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Liberty Volleyball: 2010 Season in Review
It was an award-winning 2010 season for the Liberty Lady Flames volleyball team, as the squad won its fourth-straight Big South regular-season title with a 14-2 conference record. Head Coach Shane Pinder was named the Big South Coach of the Year, while freshman setter Jade Craycraft earned Big South Freshman of the Year honors.
Liberty's 25 overall wins also marked the fourth-straight season in which the Lady Flames have posted at least 20 victories, and the conference honor is Pinder's second Big South Coach of the Year award. He also earned the distinction in 2007.
The No. 1-seeded Lady Flames went 2-1 in the Big South Championship, avenging two regular-season losses to host Winthrop with a 3-2, come-from-behind thriller in the second round, before falling to No. 2 High Point, 3-0, in the title match.
"To have as young a group as we did, to have only one senior, it was a great year," commented Pinder. "We're really proud of the effort and the accomplishments of this team."
The Lady Flames kicked off the season with a solid performance at the East Carolina Classic in Greenville, N.C., posting wins over Charlotte and East Carolina after dropping a five-setter to regionally-ranked Cleveland State. Karyl Bacon and Craycraft were named to the all-tournament team.
Liberty's next stop was Charlottesville, Va., for an appearance in the annual UVA Holiday Inn Jefferson Cup. Another couple of all-tournament performances by Bacon and Craycraft helped the Lady Flames to 3-1 wins over both George Washington and North Florida, but Liberty couldn't find an answer for a dominating Virginia team, falling in a 3-0 decision to the host.
Non-conference play continued Sept. 10 and 11 in Elon, N.C., at the Elon Phoenix Classic. The Lady Flames picked up wins over host Elon and Stetson, but dropped a 3-0 match to Northern Illinois. Bacon and freshman Lillie Happel were recognized as all-tournament team members after the event.
The Lady Flames hosted their 2010 home opener on Sept. 14 at the Vines Center, welcoming in-state opponent James Madison for a non-conference match. Liberty was victorious, 3-1, improving to 13-8 in home openers since 1990.
It was back on the road from there, as the Lady Flames made the trek to the West Coast to compete in the Asics Challenge and the Fullerton Classic, wrapping up non-conference play for the season. Liberty was 2-3 in the Golden State, posting 3-0 sweeps over Yale and 2009 Ivy League Champion and NCAA tournament participant Pennsylvania during the stretch.
The Lady Flames set out on another road trip to open conference play, sweeping Gardner-Webb, 3-0 and edging Presbyterian College, 3-2, in Boiling Springs, N.C. and Clinton, S.C., respectively. After a 3-0 sweep over High Point in High Point, N.C. on Sept. 28, the Lady Flames were ready to kick off the month of October with four straight home conference matches.
After dropping a 3-1 decision to Winthrop on Oct. 1, the Lady Flames embarked on a eight-match winning streak over conference opponents. That streak was snapped when Liberty posted its only other conference loss of the season, a 3-0 defeat to, once again, Winthrop.
Liberty concluded the regular season on a high note, winning three straight matches over Coastal Carolina, Radford and UNC Asheville to clinch the regular-season title and earn the No. 1 seed entering the 2010 Big South Championship.
After sweeping No. 8 Gardner-Webb in the opening round, Liberty came back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the host Winthrop Eagles, 3-2. The following day, the Lady Flames dropped a hard-fought three-setter to No. 2 High Point, as the Panthers walked away with the program's first-ever Big South Championship title and a berth into the NCAA Championships.
Bacon and Craycraft were each named to the Big South Championship all-tournament team.
Craycraft, a native of Wooster, Ohio, became the first Lady Flame to earn the Freshman of the Year award since Nicki Scripko in 2007. She posted five 50-assist matches and five double-doubles on the year, as she helped her squad to the Big South regular-season championship. She also posted one triple-double, the first by a Lady Flame since 2007.
Craycraft ended her freshman season ranked No. 2 in the league with 1,284 total assists and No. 3 with 10.11 assists per set. She started her collegiate career off with a bang, earning the season's first two Big South Freshman of the Week plaudits.
Craycraft was the only freshman to make either the first or second team all-conference squads this year, and she became the first Big South freshman to do so since 2007.
Senior outside hitter Bacon, who earned preseason All-Big South honors this year, was named to the all-conference first team for the first time in her career, and also received Big South All-Academic team honors. Bacon went down in the history books as the first Lady Flame to be a part of four Big South regular-season championship teams. She was also named to the ESPN Academic All-District second team, becoming the first Lady Flame to win the honor since Kristin Colson in 2004.
Sophomore middle blocker Loren Thomas, a Big South All-Freshman team selection in 2009, was named to the second team all-conference roster, along with libero Kelly Haseman and Craycraft.
Joining Craycraft on the 2010 Big South All-Freshman Team was outside hitter Happel, marking the first time Liberty has ever had two representatives on the all-freshman team in the same season.
Several Lady Flames surpassed career milestones this season. Bacon became the ninth player in Liberty history to join the 1,000/1,000 club, ending her stellar career with 1,155 kills and 1,472 digs.
Meanwhile, libero Kelly Haseman became the first player in Liberty history to post three 30-dig matches in a single season, and her 35 digs against UNC Asheville on Nov. 13 marked a career-high for the junior, tying the Liberty rally-scoring single-match record. Her 653 total digs this year rank first in rally-scoring and No. 2 overall in program history. Haseman is now fifth in Liberty history with 1,520 career digs.
Also, several other Lady Flames posted numbers among the best in program history under the rally-scoring format. Bacon's 496 kills put her at No. 2 for a single season, which was the most since Jennifer (Belk) Vaden's 507 in 2004.
Kendle Rollins' 120 blocks gave her the No. 2 spot in program history, which is the most since Ashley Webber's 128 blocks in 2007. Finally, Happel recorded 51 aces, also good for a second-place ranking in school history under the rally-scoring format. It was the most aces by a Lady Flame in a single season since Kallie Corbin's 52 in 2006.
Bacon is the only graduating senior, and Liberty will go into 2011 with a more experienced group on the floor.
"I'm really proud of this program," Pinder said. "It's one thing to have success, but it's another thing to sustain success."