Lillie Happel registered a team-high 15 kills in Liberty's season-opening 3-0 setback to No. 23 Ohio State, Friday.
The Liberty volleyball team battled against No. 23 Ohio State for three tightly-contested sets, before bowing to the Buckeyes, 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 26-24), Friday at Northern Illinois' Victor E. Court. The Lady Flames' match against the 23rd-ranked Buckeyes (1-0) opened the season for both teams and served as the first match of the NIU Invitational. It also marks the first time that Liberty (0-1) has faced a nationally-ranked opponent in its season opener. For the match, Ohio State outhit Liberty, .260 to .152, recording 45 kills to Liberty's 33. The Lady Flames won the battle of blocks, 8-5, and recorded five aces to three for the Buckeyes. Ohio State held a 41-32 edge in digs. Ohio State's Kaitlyn Leary sent down 21 kills to pace all players, while Erik Sekinger added 15 kills. Taylor Sherwin dished out a match-high 40 assists for the Buckeyes. Senior Lillie Happel paced Liberty with 15 kills, the fourth straight time she has recorded 10 or more kills in a season opener. Fellow senior Jade Craycraft recorded 26 assists, seven digs and a match-high three blocks. Junior Gabrielle Shipe collected 10 digs, while freshman Susan Babcock chipped in two blocks and two service aces. Set one remained close throughout, as back-to-back Melissa Racz kills brought the Lady Flames to within one point, 15-14. The Buckeyes then staged a 5-0 rally, which featured kills from Sekinger, Julianne Mandolfo and Sherwin. Liberty went on a 5-1 run, getting solo blocks from Haley Jeffcoat and Craycraft and a Jeffcoat ace to make it 21-20, Ohio State. Three rally points ensued, before Ohio State pulled away, with Leary clinching the set with a kill, good for a 25-22 victory. Ohio State outhit Liberty, .184 to .108, during set one. The Lady Flames posted three aces and four blocks. Sekinger had six first-set kills, while Leary registered five. The Lady Flames led set two, 13-12, thanks in part to three early Jeffcoat kills. Leary scored an ace to cap a four-point Ohio State rally, putting the Buckeyes in front, 16-13. Liberty tied it 17-17, on a kill from Babcock. Leary posted two kills and a block during a 6-3 Ohio State spurt, before Happel and Jeffcoat answered with kills, drawing Liberty to within one, 23-22. Ohio State closed out set two, 25-22, on a winner by Sekinger. The Buckeyes hit .267 in set two, compared to .097 for the Lady Flames. Leary added seven kills in the second set, while Happel recorded four kills for Liberty. During set three, Happel and Leary staged a showdown at the net, with both players connecting for nine kills in the third set. Ohio State hit .344, while Liberty attacked at a .243 clip. Happel helped stake Liberty to a 15-12 lead with her sixth kill of the set. A Babcock-Craycraft block gave Liberty an 18-13 edge, before Ohio State scored the next five points. The two teams sided out on each of the next 10 rallies, before the Buckeyes gained match point, 24-23 with an ace from Andrea Kacsits. Babcock extended the match with a kill, but Ohio State clinched the match on a kill from Sekinger. The Lady Flames continue their participation at the NIU Invitational tomorrow, beginning with a match against the host Northern Illinois Huskies at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Liberty then faces Green Bay at 6 p.m. to close out its stay in DeKalb, Ill.