Host Flames go 4-1, settle for fifth at EIVA South play date
February 14, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's volleyball team lost just one match in Saturday's Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) South Division play date at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center, a respectable showing in a field that included two teams ranked in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) top 20 — No. 7 Virginia Tech, the eventual champion, and No. 20 Florida, which came in third.
But the 23rd-ranked Flames (21-4-2, 6-2 in spring semester) settled for fifth place in the 12-team round-robin tournament after splitting their first two matches and being placed in the second of three groupings of four teams.
"With the way pool was structured, we wound up taking fifth even though we were probably the second or third best team in the tournament," Liberty Head Coach Bryan Rigg said.
Liberty defeated Duke, 25-18, 25-20, in the first round of preliminary play, before losing to Central Florida, the eventual runner-up, 12-25, 25-22, 15-11, after 6-foot, 4-inch sophomore outside hitter Josiah Hershberger sustained a high-ankle sprain in the third game.
"It was disappointing for us, because we didn't expect to lose to anyone," Rigg said. "But it's good for us to lose every once in a while because it pushes us to get better."
Aaron Brooks, Liberty's third outside hitter, filled in for Hershberger and played well in the final three matches of round-robin bracket play as the Flames defeated George Mason, 25-17, 34-36, 15-6, and swept Old Dominion, 25-14, 25-18, and Duke, 25-11, 25-20, to finish 4-1 overall for the tournament.
"He did a good job for us, but it limits our game plan when have to go with a smaller outside hitter," Rigg said. "We have to get (Hershberger) healthy for the (Feb. 28-March 1) Hoosier-Illini Classic (at Indiana University)."
Middle blockers Luke Werth and Sam Eisbrenner were solid as usual with their defense at the net while outside hitter Kevin Snyder sparked the Flames' attack, hitting at about a .300 average for the day, feeding off assists from freshman setter Nick Williamson.
"Looking at his stats last night, (Snyder) led team in attacks, had the least amount of errors, and led us in serves," Rigg said. "He hit a number of aces and his jump serve gets teams out of their systems."
Williamson also had his share of dinks for winners and blocks while senior opposite-side hitter Ethan Chase, who rejoined the Flames in January after taking the first semester off, came up big for the Flames.
"He picked up the slack and was big, really, in all categories, with his serving and passing and attacking," Rigg said.
"We struggled at the beginning of the day, but as the day wore on, when we were passing and blocking well, we could beat anybody," Rigg said.
Rigg said the Flames would be ready for a potential rematch with UCF if they meet again at the March 21 EIVA South Division Tournament, hosted by George Mason, where the top three teams will qualify for the East Coast Championships, set for March 28 at Penn State.
For now, Liberty is focused on the Hoosier-Illini Classic, where it hopes to upset teams from the West Coast and other conferences to elevate its first-ever national ranking and seeding for the EIVA South Tournament.
"This will be the first time we've entered, as it typically only accepts the top 25 nationally ranked teams and seven honorable mentions," Rigg said, noting it is capped at 32 teams though it receives 50 or more applicants. "It's a pretty prestigious event."