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    March 23, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Two weeks after being swept at NCAA Division III Southern Virginia University, 25-17, 25-19, 25-19 on March 8 in Buena Vista, Va., Liberty University’s men’s volleyball team turned the tables on the Knights, pulling off a 25-23, 25-19, 25-22 triumph Wednesday night at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.

    “It feels really good to be able to come back after such a bad loss to sweep them like that, because it didn’t feel great at all losing in three,” senior outside hitter Tait Lapham said. “(It took) confidence in ourselves. As long as we can build each other up and be excited for one another whenever we do something good, we will do well. We knew what we could do, and we executed.”

    “We just had a different demeanor today,” senior setter Tommy Speelman added. “More positivity just made us play better and we were all pretty level-headed throughout the match.”

    The Flames (14-2) took three of four matches from the Knights (15-3) this season after winning the first two meetings at SVU. They were without senior opposite hitter Josh Knapp and senior outside hitter Cody Reinsma for their two losses, including a five-game setback at Lancaster Bible College on March 5.

    Senior opposite hitter Josh Knapp spikes into a Southern Virginia block Wednesday night at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.

    Liberty returned Knapp, who matched the team high with 8 kills and provided an intimidation factor on the right side.

    “Josh is a tall dude, a big guy on the court who definitely gives us confidence,” Lapham said. “Honestly, all of us altogether, we’re all good individually, but if we’re not meshing together, we’re not going to do well.”

    “It was good to have Josh back,” Flames Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre added. “Our serve-receive, which has been struggling a little, was good. We played some really good defense, our outsides played really well, and when we were in system we were running our middles and getting a lot of good late blockers … ran some good stuff out of the back row and transitioned as well.”

    In addition to the usual powerful spikes from Knapp and serves and well-placed sets from Speelman (2 aces, 25 assists), the Flames got 8 kills and 2 blocks from senior outside hitter Cross Edwards, and 4 kills each from Lapham and senior middle hitters Ben Dowd and Luke Marine to take the first two games.

    “That’s the goal for me, to get everybody kills,” Speelman said. “We had a few serving errors, but we also had a few aces. My serve was feeling good today, just jumping a little higher and hitting harder.”

    Flames senior outside hitter Cross Edwards celebrates a winning point.

    Lapham tied the third game at 4 with a spike off a SVU block before a cross-court kill by Knapp tied it at 5. A diving one-handed dig by graduate defensive specialist Brannon Anderson and hit by Speelman into the open back court tied it at 7 and the teams continued to battle back and forth before a spike kill by Knapp gave Liberty a 14-11 lead.

    However, the Knights tied it at 14 and 15 before the Flames seized a 17-15 advantage on a kill by Lapham off SVU’s back-row defense. The teams traded service errors before a kill by Dowd off a short set from Speelman gave the Flames a 21-19 edge. An unforced error by SVU pushed Liberty’s lead to 24-21 before an Edwards kill on match point completed the sweep.

    “Cross is the man, a very steady guy,” Lapham said. “We can always trust him to put the ball in play, get digs, get passes, get kills. He’s dependable. And I love having Tommy as a setter the past two years. He’s improved significantly and he’s doing a really good job distributing the ball to every one of his hitters.”

    The Flames, the No. 1 Division I team in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) rankings, have two days to prepare for Saturday’s Eastern Collegiate Volleyball Association (ECVA) South Division Championships at Virginia Tech and then two weeks to get set for the East Coast Championships at the University of Maryland on April 9. The first NCVF National Championships since 2019 are scheduled for April 14-16 in Phoenix.

    “East Coast and Nationals are back-to-back,” VanDePerre said. “Everyone has a key role and if we all do that well, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

    “We have high expectations for this weekend, and for the entire postseason,” Lapham added. “(Playing SVU) gives us good reps and we use those reps to get better for the ultimate goal of winning a championship. We’ve just got to keep playing the next level until we hit the final step (in Phoenix). If it’s not our home court, we have to make the court that we go to our home court.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Senior middle hitter Ben Dowd spikes a kill as outside hitters Tait Lapham and Edwards and Knapp look on.