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Liberty Voted 1st in Big South Volleyball Poll; Thomas Named Preseason Player of Year

August 1, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Loren Thomas (left) was named Big South Preseason Player of the Year, while teammate Lillie Happel joined Thomas on the Preseason All-Big South team.

The Liberty volleyball team has been voted to win the 2012 Big South championship, as the results of the annual preseason coaches' poll were released today. Additionally, senior middle blocker Loren Thomas was named Big South Preseason Player of the Year, and was joined on the Preseason All-Big South team by junior outside hitter Lillie Happel.

Thomas, the 2011 Big South Championship MVP, is the first Lady Flames volleyball player since Kallie Corbin in 2009 to be named Big South Preseason Player of the Year.

Liberty has been voted the Big South preseason favorite for the eighth time, and second year in a row.

Lady Flames Head Coach Shane Pinder, entering his ninth season at the helm, fields a deep team. Six starters return from the 2011 squad that claimed Liberty's sixth Big South Championship title. Last season, the Lady Flames went 20-13 and earned a share of their fifth straight conference regular-season championship. In 2011, Liberty made a return to the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship, taking on four-time defending national champion Penn State in the opening round.

Radford, last year's Big South Championship runner-up, came in second place in the voting, while 2011 Big South regular-season co-champion Winthrop placed third in the poll. UNC Asheville and High Point took fourth and fifth place, respectively. Coastal Carolina, Campbell, Presbyterian College, Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern have been predicted to finish sixth through 10th, in that order.

Thomas, a native of Ocoee, Fla., had a dominant season as a junior, pacing the conference with a program rally scoring-record 155 blocks. In addition to being named Big South Championship MVP, she earned first team mention on the Big South All-Conference and VaSID All-State teams. Thomas posted the top two single-match block totals in Liberty's rally-scoring history last year, with 13 at Winthrop on Oct. 21 and 12 at Radford on Sept. 23.

Happel, hailing from Ellicott City, Md., was a 2011 member of the Big South All-Conference first team, VaSID All-State second team and Big South All-Tournament team. She led the Lady Flames with 396 kills and 33 service aces a season ago, ranking fourth in the Big South in kills per set and ninth in aces per set. She registered a team-high 12 double-doubles last season, with 23 double-digit kill matches and three 20+ kill contests.

The Lady Flames begin their 2012 campaign on the weekend of Aug. 24 at an invitational hosted by North Carolina Central in Durham, N.C. The home opener will take place on Aug. 28, as Liberty welcomes Commonwealth foe William & Mary to the Vines Center. Big South play begins Sept. 21, as the Lady Flames play host to the Radford Highlanders.

The 2012 Big South Volleyball Championship will take place at Paul Porter Arena, on the campus of Gardner-Webb. The tournament, scheduled to be contested from Nov. 15-18, will determine the Big South's automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship.

2012 Big South Conference Preseason Volleyball Poll
(first place votes) total points
1. Liberty (9) 99

2. Radford (1) 78
3. Winthrop 74
4. UNC Asheville 59
5. High Point 56
6. Coastal Carolina 53
7. Campbell 47
8. Presbyterian College 45
9. Gardner-Webb 28
10. Charleston Southern 11

2012 Preseason All-Big South Team
Loren Thomas, Liberty *

Presley Mabrey, Presbyterian College
Emma Deininger, Radford
Stephanie Palmer, Winthrop
Lillie Happel, Liberty
Courtney Johnk, High Point
Jamie Dimaggio, Coastal Carolina
Catherine Brusie, Winthrop

*Big South Preseason Player of the Year