Liberty University men’s volleyball drops semifinal to university of california santa barbara

The Flames men’s volleyball team finished the 2021-22 season by advancing to the Final Four during the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation April 14-16 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The Flames started the NCVF tournament going 3-0, crushing Colorado in the first round, and then facing off against Utah Valley and Wisconsin-Madison. While both teams presented bigger challenges than faced in the past, the Flames managed to squeak out victories with a tight three-game win over Utah Valley and a hard-fought sweep against Wisconsin-Madison. 

Senior Josh Knapp, positioned as the opposite hitter, spiked a team-high of 25 kills during these three matches, also adding in three aces and two blocks.

The Flames continued to take control of the court during the second day of play, dominating over Indiana and Iowa in straight sets, sweeping them in style. 

The Flames dominated the competition, as they went 7-0 to get them into the Final Four against the University of California Santa Barbara, who started this season at the No. 1 ranking. However, the team fell short in two tight matches with final scores of 25-22 and 25-23. This is the second time in four years, and in program history, that the Flames have made it into the Final Four of the NCVF. 

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for UC Santa Barbara,” Head Coach VanDePerre said. “They were super scrappy and stayed in system all the time, which made it really hard to get a ball down on them. They had really good tempo and they ran a solid (attack).”

“We played some of our best volleyball in this tournament, though I don’t know if the last set was our best. Santa Barbara was putting us in some uncomfortable spots.”

Head Coach, Kaleb VanDePerre

Blowing past all seven of the teams they competed against to get into the Final Four, the Liberty Flames went down fighting, making it a memorable season for the graduating seniors. This was the first time for many of the seniors to compete in the NCVF tournament and contend for a Division I national title as it has been cancelled the past two years due to COVID-19.

Leading the way with 77 assists on Saturday, senior Tommy Speelman distributed the ball with such efficiency that the team was able to capitalize strongly on the offensive end. 

“He spread the ball well and made good decisions, putting guys in good positions, and had some really good defensive plays,” VanDePerre said. “We played some of our best volleyball in this tournament, though I don’t know if the last set was our best. Santa Barbara was putting us in some uncomfortable spots.”

Senior Cody Reinsma, playing at the outside hitter position, added 18 kills against Santa Barbara, and senior middle hitter Luke Marine spiked 13. 

Finishing the season with an incredible 30-4 record, the team played strong and fought to the final second. The Flames will look to contend once again for their very first Division I national title in the NCVF next season. 

“It is never fun to not win your final game, especially with all that we accomplished this year,” VanDePerre said. “They reacted the same way they reacted all year, accepting it together. We told them there was no reason they should hang their heads. They realized they were in a good battle and handled it with grace and character.”

Treadway is a sports reporter.

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