Sophomore Lillie Happel led the Lady Flames with 11 kills in the season opener Friday at Georgia.
Liberty dropped a 3-0 decision to host institution Georgia Friday in the teams' first match of the 2011 volleyball season, in front of 833 fans at the Ramsey Center. The Bulldogs held off late Liberty rallies in all three sets to open the Hotel Indigo Bulldog Invitational with a win. The Lady Flames (0-1) were unable to find a hitting rhythm during the match, as Georgia (1-0) hit .233 to Liberty's .146. Lillie Happel opened the season with double-digit kills for the second year in a row, leading the Lady Flames with 11 kills. The Liberty net defense posted 10.5 blocks to Georgia's five, aided by Loren Thomas' seven block assists and six block assists from freshman Melissa Racz. The Lady Flames stormed out to a quick 3-0 lead in set one, thanks to a kill by Thomas and two Georgia errors. Liberty maintained a three-point advantage at 9-6 after a triple block by Kendle Rollins, Happel and Jade Craycraft. An 8-0 Bulldog rally forced Liberty coach Shane Pinder to use both of his timeouts. A kill by Happel ended the eight-point run by Georgia. Thomas sparked a 4-0 Liberty rally with a kill and two block assists with Racz, and Craycraft pulled the Lady Flames to within one point at 15-14 with an ace. Georgia then staged a 7-2 rally to take a 22-16 edge. UGA earned its first set point chance at 24-19, and a kill by Northcutt ended set one, 25-21 in Georgia's favor. The Bulldogs out-hit Liberty, .263 to .188 in the first set. The Lady Flames countered with a trio of service aces. Happel led all players with five first-set kills. Thomas and Racz posted three block assists apiece in the opening set, while six Bulldogs earned multiple kills in set one. In the second set, Liberty built an 8-4 advantage with a 4-0 surge, capped by Ansley Gebben's first career kill, leading to a UGA timeout. Three Bulldogs points then trimmed the deficit to one at 8-7. UGA edged into the lead on the strength of a 6-2 burst and led 13-10 before Liberty turned the tide. A kill by Happel and a pair of blocks by Thomas and Racz helped the Lady Flames regain the lead, 16-14. Four Bulldog points put the home team ahead, 18-16, but Liberty tied the set at 18 on kills by Thomas and Gebben. Liberty earned 20 points first, to Georgia's 19. Kathleen Luft and Elizabeth Reid posted kills and three Lady Flames errors gave UGA set point at 24-20. The Bulldogs converted their second set point chance, taking a 2-0 match lead with a 25-21 set two win. Neither team hit efficiently during the second set, with UGA leading, .083 to .065. The Lady Flames posted three blocks, while Georgia earned three aces. Thomas led Liberty with three kills, hitting .750 while adding three block assists. Luft paced all players with five set-two kills. With Liberty facing an early 6-3 deficit in the third stanza, Rollins sent down a kill to spark a 5-0 rally that sent Liberty ahead 8-6 and prompted a Georgia timeout. Happel quelled a 3-0 UGA surge with a kill, pulling Liberty to within one at 12-11. The Bulldogs pulled out to a 14-11 edge, leading to a Liberty timeout. After a Georgia service error, the home side scored the next three point to builds a 17-12 margin. Trailing 19-14, the Lady Flames earned four sideouts, including kills by Rollins and Happel, to keep it close at 22-18. Georgia earned match point at 24-19, and closed out the match with a 25-20 win in set three. Georgia held a .379 to .192 edge in hitting efficiency in the third set, earning 16 kills. For the match, Georgia posted 47 kills at a .233 pace, compared with 27 kills at .146 for Liberty. The Bulldogs posted 42 digs to Liberty's 28, while both teams registered four aces. In addition to Happel's 11 kills, Thomas and Rollins earned six kills apiece for the Lady Flames. Craycraft led the visitors with 20 assists, while freshman Gabrielle Shipe paced the Lady Flames with eight digs and two aces. Georgia was led by Briana Bahr's 12 kills, and Luft added 11 kills and 10 digs for a double-double. Allison Summers led all players with 15 digs, and Kathleen Gates posted a match-high 41 assists. Liberty continues its participation in the Bulldog Invitational Saturday, facing Kansas at 10 a.m. The Lady Flames will then face Florida A&M at 4:30 to conclude their stay in Athens. Georgia plays against Florida A&M Saturday at 12:30 p.m., and the Bulldogs close out the invitational with a match versus Kansas at 7 p.m.