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Liberty Claims Fifth Straight Title With 3-2 Win
Liberty claimed a share of its fifth straight Big South regular-season championship, rallying for a 3-2 win (25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-13) over UNC Asheville Saturday at the Justice Center.
The Lady Flames, who shared the title with Winthrop, are the first team in Big South history to post five straight Big South regular-season titles. By virtue of its head-to-head victory over the Eagles, Liberty will serve as the No. 1 seed at the 2011 Big South Volleyball Championship presented by Musco Sports Lighting, to be held Nov. 17-20 in Charleston, S.C.
Liberty (17-12, 12-2 Big South) earned its sixth 3-2 victory in Big South play this season, and 14th straight victory in a five-set match against a conference opponent. Liberty has now closed out each of the last 15 regular seasons with a victory heading into the conference tournament. UNC Asheville (14-13) finishes in a tie for fourth place in the conference standings, at 7-7.
Lillie Happel posted 21 kills and collected a career-high 23 digs. Loren Thomas sent down a career-high 20 kills and added nine blocks for the Lady Flames.
Senior libero Kelly Haseman totaled 28 digs, becoming the fifth player in Big South history with 1,900 career digs. She has collected 1,920 digs, and passed Jeanne Lambert of Coastal Carolina into fourth place on the Big South career digs list.
Jade Craycraft dished out a season-high 53 assists for Liberty, and added 11 digs for her seventh double-double of the season.
The Lady Flames posted a season-high 94 digs, as five Liberty players entered double-figures. Liberty totaled 11.5 blocks, compared to eight for the Bulldogs.
Meredith Foster led all players with 24 kills for UNC Asheville, while Cindi Miller tallied 18 kills and 22 digs. The Bulldogs' Hallie Morse posted a match-high 63 assists, and Rachel Wells totaled 20 digs.
The Lady Flames built a 16-11 lead after the first 27 serves of set one, scoring 12 kills at a .455 pace. Loren Thomas earned four quick kills, and Melissa Racz added three to aid Liberty's early momentum. UNC Asheville then rallied to gain its first lead of the set, 18-17, with Holly Shelton posting three kills during the run.
Liberty scored four straight kills to turn a 19-18 deficit into a 22-19 lead, and Happel's second kill in a row prompted a UNC Asheville timeout. The Bulldogs pulled to within one, 22-21, but Happel scored a pair of kills to give Liberty a set-point opportunity at 24-21. Kendle Rollins sent down a kill to clinch set one, 25-22.
During set one, Liberty hit .349, earning 21 kills out of 25 points scored. UNC Asheville responded with a .316 attack percentage. Thomas led all players with seven kills, while Happel followed with five kills. For UNC Asheville, Foster posted six kills and Shelton had five kills.
UNC Asheville staged an 11-2 rally to claim a 19-12 advantage during set two, with Foster scoring four kills and Miller adding three kills for the Bulldogs.
Happel scored a kill to end the rally, and then served an ace for a 19-14 score. Liberty battled to within four, 24-20, on a block and a Happel kill, and a Bulldogs error made it 24-21. Foster ended set two with a kill, tying the match with a 25-21 victory.
The hosts hit .204 in the second set, while Liberty attacked at a .191 pace. Happel sent down six kills for the Lady Flames, and Foster totaled seven set-two kills for the Bulldogs.
UNC Asheville held a slim, 13-12 lead midway through set three. Foster and Shelton then earned kills to extend the advantage to three, 15-12, leading to a Liberty timeout. Facing an 18-13 deficit, Liberty scored the next four points, with Happel's tough serving helping lead to three Bulldogs errors.
The Bulldogs responded by tallying three straight points, good for a 21-17 edge. Thomas sent down a pair of kills and added a block assist during a 5-0 rally that reclaimed the lead for Liberty. After UNC Asheville tied the score, Thomas tallied a kill and teamed on a block with Ansley Gebben. Liberty then claimed set three, 25-22, earning a 2-1 match lead.
Liberty attacked at a .146 efficiency during the third set, while UNC Asheville hit .137. Thomas earned four kills and two blocks for Liberty, and Foster totaled five kills for the Bulldogs.
UNC Asheville staked a 16-13 lead following the first 29 rallies during set four. Happel sent down two kills and an ace for the Lady Flames, helping the visitors pull to within two, 18-16. The hosts scored the next three points to take a 21-16 advantage. Following a pair of rally points, Liberty called a timeout, trailing 22-17.
Thomas scored a kill out of the timeout, sparking a 4-2 rally to trim the margin to 23-20. Foster recorded a kill, and then a Foster-Chelsea Kenley block ended the set, 25-20, forcing a fifth set to be played.
Set four produced the lowest hitting percentages of the match, with the Bulldogs hitting .125 and Liberty countering with .000. Foster posted six kills for UNC Asheville, and Happel had four kills for Liberty.
UNC Asheville took an 8-6 lead at the fifth-set changeover after a kill from Anna Moore. Moore then gave the Bulldogs a 9-7 advantage with a kill, leading to a Liberty timeout. Kendle Rollins scored a kill out of the huddle, which was answered by two Miller kills for an 11-8 Bulldogs lead.
Gebben earned a kill, igniting a rally that saw Liberty tie the set, 11-11 on a Thomas kill. Thomas and Happel sent down back-to-back kills for a 13-12 Lady Flames lead. Miller posted a kill to stave off match point, 14-13, but Happel ended it by sending down her 21st kill of the match.
Liberty held a .318 to .308 advantage in hitting percentage during the final set. Thomas and Happel sent down three kills apiece, while Miller posted four kills for the Bulldogs.
For the match, UNC Asheville hit .206, and Liberty hit .199, as the Bulldogs led, 70-61, in kills.
Gebben registered 10 digs and four blocks for the Lady Flames, while Gabrielle Shipe chipped in 10 digs.