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Liberty to Face No. 16 Oregon Wednesday
Complete Match Notes
The Liberty volleyball team travels to the nation's capital Wednesday to meet No. 16 Oregon in a match held at American. The match between the Lady Flames (1-2) and Ducks (1-1) will take place at 4 p.m. in American's Bender Arena.
The Lady Flames will then head to Kalamazoo, Mich., where the team will compete in the Holiday Inn West Invitational Friday and Saturday, hosted by Western Michigan. Three out of Liberty's four opponents this week posted 19 or more wins in 2010, while the Lady Flames were a 25-9 club one year ago.
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Fans unable to attend Wednesday's match between Liberty and Oregon can follow the action through live stats. Live stats can be accessed through links on LibertyFlames.com.
Week in Review
The Lady Flames opened the 2011 season by competing at the Hotel Indigo Bulldog Invitational, hosted by Georgia. Liberty went 1-2 at the invitational, sweeping Florida A&M for its first win of 2011. Lillie Happel was named to the all-tournament team, posting two double-digit kill matches. The team recorded 2.5 blocks per set, including 10.5 vs. UGA.
Liberty vs. Oregon
Liberty competes against No. 16 Oregon of the PAC-12 for the first time on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The Lady Flames are in search of their initial win over a PAC-12 opponent, and first victory over a nationally-ranked team.
Oregon made a splash in volleyball circles Friday, upsetting No. 1 Penn State, 3-1, to open the season. The Ducks then lost in five sets to No. 12 Minnesota Saturday. The match vs. Liberty will be Oregon's second of three matches in a two-day span, as they play at Delaware Tuesday and will meet American Wednesday at 7 p.m.
A young 2011 Oregon roster features no seniors, and is led by returning conference honorees in outside hitter Alaina Bergsma and sophomore setter Lauren Plum. Bergsma recorded 4.67 kills per set on the opening weekend, followed by Katherine Fischer's 3.62 kills average.
Seventh-year head coach Jim Moore has posted a 116-72 record at Oregon and is nearing 500 wins as a collegiate head coach.
The Lady Flames have not beaten a PAC-12 team in four tries, including twice in the NCAA Tournament. Liberty fell 3-0 to USC Nov. 30, 2001 and dropped a 3-1 decision to California Nov. 30, 2007, with both matches happening during the first round at Duke.
Liberty vs. Ranked Opponents
Entering Wednesday's match against No. 16 Oregon, the Lady Flames have faced a nationally-ranked opponent 10 times since becoming a member of NCAA Division I in 1988. Four of those meetings occurred in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Liberty has taken one set from each of its last three ranked foes, including a 3-1 setback at No. 4 Nebraska Dec. 5, 2008 in the team's most recent match against a rated opponent. The Lady Flames also claimed one set at No. 19 Kansas State Sept. 13, 2008. Prior to a 3-1 loss to No. 7 Cal Nov. 30, 2007, Liberty had not claimed a set from a Top 25 team.
Liberty started two freshmen during the season opener Aug. 26 vs. Georgia. Outside hitter Ansley Gebben and libero Gabrielle Shipe, both from The First Academy, started alongside fellow TFA graduate, junior Loren Thomas during the opening match. Shipe led the team with eight digs and two aces, while fellow freshman Melissa Racz posted six block assists as Liberty's primary right-side hitter. Four freshmen (Jade Craycraft, Lillie Happel, Erica Manor and Kendle Rollins) started the season-opening contest in 2010.
Liberty University held its annual kick-off event, the Block Party, on campus Saturday. The Lady Flames volleyball team held its own block party on the weekend, averaging 2.5 blocks per set, including 10.5 against Georgia. Loren Thomas (1.22 blocks per set), Melissa Racz (1.22 bps) and Kendle Rollins (1.11 bps) all topped one block per set, helping Liberty begin defense of its Big South No. 1 blocking ranking from 2010.
Spreading the Wealth
Last season, libero Kelly Haseman led the Lady Flames in digs during each of the team's 34 matches, on the way to a Liberty rally-scoring-record 653 digs. Liberty had different dig leaders in all three matches at the Bulldog Invitational to open the 2011 campaign. Gabrielle Shipe led with eight digs against Georgia, Lillie Happel paced the team with nine digs versus Kansas, and Haseman collected a match-high 14 digs against Florida A&M.
Lillie Happel started off her sophomore campaign with an all-tournament performance at the Bulldog Invitational, her second career all-tournament mention, as she was honored at the Elon Phoenix Classic in 2010. Happel is the first Lady Flame to record double-digit kills in each of the first two season openers of her career during the rally-scoring era. She recorded a double-double with 12 kills and 14 digs in her first career match, Aug. 27, 2010 vs. Cleveland State, and notched 11 kills in this year's season-opener Friday at Georgia.
This year brings great expectations, both from within the team and from the conference, as Liberty looks to challenge for its first Big South tournament title since 2008. The Lady Flames have been predicted to win the Big South championship, and three Lady Flames (Haseman, junior Loren Thomas and sophomore Jade Craycraft) appear on the Preseason All-Big South team.
Aces are Wild
Liberty has served for at least one ace in 185 consecutive matches. The streak started Oct. 7, 2005 at Charleston Southern, predating the career of all of the 2011 Lady Flames players. Last season, the Lady Flames led the Big South and ranked 17th in NCAA Division I with a Liberty rally-scoring-record 217 service aces.
Tough Early Schedule
A number of teams from top conferences dot the early portion of Liberty's schedule. Liberty has traditionally come back strong after early challenges. The team went 0-3 in the opening three matches during each of its first three Big South championship seasons (1997, 1999 and 2001), and started 1-2 during its third straight conference regular-season title campaign of 2009.