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Volleyball Set to Open 2011 Season at Georgia

August 24, 2011  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Liberty Lady Flames open the 2011 volleyball season this Friday at Georgia in the team's first of three matches at the Bulldog Invitational

The Liberty Lady Flames open the 2011 volleyball season this Friday at Georgia in the team's first of three matches at the Bulldog Invitational

Complete Tournament Notes

Live Stats for Georgia Match

Live Stats for Kansas Match

Live Stats for Florida A&M Match

The Liberty volleyball team opens the 2011 regular season at the Hotel Indigo Bulldog Invitational, hosted by Georgia in Athens, Ga., Aug. 26-27. Liberty will compete against the host Bulldogs Friday at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the Lady Flames face Kansas at 10 a.m. before a 4:30 match against Florida A&M.

Liberty posted a 25-9 record during the 2010 season, tying a conference record with its fourth Big South regular-season championship in a row. Additionally, the Lady Flames made it to the Big South final for the fourth time in as many seasons and won 20 matches for a program-record-tying fourth season in a row.

Hotel Indigo Bulldog Invitational Schedule
Athens, Ga. (Ramsey Student Center)

Friday, Aug. 26
Florida A&M vs. Kansas, 4:30 p.m.
Liberty at Georgia, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27
Liberty vs. Kansas, 10 a.m.
Florida A&M at Georgia, 12:30 p.m.
Liberty vs. Florida A&M, 4:30 p.m.
Kansas at Georgia, 7 p.m.

The Field
The Bulldog Invitational features the host Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC, the Big 12's Kansas Jayhawks, the Florida A&M Rattlers of the MEAC, and the Liberty Lady Flames, repesenting the Big South. Liberty has never played against Florida A&M, and has faced Georgia (L, 2002) and Kansas (L, 2003) once each.

How to Follow the Lady Flames
Fans unable to attend this weekend's invitational can follow the action through GameTracker. Live stats for all matches can be accessed through links on

Strong Out of the Gates
Eighth-year head coach Shane Pinder has led his team to victories in three out of the past four season-openers, including three in a row from 2007-2009. The Lady Flames' season-opening win over Howard Aug. 24, 2007 was the team's first win during the first match of a season since Liberty swept George Mason to open the 1998 campaign.

Great Expectations
This year brings great expectations, both from within the team and from the conference, as Liberty looks to challenge for their first Big South tournament title since 2008. The Lady Flames have been predicted to win the Big South championship, and three Lady Flames (senior Kelly Haseman, junior Loren Thomas and sophomore Jade Craycraft) appear on the Preseason All-Big South team.

Aces are Wild
Liberty has served for at least one ace in 182 consecutive matches. The streak started Oct. 7, 2005 at Charleston Southern, predating the career of all of the 2011 Lady Flames players. Last season, the Lady Flames led the Big South and ranked 17th in NCAA Division I with a Liberty rally-scoring-record 217 service aces.

Digging In
Senior libero Kelly Haseman currently ranks fifth all-time at Liberty with 1,520 digs. She was named Big South Defensive Player of the Week four times, once each month, in the 2010 season. Haseman posted a program single-season rally-scoring-record 653 digs last season, becoming the first Lady Flame ever with back-to-back 500-dig campaigns.

Big (South) Honors
Liberty head coach Shane Pinder was named the 2010 Big South Coach of the Year, his second conference honor and first since being named coach of the year following a Big South championship-winning 2007 campaign.

Lady Flames setter Jade Craycraft was named Big South Freshman of the Year in 2010, and was the first freshman named to an all-Big South team since 2007, when Libert's Nicki Scripko claimed the award. Craycraft is the fifth Lady Flame, and Liberty setter, to be named Big South Freshman of the Year.

Only One
Craycraft showed her versatility in her freshman year, becoming the first Lady Flame to earn a triple-double under the current 25-point scoring format. She also was the only Big South player with 1,000 assists, 200 digs, 100 kills, 60 blocks and 40 aces in 2010.

Own the Net
The 2010 edition of the Lady Flames won the battle at the net, connecting for a .229 attack percentage, while holding opposing hitters to a .167 efficiency.

