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No. 1 Liberty Downs No. 8 Gardner-Webb, 3-1
The No. 1 seed Liberty volleyball team earned a 3-1 win (25-23, 18-25, 25-22, 25-19) over No. 8 seed Gardner-Webb Thursday during the first match of the Big South Volleyball Championship, held at CSU Fieldhouse.
The Lady Flames (18-12) advance to the Big South Championship semifinals, where they will face No. 4 seed UNC Asheville, Friday at 4:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb's season ends at 10-20.
Liberty defeated Gardner-Webb in the first round of the conference tournament for the fourth season in a row, with this being the first postseason match between the teams that has lasted more than three sets. The Lady Flames also avenged a 3-0 setback at Gardner-Webb on Nov. 11.
For the match, Gardner-Webb hit .209 in earning 49 kills, while Liberty posted 45 kills at a .162 pace. Liberty served up 10 aces, and the Runnin' Bulldogs posted six aces and 14 service errors.
Loren Thomas led Liberty with 11 kills and added four blocks. She is now third all-time at Liberty with 342 career blocks. Lillie Happel earned a double-double with 10 kills and 13 digs.
Kelly Haseman collected 24 digs to pace Liberty, while Happel, Jade Craycraft and Becca Haraf served up three aces apiece.
Kendle Rollins sent down eight kills, hitting .583, and earned the match-clinching kill. Rollins also posted a team-high five block assists for the Lady Flames.
Gardner-Webb's Tyler Cockrell led all players with 12 kills and six blocks. Heather Feldman posted a match-high 41 assists, and Evan Moffitt collected 25 digs for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Serving played a key role in the early going of set one, as back-to-back Haraf aces capped a 6-0 Liberty rally, giving the Lady Flames a 7-4 lead. Liberty then opened a three-point lead, 11-8, on an ace by Haseman. Gardner-Webb staged a 4-0 rally to take the advantage at 12-11.
The Lady Flames turned a 17-16 deficit into a 21-17 lead, with Rollins sending down a kill and assisting Melissa Racz on a block during the 5-0 run. The Runnin' Bulldogs fought off four set-point opportunities, as Lauren Evans and Tyler Cockrell earned kills. Ansley Gebben sent down a kill, clinching set one for Liberty, 25-23.
Liberty hit .147 during the first set, compared to .125 for Gardner-Webb, as both teams earned 11 kills. Each team served up three aces in set one. Thomas posted three kills for Liberty, while Carol Solano and Molly Rhyne had three kills apiece for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Gardner-Webb built a 20-10 lead to start the second session, receiving four kills from Cockrell while also serving up three aces as a team. Liberty responded by scoring the next five points to trim the deficit in half, at 20-15. Rollins and Happel posted kills, and Craycraft added an ace during the 5-0 surge.
The Runnin' Bulldogs closed set two on a 4-1 run to claim set two by a 25-18 score.
During set two, Gardner-Webb attacked at a .281 pace, while Liberty hit .000. Cockrell scored five kills for the Runnin' Bulldogs, and Liberty's Happel posted four kills.
Liberty took its first lead of the third set at 14-13, as Racz scored a kill followed by back-to-back Craycraft aces. Gardner-Webb surged ahead, 18-17, on a kill by Evans. A Liberty miscue then set the score at 19-17 in the Runnin' Bulldogs' favor. Thomas sent the Lady Flames back ahead, 21-20, with a pair of kills, and a Gardner-Webb error made it 22-20.
The Lady Flames earned set point at 24-21, and then made good on their second clinching opportunity, as Racz sent down a kill for the 25-22 victory.
Liberty hit .229 in scoring 12 third-set kills, while Gardner-Webb checked in with 13 kills at .205. Racz led the Lady Flames with four kills, and three Runnin' Bulldogs had three kills each.
Consecutive blocks by Rollins and Gebben, followed by a Racz kill, sparked a 5-0 run that sent Liberty to a 14-9 lead in set four. The Lady Flames continued their momentum, with Gebben sending down a kill for a 17-10 edge. Gardner-Webb pulled to within four, 17-13, but consecutive Thomas kills gave Liberty a 19-13 edge.
Trailing, 23-15, Gardner-Webb scored three points in a row, prompting a Liberty timeout. Happel scored a kill out of the timeout, and Rollins sent Liberty into the semifinals with a kill, good for a 25-19 set-four victory.
Liberty hit .250 during the fourth set, posting 15 kills. Gardner-Webb attacked at a .222 clip in sending down 12 set-four kills. Gebben had five kills and Haseman collected 10 digs during the fourth set.