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Liberty Claims Big South Lead With 3-2 Win at Winthrop
Liberty claimed a five-set victory (25-12, 17-25, 25-14, 22-25, 15-12) at Winthrop Friday in a match of two teams tied for the Big South lead. The Lady Flames posted 17 team blocks, including a program rally-scoring record 13 blocks by Loren Thomas.
The Lady Flames advanced their overall record to 12-11, with a 7-1 Big South mark. With the victory, Liberty claims first place outright in the conference in the only meeting between the two programs this regular season. Winthrop is now 13-7, 6-2 in Big South matches.
Liberty is now 3-0 in five-set matches during Big South competition this season, and has won its last 11 five-set conference matches overall. The Lady Flames posted their second 3-2 win over Winthrop in a row, as Liberty won in five sets at Winthrop on Nov. 19, 2010 in the semifinals of the Big South Volleyball Championship.
Thomas broke her program rally-scoring record with 13 blocks, on three solo blocks and 10 block assists. She had set the previous mark at 12 on Sept. 23 at Radford. In so doing, she became the seventh player in program history with 300 or more career blocks. She added 12 kills, for her second double-double of the season.
Kelly Haseman collected 25 digs, leading Liberty to a season-high 90 digs, while becoming the sixth player in Big South history with 1,800 or more career digs. At 1,816 career digs, she is now 17 digs shy of fifth place in the conference's all-time record book.
Jade Craycraft dished out 42 assists in addition to a career-high 16 digs, giving her the 10th double-double of her career.
Lillie Happel scored 14 kills and 15 digs, good for her eighth double-double this season and 15th of her career.
Ansley Gebben set career highs with 15 digs and six blocks (two solo, four assist), while Melissa Racz posted a career-best 12 kills at a .391 pace.
Stephanie Palmer led all players with 43 assists and added nine digs for Winthrop. Becca Toor and Brittany Blackmon tied for the team lead with 12 kills apiece.
The Lady Flames surged ahead from the beginning of set one, staging a 12-2 rally to take a 15-4 lead. Liberty posted six blocks during the team's early spurt, with Thomas assisting on five rejections and Gebben posting a solo block. Winthrop scored four-straight points, drawing to within seven, 16-9, with kills by Toor and Blackman capping the rally.
The guests doubled Winthrop's score, 20-10, after a block from Racz and Happel. Happel, Gebben and Manor sent down consecutive kills to end set one, a 25-12 Liberty victory.
During set one, Liberty posted seven team blocks, holding the Eagles to a -.143 hitting percentage. The Lady Flames registered a .208 attack efficiency, as both teams recorded eight set-one kills. Thomas posted five blocks in the opening stanza.
Winthrop broke a 5-5 tie early in the second set with an 8-3 rally, building a 13-8 advantage. Four different Eagles registered kills during Winthrop's spurt. Liberty then erased the deficit, knotting the set at 13-13 on the second Gebben-Thomas block in a row.
The Eagles took a three-point lead, 20-17, courtesy of a Toor kill, drawing a timeout from Liberty Head Coach Shane Pinder. In total, Winthrop staged a 7-0 rally to close out set two, 25-17, tying the match at one set apiece.
Set two saw Winthrop attack at a .136 clip, earning 12 kills. Liberty hit .048 during the second set. Gebben and Thomas registered three kills and three block assists apiece. Toor recorded four kills in set two.
Liberty turned a 6-5 set-three deficit into a 10-6 lead with a five-point rally, as Happel posted two aces and Racz sent down two kills. Kristin Cruse, Toor and Palmer scored kills in succession, trimming the deficit to one at 10-9. The Lady Flames built a 21-12 lead, tallying eight-straight points.
Thomas earned her 10th block of the match during the 8-0 rally, which Happel capped with a solo block. Liberty held a sizable lead the rest of the way, and Happel scored three-straight kills to give Liberty set point at 24-13. Racz clinched set three, 25-14, with a kill, giving Liberty a 2-1 match lead.
Liberty outhit the Eagles, .275 to .043, during the third set. Happel led all players with seven second-set kills. Craycraft and Gebben each had eight of Liberty's 25 digs in set three.
The two teams traded momentum during set four, producing a 15-15 score after 30 rallies. Toor put the Eagles ahead at 16-15 with a kill. The Lady Flames then reclaimed the lead, 18-16, as Craycraft earned a service ace during a 3-0 rally. Winthrop fought back, taking a 19-18 lead on a block by Palmer and Carolyn Weed.
Palmer served up an ace after a pair of sideouts, good for a 21-19 Winthrop advantage. A Liberty miscue set the score at 22-20, prompting a timeout by Pinder. Blackman recorded a kill for a match-point try at 24-22, and Palmer won set four with a kill, 25-22.
Winthrop won a tight set four, hitting .093 with 12 kills, while the Lady Flames hit .079 with 10 kills. Thomas led all players with four kills during the fourth set, and Haseman had nine digs. Three Eagles posted three kills apiece during the fourth stanza.
Liberty and Winthrop battled back and forth in the deciding fifth set, with the Eagles taking a slim 8-7 lead at the changeover after a Weed kill and a Liberty miscue. A Blackmon kill provided the hosts with a 9-7 advantage, leading to a Lady Flames timeout.
Happel sent down a back-row kill to end Winthrop's rally, sparking a 4-0 Lady Flames run to an 11-9 lead. Five rally points set the score at 13-12 in Liberty's favor. Racz earned a kill for a 14-12 lead, and Happel won the set and match for Liberty with her 14th kill.
The Lady Flames hit .350 in posting nine kills during the fifth set, while Winthrop countered with nine kills at a .192 clip. Racz, Happel and Thomas posted three kills each in the final set.
For the match, Liberty posted a .171 attack percentage and held Winthrop to a .055 hitting performance. Liberty totaled a season-high 90 digs, with four players entering double-figures. Both teams recorded five service aces. Winthop registered 77 digs, led by 18 from Catherine Brusie and 16 by Cruse.
Liberty next travels to Clinton, S.C., where the Lady Flames meet Presbyterian College, Saturday at 2 p.m. Winthrop welcomes Radford to Rock Hill, S.C., Saturday for a 2 p.m. match.