libero. Highlighting the returnees are sophomore outside hitter Nicki Scripko, the 2007 Big South Freshman of the Year, junior setter Kallie Corbin, the 2007 Big South Championship MVP, and junior middle blocker Chelaine McCarty, a second-team all-conference pick last season. Two senior starters are also included in the Liberty lineup, outside hitter Jessica Nelson and middle blocker Ashley Webber.
The Lady Flames also feature six new players on their 2008 roster, four of whom are defensive specialists. The list of freshmen includes defensive specialist Jordan Barlow, setter Courtney Boggs, defensive specialist Courtney Cooper, defensive specialist Kelly Haseman, right-side hitter Claire Jacobsma and defensive specialist Rebecca Warren. Several of the newcomers could see playing time early on this season.
Liberty hopes to get out to a faster start than it did in 2007. Last season, the Lady Flames were victorious in just three of their first seven matches. Liberty then went 23-3 in its next 26 contests, including 17 3-0 sweeps.
The returning Lady Flames should be quite familiar with VCU's Alltel Pavilion by now. Liberty participated in two tournaments at VCU during the 2007 season and returned to Richmond in April 2008 for a spring tournament.
Liberty has enjoyed mixed success during its recent cross-Commonwealth trips to VCU. The Lady Flames went 1-2 at last year's VCU Third Degree Sportswear Invitational, defeating George Washington and dropping decisions to Maryland and VCU. Liberty split a pair of matches at the VCU Thanksgiving Tournament, triumphing over Georgetown and falling to Long Island. The Lady Flames' most successful visit to VCU came during the spring, when the team opened its day with wins against the host team, the VCU alumni and Christopher Newport before losing to William & Mary.
Liberty opened the 2007 season with a 3-0 sweep of Howard, during the Liberty Invitational presented by Pepsi. The victory was only the second win in the Lady Flames' last 13 season openers, however. The last time the Lady Flames triumphed in a season lid-lifter played away from home came in 1998, when Liberty swept George Mason, 3-0, on its home court in Fairfax, Va.
Redshirt junior right-side hitter Brittany Pacella and Scripko should have an extra bounce in their steps on Friday, during Liberty's match against N.C. State.
Pacella opened her career with the Wolfpack, sitting out the 2005 season while recovering from knee surgery. She then transferred to Liberty in time for the 2006 campaign. Only one of Pacella's former teammates remains on the N.C. roster, senior middle blocker Aiwane Iboaya.
Scripko's hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., is situated just 60 miles south of N.C. State's Raleigh campus. As a result, she has been surrounded by Wolfpack fans her entire life.
Around the Big South
The Big South Conference has grown from seven to nine volleyball teams since last season. Gardner-Webb joins the conference this year, moving from the Atlantic Sun Conference. Meanwhile, Presbyterian's matches will count in the Big South regular-season standings, even though the Blue Hose will not be eligible to compete in the 2008 Big South Volleyball Championship.
All nine squads will open up their seasons this weekend. Gardner-Webb will rack up some frequent flyer miles, as the Bulldogs travel to Tucson, Ariz., to meet San Jose State, Weber State and host Arizona.
Charleston Southern will play arguably the toughest opening three matches of any conference team, at Clemson's Big Orange Bash. In addition to the defending ACC champion Clemson Tigers, the Lady Buccaneers will meet Florida International (19-8 in 2007) and Syracuse (21-13 in 2007).
The N.C. State Wolfpack of the ACC hail from Raleigh, N.C., and are coached by Charita J. Stubbs. Stubbs is 5-58, entering her third season at the helm.
N.C. State opened its 2007 season with a promising 3-1 showing at the North Carolina Central Tournament. The Wolfpack then lost their final 28 matches of the year.
Stubbs' team will aim to turn things around this season, utilizing a youthful lineup. Only one senior, Iboaya, is listed on the roster. Team captains include sophomore setter Alex Smith and junior opposite hitter Arlee Tamiette, a transfer from Boise State.
The Wolfpack are 5-1 all-time versus Liberty, but the Lady Flames won the squads' most recent meeting. Liberty claimed a 3-1 decision on Oct. 19, 2004 at N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum. Lady Flames assistant coach Jennifer (Belk) Vaden totaled a match-high 20 kills and added 22 digs. Autum (Poorman) Black hit .480 with 15 kills and eight blocks for Liberty. The contest marked the Lady Flames' most recent victory against an ACC opponent.
The Central Michigan Chippewas of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) West Division hail from Mount Pleasant, Mich. They are coached by Erik Olson, who enters his fifth season with a 49-70 record. The Chippewas have made rapid improvements under Olson's direction. Just two years removed from a 3-24 season, CMU went 22-10 last season, posting its first 20-win campaign since 1985.
Central Michigan, picked to finish second in the MAC West Division, return a pair of all-conference attackers. Senior outside hitter Kate Fissel tallied a team-high 507 kills in 2007, claiming first-team All-MAC distinction. Classmate Whitney Evers, a middle blocker, hit .316 with 354 kills on her way to second-team All-MAC honors.
Liberty and Central Michigan will be squaring off on the volleyball court for the first time on Saturday. The Lady Flames are 0-6 all-time versus MAC opponents, but will get two opportunities to claim its first victory this season. In addition to Central Michigan, the Lady Flames will face Western Michigan on Sept. 20 at Notre Dame's Golden Dome Invitational.
The ACC's Maryland Terrapins hail from College Park, Md. For the first time in 21 years, a new face will grace the Terrapins' bench in 2008. Janice Kruger retired after the 2007 season, leaving as the ACC's all-time winningest head coach with 381 victories.
Replacing her will be Tim Horsmon, who owns a 225-93 career record in nine years as a collegiate head coach. He guided Dayton to a 33-2 record last season, claiming AVCA Northeast Region Coach of the Year honors.
Horsmon will have a number of offensive weapons at his disposal during year one, headlined by preseason All-ACC pick Mary Beth Brown. The 6-3 left-handed senior right-side hitter tallied 248 kills and a team-high 144 blocks in 2007. Junior middle blocker Katie Usher is another of the four Terrapins who stand 6-3 or taller. She hit a team-best .331 last season.
Maryland is 3-0 versus the Lady Flames all-time, including a 3-2 decision against Liberty at last season's VCU Third Degree Sportswear Invitational. The Lady Flames owned a 2-1 lead in the match, but the Terrapins came from behind to win, due in large part to the play of Brown and Usher. Brown hit .414 with 15 kills, eight digs and six blocks. Meanwhile, Usher was extremely efficient, recording 18 kills in 23 swings for a .739 attack percentage. On the Lady Flames' side of the net then-freshmen Karyl Bacon and Scripko evenly divided 18 kills.