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Lady Flames Set to Open 2012 Season at NCCU Tournament

August 22, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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The Liberty volleyball team begins the 2012 season in Durham, N.C., at the North Carolina Central Tournament.

Complete Match Notes

Defending Big South champion Liberty opens its 2012 volleyball schedule by competing in an invitational at North Carolina Central Friday and Saturday. The Lady Flames went 20-13 last season, claiming a share of the Big South regular season championship with a 12-2 conference record. Liberty claimed its conference-record sixth Big South postseason title with a win over Radford in the championship contest.

The Lady Flames face a pair of Southern Conference programs this weekend. The team faces UNCG on Friday at 3:30 p.m, and then takes on host North Carolina Central of the MEAC at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, Liberty meets Elon at 2:30 p.m.

Last season, UNCG went 15-7, while North Carolina Central posted a 5-26 record and Elon went 19-14. Both UNCG and Elon totaled 7-9 conference records in 2011.
Also appearing in the tournament will be: Winthrop of the Big South, Bradley (Missouri Valley Conference) and Hampton (MEAC).

How to Follow the Lady Flames
The Liberty Athletics Communications Department will be providing periodic twitter updates throughout Liberty's matches this weekend.  Follow @libertyflames for the latest information on the Lady Flames' participation in the North Carolina Central Invitational.

Quick Hits
- Liberty's 2012 schedule opens with three straight matches against North Carolina teams.

- The Lady Flames posted their fifth 20-win season in a row in 2011.

- 2011 marked Liberty's fifth straight conference regular-season title.

- Liberty has appeared in the Big South title match each of the last five years.

- The team was voted to repeat as Big South champions in the preseason coaches poll.

- Loren Thomas was named the 2012 Big South Preseason Player of the Year.

- Six starters return from last year's conference championship team.

- Liberty has seven freshman on its volleyball roster, the most since 1993.

- The Lady Flames placed four players on all-conference team last season.

- Ninth-year Head Coach Shane Pinder is one win shy of 150 in his career.

- Elon is one of five Liberty opponents to win 18+ matches in 2011.

- Liberty is 3-0 all-time vs. NCCU, 8-10 vs. UNCG, 17-2 against Elon.

Drive for 5
The Liberty volleyball team has posted five straight 20-win seasons, earned five conference regular-season titles and made five appearances in the Big South final in a row (2007-2011).  This places the Lady Flames in select company.

Liberty is:
- one of five volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to have won or shared their conference or division regular-season championship in each of the last five years. 
- one of 10 volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to appear in its conference championship match in each of the last five seasons.
- one of 29 teams in NCAA Division I with five or more 20-win seasons in a row at present.

Season Opening
The Lady Flames will look to win their first season opener since Aug. 28, 2009, when Liberty downed UNCG, 3-0 at the Hilton Garden Hokie Invitational. That victory capped a three-year span of victories in season lid-lifters for the Lady Flames.

Liberty has gone 6-18 in season openers during the NCAA Division I era, since 1988, including 3-5 under Coach Pinder. The team has only opened a campaign at home one time, hosting Howard to begin the 2007 season.

Champions
Liberty swept Radford on Nov. 20 to claim its sixth Big South Conference championship and first since 2008. Loren Thomas was named Big South Tournament MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by senior Kelly Haseman and sophomore Lillie Happel.

The team's title gave Liberty for the most conference tournament championships in Big South history.
The Lady Flames went on to face four-time defending national champion Penn State in the NCAA Volleyball Championship first round, falling in three sets.

Down to the Wire
Liberty went 6-0 in five set matches last season, with all six five-set contests taking place in Big South play. Fittingly, the Lady Flames' conference opener and conference regular-season finale each ended in 3-2 Liberty victories.

In the last three seasons, the Lady Flames are 16-3 in five-set matches.

Top Honors
Last season, Liberty placed four players on the Big South All-Conference team, marking the third year in a row in which the Lady Flames had four all-conference selections.

Middle blocker Loren Thomas and outside hitter Lillie Happel were named to the first team, while setter Jade Craycraft and libero Kelly Haseman were second-team picks.

Thomas earned Big South Tournament MVP honors in 2011, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Happel and Haseman.

Double-Doubles
On Sept. 23 at Radford, Jade Craycraft totaled the first assists-blocks double-double in Liberty's rally-scoring history, with 39 assists and 10 blocks. That same night, Loren Thomas had 12 blocks and 11 kills, good for the first kills-blocks double-double by a Lady Flame since Ashley Webber had 14 kills and 11 blocks Nov. 1, 2008 at Gardner-Webb.

Lillie Happel came through with 21 kills and a career-high 23 digs in the regular-season finale at UNC Asheville. It marked first time that a Lady Flame posted a 20-20 double-double since Karyl Bacon had 22 kills and 20 digs at UC Irvine, Sept. 16, 2010.

Liberty vs. UNCG
All-Time Series:
UNCG leads, 10-8
Current Streak: Liberty W1
Liberty's Record vs. UNCG Under Coach Pinder: 2-2
Last Meeting: Liberty 3, UNCG 0 (8/28/09 - Blacksburg, Va.)

Liberty vs. North Carolina Central
All-Time Series:
Liberty leads, 3-0
Current Streak: Liberty W3
Liberty's Record vs. North Carolina Central Under Coach Pinder: 1-0
Last Meeting: Liberty 3, North Carolina Central (11/6/07 - Lynchburg, Va.)

Liberty vs. Elon
All-Time Series:
Liberty leads, 17-2
Current Streak: Liberty W1
Liberty's Record vs. Elon Under Coach Pinder: 2-1
Last Meeting: Liberty 3, Elon 0 (9/11/10 - Elon, N.C.)

Great Expectations
The Lady Flames have been predicted to win the 2012 Big South volleyball championship, while Loren Thomas was the Preseason Player of the Year and Lillie Happel also appeared on the preseason all-conference list. Thomas is the first Lady Flame since Kallie Corbin in 2009 to be named Big South Preseason Volleyball Player of the Year.

A Lot Returning, More Arriving
Liberty returns six starters from last year's 20-win, conference-champion team. Kelly Haseman, the program's career digs leader, was the lone graduating starter from 2011.

Three all-conference players (Loren Thomas, Lillie Happel and Jade Craycraft) are back, and are joined by a deep roster.

This year's roster features 18 players, 11 of whom are freshmen or sophomores. This year's true freshman class of seven is the largest for Liberty volleyball since the 1993 team had seven freshmen.

150 on the Radar
Ninth-year head coach Shane Pinder has notched 149 wins at the helm of Liberty's volleyball team. With his next win, he will become the sixth Big South coach, and second in program history, with 150 or more coaching wins.

His 100th career win came on Nov. 7, 2009 against Gardner-Webb. His career record moved to 100-88 that night. Since then, the Lady Flames have gone 49-25 (.662).