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Lady Flames to Open NCAA Tournament at Minnesota, Friday
Complete Match Notes
Liberty (25-7, 12-2 Big South), the 2012 Big South champion, will compete at No. 8 seed Minnesota (24-7, 15-5 Big Ten) in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship's West Lafayette Regional, Friday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
The winner of Friday's match between Liberty and Minnesota will meet the winner of Friday's first match, between Missouri Valley Conference champion Creighton (28-3) and BIG EAST runner-up Marquette (27-6), Saturday at 7 p.m.
Liberty enters the national tournament riding a 10-match winning streak, claiming victory in 13 out of its last 14 matches. The Lady Flames have won their conference-record sixth straight Big South regular-season title, have posted six 20-win seasons in a row and have appeared in the conference tournament final in each of the last six years.
How to Follow the Lady Flames
Live stats, live video and live audio will be available for Liberty's match at Minnesota on Friday. Live stats will be courtesy of Minnesota's athletics communications office, while live audio will be available free of charge. Fans can access live video streaming through Minnesota's All-Access website on GopherSports.com.
Tournament Quick Points
Liberty is making its seventh appearance overall, and second in a row, in the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. Last season, the Lady Flames met four-time defending national champion Penn State in the first round, a 3-0 Liberty setback.
The Lady Flames are making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six years, as Liberty also qualified for the postseason in 2007 and 2008.
No Big South team has won an NCAA Volleyball Championship match. Liberty came the closest, falling in four sets to California in 2007 and losing, 3-1, to Nebraska in 2008.
Liberty holds the Big South record for conference volleyball tournament championships (7), conference final appearances (12), conference tournament victories (35) and regular-season conference wins (191).
The Lady Flames will meet their seventh different opponent in NCAA Tournament play. (Notre Dame - 1997; No. 4 Florida - 1999; No. 5 USC - 2001; No. 7 California - 2007; No. 4 Nebraska - 2008; No. 8 Penn State - 2011; No. 8 Minnesota - 2012).
How They Got Here
Top-seeded Liberty swept No. 8 seed Charleston Southern and No. 4 seed Presbyterian College to qualify for the final of the 2012 Big South Volleyball Championship. The Lady Flames then downed No. 2 seed Coastal Carolina, 3-1, in the final to win the conference tournament and earn the Big South's automatic-qualifying berth.
Jade Craycraft was named the 2012 Big South Tournament MVP. Loren Thomas and Caroline Douglas joined Craycraft on the all-tournament team.
Liberty vs. Minnesota
- Liberty and Minnesota meet for the first time in any head-to-head team sport. The Lady Flames and Golden Gophers had one common opponent this season. Minnesota opened the season with a 3-1 win over James Madison, and Liberty swept JMU on Sept. 25.
- Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation in hitting percentage (.302), while Liberty is 34th at .251. The Golden Gophers lead the Big Ten and are 11th in NCAA Division I in aces per set (1.62), while the Lady Flames (1.58) rank 20th in aces per set nationally.
- Minnesota is 13-1 at home this season, with its only home setback coming to Penn State. Liberty went 9-0 at home this year and 9-4 in road matches.
- Shane Pinder, three-time Big South Coach of the Year, is 174-120 during nine seasons at the helm of Liberty. Hugh McCutcheon guides the Golden Gophers for the first year after leading the USA men's and women's volleyball national teams in the last two Olympics.
- 2011 All-America honorable mention Tori Dixon leads the Big Ten and is third in the nation with a .444 hitting percentage. Daly Santana ranks seventh nationally with 0.49 aces per set. Katherine Harms averages 4.13 kills per set.
- Lady Flames sophomore Melissa Racz is a Minnesota native, graduating from Apple Valley High School. Liberty will play in Minnesota for the first time in program history.
Who Else Can Say That?
