Flames volleyball battles through ups and downs midway through season
The Liberty Flames volleyball team has endured the wave of a tough schedule over the last few weeks, headlined by a historic win over No. 23 Hawaii on Sept. 8. The achievement marked the first win against a top-25 team in the program’s history, and it was a thriller.
After being down 2-1 going into the fourth set, sheer grit and determination saw the Flames roaring back. Every player on the court got involved, with three of Liberty’s players recording 15 or more kills — senior outside hitter Kamryn Bacus, junior outside hitter Kate Phillips and junior middle blocker Julia Mangum.
The outing was one this team and its fans will not forget anytime soon, and the historic victory also brought its win streak to seven straight for the season.
However, fatigue, the age-old enemy of any sports team was bound to set in. The trip to Honolulu, Hawaii was followed immediately by a stint in Texas as they took on Houston and Texas A&M. The Flames lost their footing, falling short in the next five games. They also suffered several injuries over the stretch.
“Playing tough competition, trying to keep up with their studies, trying to find time for rest, I think, just emotionally, it took a toll on us, for sure,” Liberty Head Coach Trevor Johnson said. “These experiences, they’re going to remember the rest of their lives, regardless of the wins and losses.”
Of the seven wins to begin the season, four were sweeps. The Flames dropped a measly five of the 26 sets played over the period, proving their ability to dominate their competition. Whenever it seemed the opposing team was running away with a set the Flames would rally together and reel the match back in.
Regarding the losses, however, Johnson was straightforward.
“It’s better now (to lose) than November. That was the mindset,” Johnson said.
The Conference USA Volleyball Championship is scheduled to begin Nov. 17 at Liberty Arena. The winner will receive automatic qualification for the National Championship in late November and December.
The strain of the road trip could be all-consuming, but Johnson was quick to put it into perspective.
“Our most important match is the next match. The past is out of bounds.” Johnson said.
The team gets a much-needed break going into two more away games against Middle Tennessee. These games signify the start of conference play for the Flames and pose a brand-new challenge for the team going into the inaugural season in Conference USA.
While getting healthy before these key matches is important, Coach Johnson stressed embracing the struggle that comes with team sports.
“We have to fight to stay together as a team,” Johnson said.
One of the ways Johnson has inserted this in his coaching is the concept he and the team call “loving loud.” The idea of loving louder than the voices around them has pushed them on through adversity.
“Pressure is a privilege. If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you,” Johnson said.
The Flames now look forward to their away bout against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. Liberty is 1-1 against the Blue Raiders and won the last matchup in 2016 in straight sets.
Moore is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion