Lady Flames rally for a win and for breast cancer

Thomas played in honor of mother

Friday, the Lady Flames volleyball players sported pink T-shirts throughout the day reading “Dig Pink” as the team recognized National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

LT — Loren Thomas and the Flames ground out an emotional win Friday night. The night was dedicated to breast cancer awareness. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Many in the crowd of 700 wore pink as well in support of medicine’s race to find a cure for breast cancer. On the court, the Flames had to dig for something else — an improbable comeback victory over visiting Radford University.

Coach Shane Pinder has said repeatedly throughout the season that his young team needs leaders. His starting seven features only two upperclassmen. Leaders, he says, will carry a team on their shoulders when the team is down. After set two, Pinder’s team found themselves in a 2-0 hole, needing to win three consecutive sets to steal the victory.

“At the break I told them we’re getting beat right now in every facet of the game. We didn’t look like we were engaged in the battle. I kind of threw the numbers out the door and asked, ‘Where are the leaders? Who’s going to lead? Because right now I don’t know who the leaders are out there,’” Pinder said.

As the curtain opened for set three, Liberty’s darkest hour quickly turned into Loren Thomas finest hour. The junior middle blocker took over the game and sparked Liberty’s unlikely comeback.

Thomas, who has already captured three Big South Defensive Player of the Week honors in the last month, seemed to be everywhere on the court at once. Thomas sent down 11 kills with a .391 average – punishing what had previously been an impenetrable Radford defense. In addition to her big swings, Thomas contributed nine block assists, bringing her overall point total to 15.5.

“Coach came in (at intermission) and challenged us to find a leader and that we needed to step up and play how we know how to play. We were just making a ton of mistakes. We were all playing as individuals so coach just told us that someone needs to step up and be a leader,” Thomas said.

For Thomas, who was playing with a pink bow in her hair for Breast Cancer Awareness Night, the fight was personal. Thomas’s mother, Natalie Thomas, succumbed to her own fight with breast cancer Jan. 22, 2006.

“My mom died from breast cancer so I always try to play this game for her as if she’s watching,” Thomas said.

“After the first two sets, she (Thomas) was an absolute monster down the stretch of the match. She came out and led on offense and led at the net and everybody jumped behind her. She did great tonight. I’m very happy for her,” Pinder said.

With the nine blocks against Radford, Thomas moves into sixth place in Liberty history for career blocks.

Following the intermission, Liberty won set three 25-20 and set four 25-16 en route to a fifth set, one that statistically has belonged to the Flames this season. Liberty is a perfect 4-0 in 2011 when a match is five sets long and 11-0 in five set conference matches dating back to 2008.

Set five was over almost as fast as it started with Liberty claiming an easy 15-5 victory. Liberty’s offensive hitters saved their best swings for the final set, running up seven kills on a .500 average with no errors to conclude the match.

Liberty returns home to take on Campbell on Nov. 4.

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