Going out with a bang
Flames get sweep on Senior Night for Melendez
The Liberty University women’s volleyball team (16-11, 11-4) defeated Presbyterian College (4-23, 2-10) 3-0 during Senior Night at the Vines Center Friday, Nov. 4.
Although the Lady Flames won sets one and two by double digits, they barely escaped the third set with a win. According to freshman outside hitter Leah Clayton, the turning point for the Lady Flames in the third set was after Liberty Head Coach Shane Pinder called a timeout after trailing 7-3.
“When we took that timeout, we collected ourselves,” Clayton said. “We had to focus on the statement we wanted to make at the end of this year.”
After the timeout, it only took Liberty nine plays to take the lead. Led by junior outside hitter Gabrielle Vess, who finished with 13 kills, the Lady Flames were victorious in set three, winning 25-19.
“Early in the game, we took away things that (Presbyterian) liked to do,” Pinder said. “They like to hit line and seam, and if they’re in trouble, they like to tip the ball. We had to get disciplined in taking those away.”
According to Liberty senior defensive specialist Michelle Melendez, the key to defeating the Blue Hose was executing the little aspects of the game.
“We had to make sure we executed our game plan, make sure our blockers were doing the right thing and that our defense stood still,” Melendez said.
Friday night’s game was more than just a typical conference game — it was Senior Night.
Before the match, Melendez, who is the Lady Flame’s lone senior, was recognized for her contribution to Liberty’s volleyball program. According to her coaches and teammates, she has been an astonishing leader.
“She doesn’t have to do much to make people want to follow her,” sophomore outside hitter Sydney Morris said. “She’s just a natural leader.”
Morris said that Melendez demonstrated great leadership throughout the season by being the first player in the gym before practice.
“She actually gets us in the gym serving before practice even starts,” Morris said.
According to Morris, Melendez invests in her teammates’ lives, keeping them accountable on and off the court.
“When I was sick, she came and checked on me and gave me ginger ale and Gatorade,” Morris said. “We call her our abuela, which means grandma in Spanish, because she is literally like our grandma.”
Although her journey as a Lady Flame is coming to a close, Melendez said her experience at Liberty has been everything she imagined.
Before the 2015 season, Melendez transferred to Liberty from Palm Beach State College, where she played volleyball for two seasons. During her junior season at Liberty, she collected nearly 200 digs and served nine aces, according to libertyflames.com.
“I dreamed of playing at a Division I school,” Melendez said. “It all came together and worked out perfectly.”
Melendez said when she realized she would be the only senior this season, the idea brought pressure, but a healthy pressure that ignited her passion to step up and lead.
“Being a leader on this team hasn’t been too hard because the girls are so great,” Melendez said. “We have a great, positive vibe on the team.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology, Melendez hopes to find a graduate assistant position so she can pursue a master’s degree.
“I’ve met really great friends — even friends that aren’t athletes,” Melendez said. “It’s sad that this is my senior year, but I’m definitely excited for what’s to come.”
The Lady Flames will play their last Big South Conference game Saturday, Nov. 12 against Charleston Southern before competing in the conference tournament.
Smith is a sports reporter.