Nicki Scripko starred during No. 2 seed Liberty's 3-0 sweep of No. 7 seed Gardner-Webb Thursday afternoon, putting down a match-high 21 kills.
Big South Conference kills leader Nicki Scripko did nothing to hurt her standing during Thursday afternoon's opening match of the 2009 Big South Volleyball Championship at the Dedmon Center in Radford, Va. Her 21 kills led No. 2 seed Liberty to a 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-21) sweep of No. 7 seed Gardner-Webb in the first of four quarterfinal tilts on the day. Liberty needed just 83 minutes to improve its record to 19-11 and advance to Friday's semifinal round. The Lady Flames will meet No. 6 seed Charleston Southern, tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb's 2009 season wraps up with a 12-22 record. Three of the Bulldogs' setbacks this year came at the hands of the Lady Flames. Liberty is now 7-0 all-time versus Gardner-Webb. Liberty took the lead for good early in the first set, when Karyl Bacon's (Jr., OH, Temecula, Calif.) ace put the Lady Flames on top, 5-3, completing a 3-0 burst. Scripko (Jr., OH, Fayetteville, N.C.) did much of the offensive work for Liberty, with eight kills during the stanza, but it was Chelaine McCarty's (Sr., MB, Houston, Ala.) kill which closed out a 25-18 Lady Flames triumph. Scripko added one of Liberty's three aces and one of the Lady Flames' three rejections to her attacking numbers during the opening set. Defensively, Kelly Haseman (So., L/DS, Three Rivers, Mich.) totaled a team-high seven digs for the Lady Flames. Gardner-Webb's set one standout was second-team All-Big South performer Laura Wilcox, who hit .750 with six kills and a matching number of digs. The lead changed hands three times during the opening stages of set two, before Liberty went on a pivotal 5-0 run to claim a 13-9 lead. Redshirt senior Brittany Pacella (RS, Reading, Pa.) highlighted the surge, with a kill and a pair of blocks. Gardner-Webb got no closer than two for the remainder of the set, and another McCarty kill sealed Liberty's 25-19 victory in the middle stanza. McCarty, Scripko and Bacon all hit above .400 in the second set, helping the Lady Flames record a .382 team attack percentage. McCarty finished at 1.000 with four kills, with Bacon recording the same number of kills on a .571 attack percentage. Scripko continued her offensive onslaught, finishing at .417 with a set-high seven kills. On the opposite side of the net, Bulldog freshman Molly Rhyne hit .500 with a team-best five kills. Big South All-Freshman team selection Loren Thomas (MB, Ocoee, Fla.) and Pacella set the tone for the third and final set with a combined block on the opening rally. Liberty led, 11-5, before Gardner-Webb began chipping away at its disadvantage. The Bulldogs came back to seize the lead at 17-16 on Rhyne's kill. Back-to-back kills by Thomas and Scripko quickly put the Lady Flames back in front, 18-17, and Liberty never trailed again. A Pacella kill punctuated the Lady Flames' 25-21 and sent Liberty into the semifinals for the third straight season. Scripko closed out her third 20-kill match of the season with six kills in set three, leading all players. Thomas also helped Liberty complete the sweep, hitting .500 with four kills and three blocks. For Gardner-Webb, Wilcox hit .667 with a quartet of kills, leading the Bulldogs' to their highest attack percentage of the afternoon, .278. For the match, Liberty had the upper hand in every statistical category, including kills (47-40), attack percentage (.277-.212), aces (6-2), digs (52-50) and blocks (9-5). Scripko's 21 kills put her over the 400-kill mark for the first time in her career. The junior, who has now tallied 418 kills, also added nine digs. First-team All-Big South honoree McCarty chipped in 10 kills on a team-best .529 hitting percentage and shared the team lead with four blocks. Thomas and Pacella were also a part of four rejections in the contest. Haseman and Bacon both reached double figures in digs, paced by Haseman's 16. Bacon followed with a dozen digs, seven kills and two service aces. The duo also helped Liberty's defense limit Big South aces leader Gardner-Webb to only two unreturned serves in the entire match. Liberty setter Courtney Boggs (So., Marysville, Ohio) posted a match-leading 41 assists and directed a Lady Flames attack which saw five players notch four or more kills. Two Bulldogs finished with a dozen kills apiece, led by Wilcox, who hit a match-high .545. Rhyne had 12 kills of her own. Brett Wilson shared match-high honors with Haseman, as both teams' liberos came up with 16 digs. Bulldog setter Regina Feagin finished with 33 assists. QUOTES Liberty Head Coach Shane Pinder "Gardner-Webb never quits, but I'm proud of the poise our team showed today. They played together and executed. Our serving and transition were on today and we got a lot of help from the back row attack to get us out of some tricky situations." Gardner-Webb Head Coach Chris Phillips "I thought our girls played hard. We are young and they learned a lot of good things today. I am already excited for next year. The seniors had a great year, and they worked really hard and did some nice things. We fell short of what we really wanted to do, which is win the match. Liberty played really well and Nicki Scripko had a great match. She really is a difference maker. Overall, we are pleased at what we have done with the program and where we are headed. "