UPDATE: Flames sweep Indiana, Iowa to advance to Saturday’s NCVF gold bracket
UPDATE 4/15/22: Liberty University’s top-seeded men’s volleybal team won Friday’s two matches of championship flight pool play in straight sets, dominating Indiana, a team it had defeated twice at the Hoosier-Illini Classic in Bloomington, Ind., in February by a 25-16, 25-23 count before sweeping Iowa, 25-20, 25-23. The Flames advance to Saturday’s 16-team gold bracket playoffs, when they will open single-elimination competition with a 1:30 p.m. (EST) first-ever showdown with Grand Canyon University (2-3), which has lost three-game matches to Penn State, California Berkeley, and Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Liberty’s DII team, which won its pool on Thursday, will play Purdue at 6:30 p.m. (EST) and the University of Southern California at 7:30 p.m. (EST) Friday to try to clinch a gold bracket playoff bid.
Flames DI men’s volleyball goes 3-0 in pool play at nationals, clinches silver or gold bracket bid
4/14/22: Liberty University’s men’s volleyball team went 3-0 to win its pool on Thursday, starting the three-day National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) Championships at the Phoenix Convention Center on the right foot.
The Flames moved back up to No. 1 in Division I of the NCVF rankings this week, based on the seedings for this week’s tournament. They opened the day by sweeping the University of Colorado, 25-11, 25-9, before battling back to win a tight three-game match over Utah Valley 24-26, 25-17, 15-13, and sweeping the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 25-22, 25-21.
“We battled as a team today, which was good to see,” Liberty Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre said. “There was no one standout player. Our middle (hitters) were great and we served well as a team.”
He said after Liberty crushed Colorado, staying in system for much of the match, Utah Valley and Wisconsin-Madison gave the Flames much better challenges.
“Wisconsin gave us some trouble, and blocked us a lot early on, so that was more of a grind-it-out win,” VanDePerre said. “I don’t feel we played our best volleyball today, but we got the job done. Our passing wasn’t great, so we had to set to the pins (and the outside and opposite hitters), and (the Badgers) were getting two or three blockers up. We eventually steadied the ship, got our middles going, and our passing improved a bit so we could use our middles (seniors Luke Marine and Ben Dowd). They won us the match. They really got it got it going.”
Senior opposite hitter Josh Knapp spiked a team-high 25 kills in the three matches, adding three aces and two blocks, while Luke Marine contributed 18 kills and five blocks and fellow senior middle hitter Ben Dowd had a team-high seven blocks.
Senior outside hitters Cross Edwards (15 kills, 4 blocks) and Cody Reinsma (13 kills, 2 blocks) also connected offensively and defensively and senior setter Tommy Speelman distributed 70 assists as well as serving three aces and making two blocks. Junior libero Mason Ellenberger led the back row with 39 digs.
The Flames will play two matches in a second round of pool play on Friday, against yet-to-be-determined opponents, to determine whether they will be in the gold or silver bracket for Saturday’s championship playoffs.
“Utah Valley was a really strong team, so it was good for us going into (Friday) having already played some tough teams,” VanDePerre said. “We definitely need to clean some things up and be ready to go again, but the guys are healthy and focused. We’ve got our athletic trainer, Kira Turner, here giving them treatment after matches and our strength coach Jared Loveless, who has been really great in getting the guys moving during the day and keeping them loose.”
Both the gold, silver, and bronze brackets will be 16-team single-elimination playoffs, so to advance to the championship final, Liberty would play four more matches.
“We still have a large part of the mountain to climb, but it was a good first day,” VanDePerre said. “We should be more settled (on Friday) and ready to roll. We know what lies ahead and are just trying to take one step at a time, enjoy the pressure, enjoy the adversity, the whole experience and just try to take care of business one point at a time.”
Former Flames outside hitter Sean Taggart (’21), an aeronautics graduate who is still at Liberty serving as a flight instructor, is coaching the Division II squad, which swept Cincinnati, 25-16, 25-14, at 7:30 p.m. (EST) before straight-setting Iowa State, 25-16, 25-15, at 9:30 p.m. (EST) and Texas A&M, 25-17, 25-20 at 11:30 p.m. (EST).
“This is the first tournament where they’re not all playing at the same time, so they were getting the fever this morning watching our guys,” VanDePerre said. “Seeding-wise, they’re first in their pool, so we have set our expectations on winning our pool.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer