Flames’ DI, DII men’s volleyball teams go 5-0 in ECVA play date, clinching ECC autobids
Liberty University’s Division I men’s volleyball team overcame first-game losses to Virginia Tech in the semifinals and the University of Virginia in the championship match to win both best-of-three matches to claim first place in Saturday’s Eastern Collegiate Volleyball Association (ECVA) play date in the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.
The Flames, who defeated the Hokies in four games on Thursday and the Cavaliers in three games on Jan. 22 in best-of-five matches at Liberty Arena, dominated North Carolina, 25-14, 25-6, in the first match of the day before trouncing Duke by similar scores, 25-19, 25-6, and sweeping UVA, 25-14, 25-18, to finish 3-0 in pool play.
“The team did an excellent job of setting sharp in pool play, showing discipline,” Liberty Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre said.
That set up a semifinal showdown against Virginia Tech, with an autobid to the April 2 East Coast Championships (ECC) at College Park, Md., on the line. The Hokies, who had lost to Virginia in pool play, jumped on the Flames in the first game, winning 25-15.
“They came out aggressive and loud, and we were timid and tight,” VanDePerre said. “It was a battle, and I was proud that we didn’t fold after a tough first set.”
Senior opposite hitter Josh Knapp elevated his game with some overpowering kills, and senior setter Tommy Speelman delivered some topspin jump serves that put the Hokies on their heels, helping Liberty bounce back with a 25-18 win in Game 2. The Flames then prevailed in the third-game tiebreaker, 15-12, capped by senior outside hitter Cross Edwards’ kill down the line on match point.
“We settled in and showed real resolve, beating them in three games,” VanDePerre said. “Josh (Knapp) was the best player on the court all day and really carried us when we needed it in big moments.”
UVA edged Liberty in the first game of the final, 29-27, before the Flames doused the Cavaliers’ hopes of an upset, winning the last two games, 25-15, 15-11.
“We were still tired after playing Virginia Tech in the semifinals and lost a tight first set,” VanDePerre said. “We were able to settle and dig deep to pull out the three-setter. That was the best prep for nationals, having to battle for your life (against the Hokies) and then reset and play again right away. I was glad we were able to get that experience and secure a bid to the East Coast Championships.”
Knapp spiked a team-high 50 kills in the five matches, with a .356 kill percentage, and had six blocks and four aces to go with his 14 digs in the tournament. Aside from leading the Flames in assists, Speelman had a team-high nine blocks and five aces and also made 19 digs. Senior middle blocker Luke Marine spiked 19 kills with a .471 kill percentage and added eight blocks and four aces. Edwards spiked 32 kills at a .456 kill percentage and made 13 digs.
Junior libero Mason Ellenberger served a team-high seven aces and made a team-high 48 digs, nearly half of the team’s total. Senior middle blocker Ben Dowd spiked 19 kills with a team-high .571 kill percentage and made seven blocks. Senior outside hitter Tait Lapham added 12 kills.
Liberty’s Division II team also advanced to the ECC with a perfect 5-0 record. The Flames dominated UNC’s B team, 25-11, 25-14, in the first round of pool play and Appalachian State by a near-identical 25-11, 25-13 score before edging George Mason, 25-22, 25-19 to advance to a semifinal match against JMU’s B team. Liberty pulled out a 25-18, 25-22 sweep of the Dukes before also defeating Elon in straight sets, 25-22, 25-13.
“The DII team played phenomenal volleyball all day,” VanDePerre said. “They looked like world-beaters and didn’t drop a set. Cooper (Guillaume), (setter) Chase (Keith), and Tyler (Wemple) led the way offensively and it was nice to see our younger guys like Noah (Marine) and Jared (Vazquez) and Micah (Syswerda) get some game experience, too.”
“Overall, we are pumped about how the day went, but won’t celebrate too much,” he added. “We’ve got Penn State (in “Midnight Mayhem,” Saturday at 11:59 p.m. in Liberty Arena) and a long way left to go before (NCVF) Nationals (April 14-16 in Phoenix).”
The weekend before the East Coast Championships, Liberty will travel to Blacksburg, Va., for the ECVA South Championships on March 26, hosted by Virginia Tech.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer