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Triple Vision: 2009 Volleyball Outlook

August 24, 2009  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The 2009 Lady Flames will play UNC Greensboro in their season opener, Friday afternoon at 4 p.m.

The 2009 Lady Flames will play UNC Greensboro in their season opener, Friday afternoon at 4 p.m.

The two-time defending Big South Conference champion Liberty volleyball team will open the 2009 season Friday at 4 p.m., when the Lady Flames travel to Blacksburg, Va., to face UNC Greensboro in the first match of the Hilton Garden Hokie Invitational. Below is a preview of the upcoming year, as well as an audio interview with head coach Shane Pinder.

Click here to listen to head coach Shane Pinder's interview with the Flames Sports Network

The number "3" forms an integral part of the basic rules of volleyball. For example, each team must get the ball over the net in three hits, and the first team to win three sets takes the match. Appropriately, the 2009 Liberty volleyball team is also thinking in "3s," as a trio of seniors attempts to lead the Lady Flames to their third consecutive Big South Conference title.

Last season, Liberty went 25-9 and repeated as conference champion for the first time in program history. Four starters and the libero return to head coach Shane Pinder's roster in 2009, including a trio of all-conference performers (senior setter Kallie Corbin, senior middle blocker Chelaine McCarty and junior outside hitter Nicki Scripko). As a result, expectations are sky-high for this year's squad.

The Lady Flames were tabbed the unanimous favorite to win the 2009 Big South Conference title, by the league's head coaches. Moreover, Corbin was voted Big South Preseason Player of the Year and was joined on the preseason all-conference team by McCarty and Scripko.

On paper, the Lady Flames appear well-prepared to chase another conference championship. However, Pinder has repeatedly stated that it's not easy to play with the weight of pressure and expectations on one's shoulders.

"Having won our second straight title last year, that bull's eye on our back got a little bit bigger," noted Pinder, the 2008 Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) State Coach of the Year. "As the favorite, we get everybody's best shot. Our match is the one circled on other teams' calendars. Ours is the home match they market most. However, our players are energized by that challenge."

For the second year in a row, the 2008 Lady Flames won a set against an eventual Final Four qualifier in their first-round NCAA Tournament match. Liberty took the second set from No. 4 national seed Nebraska on the Huskers' home court, where they had won 85 matches in succession. This year, the Lady Flames hope to have the opportunity to win a NCAA Tournament contest for the first time.

"We're looking to take another step this season," continued Pinder. "To get there, we need to focus on playing every point, every day and continuing to get better. We need to stay in the process."

A position-by-position team preview follows.

Setter
Any discussion of the 2009 Liberty volleyball team has to begin with Corbin, who is already one of the most decorated players in program history. As a junior, the Oregonian became Liberty's first-ever AVCA Division I honorable mention All-American. She also claimed the VaSID State Player of the Year, Big South Player of the Year and Big South Championship MVP trophies in 2008. Corbin has started at setter from her opening match as a freshman and is poised for a stellar senior campaign.

"Kallie is just a playmaker," remarked Pinder. "At pivotal times, she makes key plays that tilt the set our way. She is extremely competitive on every single point, and that makes Kallie special. I'm excited about her senior year."

For the second consecutive season, sophomore Courtney Boggs will serve as Corbin's backup. When injuries cropped up in 2008, Boggs started a pair of matches at the setter position and made the most of her opportunities. She tallied 64 assists at UNC Asheville on Nov. 7, which was the highest assist total by a Lady Flames setter all year.

"Courtney can deliver sets from all over the court and has a great volleyball IQ," Pinder stated. "She continues to develop every day, and her teammates are becoming more confident in her. I feel good about our future, with Courtney at the setter position."

Pinder will have a third option at setter this season, as freshman Lauren Bosché joins the roster. One of three Virginia natives on the 2009 Lady Flames, Bosché helped Cave Spring High School claim back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006. She also posted the second-most career assists (2,624) in Virginia High School League (VHSL) history.

"Lauren is very athletic and jumps well," noted Pinder. "She runs a team well, but is also a good attacker. So, she has been playing some at outside hitter during practice."

Outside Hitter
Speaking of outside hitter, Liberty boasts a pair of experienced juniors at the position—Scripko and Karyl Bacon. Their presence should help compensate for the loss of Jessica Nelson, who graduated as one of eight players in program history to total at least 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs during her career.

Scripko, who has primarily played right-side hitter during her first two seasons, will slide across the net to outside hitter in 2009. She led the team with 367 kills in 2008 and was voted to the second-team All-Big South roster. At 6-1, Scripko will give the Lady Flames more size at the outside hitter position than they have enjoyed in recent years.

"Nicki is so good on slide attacks at the right-side hitter position, but we wanted to move her to the outside because she is one of our best attackers," explained Pinder. "She is more physical at the net this year and has also gotten better with her blocking."

Even though she stands seven inches shorter than Scripko, Bacon has been an effective attacker for the Lady Flames during her first two years with the program. Last season, the California native finished with 189 kills, including a team-high 13 at Nebraska. Also a gifted defender, Bacon came up with a team-best 371 digs in 2008.

"We recruited Karyl as a libero, but she loves to hit the ball and keeps earning playing time at outside hitter," said Pinder. "We're losing an important defensive player in Jessica Nelson, but I believe Karyl and Kelly [Haseman] can pick up the slack. Karyl is a vocal leader who provides energy every time she steps on the floor."

Five new players dot the team roster, and two of them—freshmen Hannah Anderson and Erica Manor—line up at outside hitter. Anderson, who continues Liberty's California pipeline, led Rocklin High School to the Sierra Foothill League championship as a senior. Meanwhile, Manor was named West Virginia Volleyball State Player of the Year and helped Musselman High School claim the 2008 state title.

"Hannah is a very coachable player and is athletic," Pinder stated. "She keeps getting better every day, and gives us nice depth at the outside hitter position. She has a bright future for us at that spot."

"Erica has the frame and size to be really good," expressed Pinder. "Down the road, she can really help our program. We have also been trying her some at middle blocker during practice."

Middle Blocker
Pinder must also replace a starter at middle blocker, after Ashley Webber graduated from last year's team. Webber hit .381 and led the Lady Flames with 102 blocks a year ago. McCarty will hold down one middle blocker spot, while redshirt junior Kirstyn Sanders, freshman Kendle Rollins and freshman Loren Thomas will battle for the right to claim the vacant starting role.

McCarty can best be described by the word "consistency." Last season, the Alabama native hit .300 or higher 25 times and finished the year as the Big South leader with her .353 attack percentage. She ranked second on the team in both kills (322) and blocks (86), garnering honorable mention AVCA All-East Region recognition and a place on the second-team All-Big South squad.

"Chelaine is one of the most athletic, physical middle blockers in our league," observed Pinder. "She can score all along the net, and teams have to prepare for her. I expect her to score a lot of points for us this year. She is a go-to player."

After playing behind McCarty and Webber for the last two seasons, Sanders has a chance to enjoy the first extensive playing time of her career. She was efficient when called upon in 2008, hitting .312 during 17 appearances.

"Kirstyn had a great spring for us, providing leadership and making plays," stated Pinder. "She has a really big, physical block at the net, and her offense is coming along as well."

Rollins was a first-team All-Ohio performer as a senior at Lebanon High School, after hitting .562 with 272 kills. Her efforts helped the Warriors claim the Greater Western Ohio Conference crown.

"Kendle adds depth for us at middle blocker," explained Pinder. "She is really fast and athletic, and can score on balls all the way across the net. Kendle is also a great blocker."

Thomas, the tallest player on the 2009 roster at 6-3, was a two-sport standout (volleyball and girls' basketball) at The First Academy in Florida. She played a key role in The First Academy's first-ever volleyball state title as a senior and was named the team's most improved player.

"Loren has the potential to be really special," Pinder observed. "She is jump touching over 10 feet and plays high. She could be one of the most dominant middle blockers ever play at Liberty, by the time all is said and done."

Right-Side Hitter
Brittany Pacella, the third senior on this year's team, will open the year as the Lady Flames' starting right-side hitter. A southpaw, Pacella made 25 starts during a breakthrough 2008 campaign. For the year, she hit .232 with 145 kills.

"Brittany has worked very hard the last couple years," remarked Pinder. "She presents a big, physical block and can score offensively. She is also a tremendous teammate."

Pinder's other option on the right side is another left-hander, sophomore Claire Jacobsma. The Texas native played sparingly as a freshman, but did contribute two kills, six digs and a pair of blocks to the Lady Flames' triumph over ACC foe Maryland during her collegiate debut.

"Claire really turned it on during the spring," said Pinder. "She is a physical attacker who hits a heavy ball. I feel like we're in great shape at this position and expect Claire to battle Brittany for playing time all year."

Libero/Defensive Specialist
Sophomore Kelly Haseman returns to the libero spot, after a successful rookie campaign. Haseman, who was included on the Big South All-Freshman team, finished with 307 digs in 2008. She finished the year with a bang, recording eight double-digit dig totals in her last nine outings.

"Kelly has a tremendous platform and an outstanding range of motion," observed Pinder. "She can excite fans with her defensive play. Kelly plays sideline to sideline and is always in great position."

Haseman's classmate Rebecca Warren presents another defensive option. A versatile performer, she may also be used in serving situations and as an attacker, as opportunities present themselves.

"Rebecca has a great jump serve and the ability to score points," expressed Pinder. "She is a great role player, who can play numerous positions. Every day, she finds a way to help our team get better."

Courtney Cooper will make her Liberty debut this season, after taking a redshirt during her first season with the Lady Flames. She played high school volleyball at Liberty Christian Academy, located right down the street from Liberty University, and helped her team capture two state championships.

"Courtney is hard-working and has really come a long way," stated Pinder. "Her confidence is growing and she's flying around the court, helping the team out. Courtney is pushing Kelly [Haseman] to be better at libero."

2009 Schedule Highlights
The Lady Flames will prepare for Big South competition with a challenging non-conference schedule, which includes four season-opening tournaments. The team's slate of opponents includes a trio of ACC teams (Duke, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest) and BIG EAST preseason favorite Louisville.

"I designed our schedule to test us early on," explained Pinder. "We want to find out where we need to get better, before conference play begins. After playing California and Nebraska the last two years, our players go into these matches excited. They are energized by these kinds of opportunities."

After opening the season at Virginia Tech's Hilton Garden Hokie Invitational (Aug. 28-29), the Lady Flames will return home to host the Liberty Invitational presented by Pepsi on Sept. 4-5. Also included in Liberty's home tournament are East Tennessee State, Elon and Howard.

Liberty's final two tournaments will be the Louisville Tournament (Sept. 11-12) and Wake Forest's Black & Gold Challenge (Sept. 18-19). The Lady Flames will meet both preseason ACC favorite Duke and the host Demon Deacons on the same day, Sept. 19.

The next weekend, Liberty will open its 16-match Big South Conference schedule with home matches against Winthrop (Sept. 25) and Coastal Carolina (Sept. 26). The match against the Chanticleers will be a rematch of the 2008 Big South Championship match and will pit the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Big South preseason poll against one another.

The Lady Flames will close out their 11-match home schedule with a four-contest homestand, between Oct. 31 and Nov. 10. The team's senior trio of Corbin, McCarty and Pacella will be honored prior to the Nov. 10 matchup with High Point.

Liberty will remain within the Commonwealth of Virginia for the 2009 Big South Volleyball Championship, as Radford hosts the event from Nov. 19-21. The tournament champion will earn the conference's automatic bid to the 2009 NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship, slated to begin the weekend of Dec. 3-6.