Middle blockers Loren Thomas (.309 att. %, 105 blocks) and Kendle Rollins (.299 att. %, 120 blocks) gave Liberty one of the top net duos in the Big South. Thomas earned Big South Second Team mention, while Rollins was named conference defensive player of the week Oct. 25.

First Things First
This year's freshman class includes four players, inlcuding three state champions (Caroline Douglas, J.H. Rose - North Carolina 4A; Ansley Gebben and Gabrielle Shipe, The First Academy - Florida 2A) and the first Lady Flame ever to hail from the state of Minnesota, in Melissa Racz. Douglas will sit out this season due to injury, while the remaining three freshmen are in line to make their collegiate debuts this weekend.

Fresh Start
The 2011 roster features 11 freshmen or sophomores. Despite this overwhelming youth, the Lady Flames boast a large degree of experience from the returning players. Liberty started four freshmen in last season's opening match against Cleveland State. Lillie Happel recorded a double-double, while Jade Craycraft dished out 50 assists. Erica Manor registered a career high 14 kills, while Kendle Rollins started as well. Becca Haraf appeared in all five sets as a reserve, totaling 10 digs. With three freshmen this season, the chance exists for there to be more memorable debuts.

Liberty vs. Georgia

Georgia posted a 15-17 record in 2010, going 6-14 while taking eighth place in the SEC. Senior middle hitter Valentina Gonzalez was named to the 2010 All-SEC second team. The Bulldogs were predicted to finish fourth in the Eastern division this season.

Liberty has faced Georgia once before, with the Bulldogs downing the Lady Flames, 3-0, Sept. 21, 2002. Liberty finished the 2002 season with an 18-17 record, while Georgia ended ‘02 with a 20-15 record, its most recent 20-win season.

Lady Flames head coach Shane Pinder and Georgia coach Lizzy Stemke have met in a match one time. Coach Pinder led the Lady Flames into the 2008 NCAA Tournament, competing at Nebraska during the opening round. Liberty claimed one set in a 3-1 setback, as Stemke assisted Huskers head coach John Cook that evening.

The Lady Flames have a 2-6 all-time record against SEC schools. Current Liberty assistant coach Jennifer (Belk) Vaden posted a match-high 20 kills Sept. 9, 2001 in a 3-2 win over Alabama, Liberty's most recent win over an SEC team.

Liberty vs. Kansas
Kansas posted a 17-14 record, including an 8-12 mark in the Big 12, during the 2010 season. The Jayhawks will have to replace departed seniors Karina Garlington and Melissa Manda, the all-time KU leader in digs. The team's biggest win during 2010 was an upset of No. 10 Iowa State.

KU posted a 3-0 sweep of Liberty Aug. 30, 2003 in DeKalb, Ill., in the teams' only previous meeting. Liberty went on to a 22-11 season and Big South regular-season title in ‘03. The Jayhawks also went 22-11, qualifying for their first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Lady Flames head coach Shane Pinder has not coached against Kansas, although KU 14th-year head coach Ray Bechard was at the helm in 2003 for Kansas' win over Liberty. Bechard earned his 200th career win during the 2010 season.

The Lady Flames have gone 0-6 against teams in the current constitution of the Big 12. Liberty's last Big 12 opponent was Nebraska, whom the team faced in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, but the Huskers are now a member of the Big 10. Until this weekend, Texas Tech was the only Big 12 team that Liberty had played twice all-time.

Liberty vs. Florida A&M
Florida A&M went 12-15 last season, but totaled a 7-1 record on the way to a first-place finish in the MEAC Southern Division. The Rattlers then lost to Delaware State in the conference semifinal. FAMU was predicted to win the division title once again, led by  2010 MEAC All-Tournament team member Pamela Barrera and Katherine Huanec.

Lady Rattlers head coach Tony Trifonov holds a 281-126 record in 14 years at the helm of Florida A&M. He led the team to nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2001-09, a stretch which included 99 straight conference victories. Coach Pinder and Trifonov's teams will meet on the court for the first time.

Liberty has never faced Florida A&M in volleyball. However, The Lady Flames have gone 25-1 all-time against MEAC opponents, winning the first 18 meetings before a 3-1 loss to Morgan State Sept. 24, 2000. Head Coach Shane Pinder is 4-0 when coaching vs. MEAC opposition, including a 3-0 win over Howard Sept. 5, 2009.