Flames take two
Volleyball hosts three teams for Liberty Invitational
The Liberty Flames won their first game of the 2016 Liberty Invitational against the University of South Carolina Upstate Sept. 2 at the Vines Center (25-17, 25-19, 25-16).
“We want to stay low error this weekend and make good decisions. We want to be great on the service line (and) keep pressure on teams,” Coach Shane Pinder said.
The 2016 Liberty Invitational is a six-game tournament which includes four teams: Hampton University, East Tennessee State University, USC Upstate, and Liberty University.
Despite a rocky start last weekend, the Flames overcame and won their first home game of the season. According to the Liberty Athletics archives, they have defeated the competition in eight consecutive home openers.
“We had a rough start last weekend, but we came out here and showed what we could do,” junior setter Anna Willey said.
The student crowd of 1,343 cheered the Flames on to their first seasonal victory.
The team started the first set and finished the third with a strong defensive plan and unpredictable, powerful hitting patterns.
“We just kept trying to attack,” Willey said. “We kept trying to move the ball around. We got out of our regular hitting patterns and moved the ball on some different patterns so it would mess them up and make them struggle some more.”
Willey finished this game with a total of 31 assists and 11 digs. Her teammates, outside hitters Leah Clayton and Gabrielle Vess, led the offense with nine kills each. Sophomore defensive specialist Margaret Latchford ended the game with 12 digs.
Comparatively, the defensive strength of the Flames overpowered that of their opponents. The team totaled eight blocks while USC Upstate only recorded two.
“I liked our defensive energy tonight,” Pinder said. “Our block is big and physical, creating problems for the other team.”
This year, the team brought on six freshman. Although it is a young team, the Flames performed as a cohesive unit and overcame nerves.
“We stayed steady, at a good tempo,” Clayton said. “We had some rocky plays, but we just moved on to the next one.”
The Flames dominated the third set. The team refused to let the opposition recover. Pinder encouraged the players to pay attention to their side of the net and their decision-making.
Willey described the team dynamic as “fun,” and if the team continues to play with the same amount of precision and vigor, “fun” will be the name of the game.
“You can only control the next match,” Pinder said. “Moving forward, our team is athletic. We have playmakers out there. I think we have a real chance to be a real efficient, effective offense.”
The Liberty University women’s volleyball team defeated the Hampton Pirates 3-0 in the Vines Center Saturday, Sept. 3, stretching the Flames’ record to 2-0 in the Liberty Invitational.
Although the Flames won the first set 25-6, the Pirates proved worthy competitors later in the match. The Pirates, led by sophomore outside hitter Reeana Richardson, fought to stay even with the Flames, but ultimately lost 25-17 in sets two and three.
“(The Pirates) were a good team,” freshman setter Hannah Morris said. “But we were able to stay at our level and play through it.”
Liberty’s Clayton and Latchford both had exceptional games, together scoring 22 points in the match. Sydney Morris also contributed, scoring a total of eight points.
Richardson, of Hampton, finished with 10. On the defensive side, the Flames finished the match with 26 digs and 10 blocks.
“We had a lot of girls who were hitting high and hitting hard,” Morris said. “The other team did a good job digging them and getting them up.”
After winning the night before, the Flames were excited to have another victory before playing the ETSU Buccaneers for their final match of the invitational.
According to the Flames’ senior captain Michelle Melendez, the Liberty Invitational is very important for the team because it serves as the home opener.
“We always want to come out on top,” Melendez said. “And (the invitational) gets us ready for the rest of the season and conference play.”
According to Pinder, the most difficult challenge his team faced during the match was learning how to play together, being such a young team.
“We are still trying to learn ourselves,” Pinder said. “We are trying to develop the brand of volleyball we want to play. We want to come out and play consistent.”
For many Liberty students, the Liberty Invitational was the first opportunity to witness a volleyball match. Liberty student Matt Cruickshank, a Canadian native, said he thoroughly enjoyed watching the sport.
“It is pretty exciting all around,” Cruickshank said. “I love it when players celebrate after scoring a point. After I see them get excited, it makes me excited. I want to see them win. It is awesome.”
After the Invitational, Clayton and Melendez were awarded spots on the all-tournament team. Briana Allmon, of ETSU, was honored with the tournament MVP award.
The Flames will play in the Davidson Wildcat Classic Sept. 9-10 and the Virginia Commonwealth University invitational Sept. 16-17 where they will play USC Upstate, Furman, Davidson, Morgan State, Middle Tennessee and VCU.
“We have worked really hard to get where we are right now,” Melendez said. “It is definitely tough, but our coaches got us ready for this moment.”
Ball is a sports reporter.
Smith is a sports reporter.