Liberty volleyball has posted six straight 20-win seasons, earned six straight conference regular-season titles and made six consecutive appearances in the conference final (2007-2012). The Lady Flames are the only volleyball team in NCAA Division I about which each of the following three statements is true.
- one of four volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to have won or shared their conference or division regular-season championship in each of the last six years.
- one of six volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to appear in its conference championship match in each of the last six seasons.
- one of 21 volleyball programs in NCAA Division I to win 20 or more matches in each of the last six seasons.
On a Roll
The Lady Flames take a 10-match winning streak with them into the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. Liberty's current winning streak is tied for its second longest since becoming a Division I program in 1988, as the 2003 squad had a 10-match streak as well. The 2007 Lady Flames went on a 16-match winning streak from Oct. 5 through Nov. 17.
Liberty is one of 13 teams in the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship field with a current winning streak of 10 or more matches. Western Kentucky has the longest winning streak at present, at 24 matches. Creighton, who will also be playing in Minneapolis this weekend, is sixth with a 16-match winning streak.
If Liberty defeats Minnesota on Friday, the Lady Flames would advance to play the winner of Friday's Creighton-Marquette matchup on Saturday. Liberty has not faced Marquette, and is 0-1 all-time against Creighton, falling 3-0 to the Bluejays on Sept. 2, 2005 in San Diego.
Liberty has competed in the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship on six occasions.
In 2007 and 2008, the Lady Flames' opening round opponent went on to the Final Four, and both years that team lost to Penn State in the national semifinals.
1997 NCAA Tournament
The Lady Flames went 26-9, capturing their first Big South title and making their initial NCAA Tournament appearance, under head coach Chris Phillips. Led by first-team all-conference middle blocker Anthonia Akpama and Big South Tournament MVP Ashley Fletcher, the Lady Flames traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., on Dec. 5. Liberty's first NCAA foe was Notre Dame, who handed the Lady Flames a 3-0 setback.
1999 NCAA Tournament
Two years later, Liberty went 22-10 and returned to the NCAA Tournament after upsetting Radford in the Big South Championship title contest. Anthonia Akpama was tabbed Big South Player of the Year, but could not keep the Lady Flames from falling at Florida, 3-0, on Dec. 2.
2001 NCAA Tournament
Liberty finished the year 21-11, after claiming its third conference crown in five seasons.
The Lady Flames were led by Big South Tournament MVP Rachel Harnack and Big South Rookie of the Year (and current assistant coach) Jennifer (Belk) Vaden. Liberty was sent to Durham, N.C., for its first-round match, where the Lady Flames suffered a 3-0 loss to USC on Nov. 30.
2007 NCAA Tournament
The Lady Flames enjoyed a memorable season, snapping Winthrop's 63-match Big South winning streak and the Eagles' five-year stranglehold on the Big South title. Big South Tournament MVP Kallie Corbin and Big South Freshman of the Year Nicki Scripko led Big South Coach of the Year Shane Pinder's Lady Flames back to Durham, N.C., for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. On Nov. 30, Liberty won its first-ever set in the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship, before California wrapped up a 3-1 triumph.
2008 NCAA Tournament
Liberty won back-to-back Big South Tournament championships for the first time in program history. The Lady Flames went 25-9 on the season, thanks in part to the play of Kallie Corbin, who earned Liberty's first AVCA All-America honor and was joined on the All-Region team by Chelaine McCarty. Liberty won set two at No. 4 Nebraska during the NCAA Tournament opening round on Dec. 5, but the Cornhuskers earned a 3-1 victory.
2011 NCAA Tournament
The Lady Flames secured their fifth straight regular-season championship on the last day of the regular season, 3-2 at UNC Asheville. The team won its conference-record sixth Big South postseason title by sweeping No. 3 seed Radford in the final, with Loren Thomas being named Big South Tournament MVP. The Lady Flames drew No. 8 seed and four-time defending national champion in the NCAA first round, battling the Nittany Lions before falling in three.