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Liberty Pushes Conference-Leading Winthrop Before Falling In Four Games
The Lady Flames' setback drops the team's overall record to 9-16. Liberty remains in third place in the Big South standings with two conference matches remaining on the schedule. The Lady Flames, who got a double-double from Kendall Nichols (So., OH, Hoover, Ala.) (10 kills, 11 digs) in Friday's match, are 7-5 in Big South action.
Winthrop, who has already clinched the Big South Conference regular season crown, is now 28-2 overall and 12-0 in conference action. The Eagles have won 12-consecutive matches overall and were paced in this contest by Taryn Surbaugh, who led all players in kills (24) and attack percentage (.636) and added five blocks.
The visiting Eagles, who had taken just 1:24 to sweep Liberty in three games on Oct. 13, received a much tougher challenge in this match, starting with the opening point of the evening. Rachel Denton (Sr., MB, Burnet, Texas) and Alysson Sanders (R-So., OH, Bear, Del.) combined to block Surbaugh, marking one of Surbaugh's rare attack errors and giving Liberty the early lead.
Winthrop fashioned a 12-8 lead on a kill by Tori Grafeman. The Lady Flames then bounced right back with an 11-5 run, capped off by an ace by Nichols that made it 19-17, Liberty. The two teams went back and forth before the Lady Flames got the opportunity to serve for the opening game.
Nichols served with Liberty leading, 29-28, but Grafeman and Surbaugh took over. The pair recorded a block and a kill apiece, enabling Winthrop to score the next three points and win game one by a 31-29 count. Surbaugh tallied eight kills and Grafeman had seven during game one. Meanwhile, Nichols recorded five of her kills during that game.
Winthrop took control of game two early on, scoring the first three points and never looking back in a 30-14 triumph. The Eagles hit .324 in the game and limited Liberty to a -.022 attack percentage.
Sparked by Autum Black (Sr., MB, Mingoville, Pa.), the Lady Flames came back with a strong game three effort. Liberty built its lead to as many as seven points at 21-14 when Black and Sanders combined on a block. Winthrop made a late charge, but Black put down a kill on Liberty's fifth match point of game three to wrap up a 30-28 victory. Black had a team-high four kills during game three and helped Liberty hit .273 as a team.
Stephanie Stow (Fr., MB, Murrieta, Calif.) notched a kill on the opening point of game four to give the Lady Flames what would prove to be their only lead of the game. The score was knotted up at 9-9 before the Eagles scored six of the next nine points to take a 15-11 lead on a block by Siera Reynolds and Shannon Sitzmann.
Winthrop was in control the rest of the way, finishing up its 3-1 victory with a 30-25 triumph in game four. Setter Emily Heckl provided the game-winning kill. Surbaugh finished up her stellar evening with six more kills in the fourth game. Black paced Liberty with five kills in the stanza.
Black was the Lady Flames' most effective attacker on the evening, leading the squad in kills (11) and attack percentage (.269). Sanders and Stow had four blocks apiece. Kallie Corbin (Fr., S, Beaverton, Ore.) chipped in with 37 assists and three aces.
Mary Alice Pike (Jr., RS, Durham, N.C.) ended up with seven kills, six assists and 10 digs. Lara Bartolomeo (Jr., S/DS, Huntington Beach, Calif.) now has 983 career digs after going over the 20-dig mark for the 11th time this season, finishing with a team-high 22.
Winthrop was led by three key attackers—Surbaugh, Grafeman and Sitzmann. Grafeman posted 19 kills, while Sitzmann had 16 kills and a match-high six blocks. Heckl totaled 67 assists and nine digs. Two Eagles went over the 20-dig plateau. Pohai Nu'uhiwa had 25 digs and Emily Stockman came up with 22 digs.
Liberty will play match number five of a six-match homestand Saturday at 5 p.m. when High Point (9-19, 6-6 Big South) visits the Vines Center. The Lady Flames can clinch a home match in the first round of the Big South Championship with a victory over the Panthers, who currently reside in fifth place in the conference standings.
Winthrop will travel to Radford for a 2 p.m. Saturday contest, looking to extend its conference winning streak to an even 50 matches.